A Russo-Ukranian consommé
The first time I encountered borscht was at a friend’s fancy dinner party where, after one too many glasses of ridiculously delicious, properly stored, served-in-appropriate-stemware Bordeaux, a huge steaming pot of blood-red soup was placed on the table in front of me. As her husband ladled, I gawked — wait, it’s made out of what again? “Beets!” she said. “And some other veggies and stuff. Do you want a scoop of sour cream on top?”
Oh, right. Beets. The divisive root vegetable you either love or hate. Beet-haters will tell you — and not incorrectly — that anything you have to roast for hours and cover in goat cheese to make passable should never be considered yummy. Those who pitch their tent in this camp might boldly say, “Shelley, I’m serious, those (expletive) things taste like dirt,” or like a coworker recently shared, “Well I like ‘em now, but I had to realize their flavor was never going to change.” She just accepted it; her relationship with beets is flawed, but I guess they’re better together?
For me, this borscht experience was emblematic of the perfect food encounter, the kind of thing every foodie goes bibbledy over. First there was the sexy color, a deep saucy red that invoked all kinds of naughty thoughts as I gazed into it, not caring about the elegant dinnerware or fine spoon I was about to sully. Then, as I slurped the first bit over my tongue, a second beautiful thing happened: I realized it actually tasted pretty, too, like some kind of sweet-earthy elixir of love. I freaked. I slurped again, freaked again. I became a beet-lover for life.
And honestly, it’s a good thing, because beets are insanely healthy and cost very, very little (for real, less than apples). There are a lot of ways to learn to love them — a fried fennel and beet hash comes to mind, maybe with a few fried eggs or sausage if that’s your thing, or pasta tossed with a beet puree, or a rockin’ beet-n-bean burger — but personally I think the best way to find your inner beet-lover is to whip up a pot of borscht, where the beet is most iconic.
Quickie vegetarian borscht
Beets in Korea are usually sold without the greens (which is a shame, because they’re delicious), wrapped in plastic and tucked somewhere in the refrigerated section on the wall, near the lemons and avocados. You’ll see them — just scan carefully.
Start by slicing and dicing everything — this represents about 80 percent of all the work you’ll need to do for this soup — and then heat the olive oil in your biggest soup pot over medium heat and add all the vegetables. Toss the mixture around a bit, add a healthy dash of salt, then cover and cook for 10 minutes (give it a stir once or twice in the interim). Once the veggies have softened somewhat, add 2 liters or so of water, enough to cover everything plus about 2 inches, then crank up the heat and bring the soup to a boil. When it’s really rollin’ you should cover the pot and lower the heat to medium so it can simmer without boiling over. Thirty minutes later, remove the pot from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, parsley and pepper. Serve it traditionally, with a blob of sour cream or mayonnaise and a sprinkle of fresh dill, or serve it naked — the soup, I mean (but only kinda).