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Sometimes I start working on a recipe with one thing in mind, and then get completely sidetracked by some curiousity that had nothing to do with the original concept. With borscht: it was the color. I really, truly had not started this recipe with the intention of making the most garish soup on the planet…. I just found myself in line at the coop with yellow carrots, purple potatoes and, of course, gorgeously, vividly red beets. Once I realized what a root vegetable rainbow I had, I knew I had to do something to highlight it. Leaving some of the roasted veggies out of the puree worked splendidly. I think it might be the prettiest little soup I’ve ever made. But don’t think this soup is all style and no substance; it’s mighty tasty too. Borscht can get a bad rap, but I think if you temper the sweetness (the pitfall of many a borscht) with the right amount of salt and tartness you end up with a complex and lively bowlful. As it gets colder and the price of greens and tomatoes starts to climb, it makes a lot of sense to start to rely more on root vegetables and winter squash. And I found this soup to be just the right thing for a cold, rainy autumn evening.
1 pound of beets
1 small onion
2 large carrots
2 small potatoes
1 c. vegetable or chicken stock
2 cloves garlic
the juice of 2 limes
1/2 c. creme fraiche or sour cream
sprigs of fresh dill
sour apple dill pickles
Prep the Vegetables:
Wrap your unpeeled beets individually in tin foil. Place beets on a sheet tray. Peel carrots, potatoes and onion, reserve scraps for another use. Cut onions and potatoes into quarters. Place the peeled vegetables in a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover the dish with foil and poke a few holes to let some of the steam escape.
Roast the Vegetables:
Preheat your oven to 375 F. Roast both trays of vegetables until they are cooked through — about 45 min-1 hour (test by inserting a paring knife, you should be able to easily stab through to the center, but still feel some resistance). Test beets and the other veggies separately as they may take different amounts of time to cook. Once the beets have cooled you can peel off their thick skins with a paring knife. You can do your veggie roasting up to a few days ahead of time.
Puree the Soup:
Reserve one carrot and one potato. Place the remainder of the roasted carrots and potatoes in a blender along with the beets, stock, garlic and lime juice. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Place the pureed soup in a saucepan and heat. Add water as needed until the soup is the consistency you’d like it. Slice the reserved potato and carrot into small strips (or even chunks will do quite nicely). Slice the pickled apples. Arrange a small pile of carrots, potatoes and pickled apples in the center of each bowl. Pour the hot soup around the veggies. Add a scoop of sour cream and a sprig of dill.
Dill-Pickled Sour Apples:
I was reading different borscht recipes and was intrigued by the many accompaniments suggested. One recipe suggested grated apple, many other suggested chopped pickle or fresh dill. I had a hunch that a tart, dill apple pickle might just be a perfect accompaniment to the sweet, earthy beet base. The resulting pickles were indeed a most satisfying addition to my borscht, just what I was searching for. The apples make a very tart pickle and work best in small doses; either as a contrasting flavor to a more mild base or chopped and mixed in as a tart-dilly seasoning. You can certainly make the borscht and not the pickles, either way I think you’ll be glad you made it.
2-3 tart/crisp apples such as Granny Smith or Cortland
scant 1/4 c. white wine vinegar
3/4 t. salt
1 1/2 t. sugar
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/4 tsp black peppercorns
a fistful of fresh dill fronds
1 12 oz jar
Prepare the Apples:
Peel and core the apples. Slice into 1/8” thick pieces.
Prepare the Brine:
Bring vinegar, 1/2 c. water, coriander, pepper salt & sugar to a boil. Turn off the heat. Cover the pot and let the brine steep while you ready the apples in the jar.
Arrange the apple slices in a 1/2” thick layer. Then cover the layer with a few sprigs of dill. Continue arranging the apples in layers and alternating with dill until all of the apples are used or your jar is full. Place the jar on a dishcloth. (This precaution slows down heat transfer — you don’t want to have hot and cold spots in a jar, in the worst case the jar can break.) Slowly pour the brine over the apples. If necessary, add enough water to fill the jar.
Refrigerate the pickles for at least one day before serving (they continue to improve in flavor for at least a week). Taste the pickles, if necessary adjust seasoning (too tart: add a teaspoon or two of sugar, not tart enough: add vinegar). Serve as a side or on sandwiches with a strong cheese.