Cold Beet Borscht
This is our favourite summer soup to serve on those sweltering summer days when your plate (and your palate) demands food that is refreshing and cold.
The recipe for this cold beet borscht comes from the iconic Jewish cookbook, A Treasure for my Daughter, which was first published in 1950 by the Montreal chapter Hadassah-WIZO. The cookbook is full of Ashkenazi recipes from the 1950s, as well as advice on how to “run” a Jewish home. As was the custom during this era, the cookbook was often gifted to Jewish brides in “preparation” for their marriages.
This cookbook is a treasure to generations of Jewish cooks and serves as a historical record of Ashkenazi Jewish cooking. It is extra special to us at the Wandering Chew because Sydney’s great grandmother, Anne Warshaw, was one of the original editors of the cookbook. We love exploring and cooking from old cookbooks, and in June 2014, we hosted a dinner in partnership with Canadian Hadassah-WIZO (CHW) in honour of the A Treasure for my Daughter. Alongside the 6-course meal we prepared using dishes from the cookbook, we invited Sydney’s grandparents to tell the stories from when it was first published. It was incredibly meaningful, and in line with our mission, to bring this piece of Montreal Jewish history to another generation!
The beet borscht we know and love hasn’t always been deep red. It was actually first made with cow parsnip, a whitish root related to carrots, along with whatever other vegetables or meat cooks had on hand. It was only in the mid-sixteenth century that people started using the red modern-day beetroot to make the borscht we recognize today.
Borscht is part of the Ashkenazim cannon known as “zoyers” or sours. This earthy and refreshing soup was a tasty offset to the bland starches that were usual staples of the Eastern European diet – think black bread and gruels. Other “zoyers” included sauerkraut, pickles, sorrel, and rhubarb.
12-14 medium red beets
8 cups water
Juice of 2 medium lemons (approx 8 Tbs)
⅓ cup sugar
2 tsp salt, more to taste
Sour cream, to garnish
Thin slices of cucumbers, to garnish
Peel beets and trim off the tops and bottoms. Grate the beets using the large holes of a box grater, or grate the beets in a food processor using the medium shredding blade.
Place the grated beets in a large pot, cover with 8 cups of water, and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes, until the beets are fork-tender. Add in the lemon juice, sugar, and salt, and cook for another 25 minutes. Remove the borscht from the heat and let it cool in the pot.
Strain the borscht through a fine-meshed sieve into a large container with a lid. Place in the fridge until chilled. Before serving, taste the borscht for seasoning because flavours can become muted in the fridge, adding more salt and lemon juice if necessary. Serve topped with sour cream and sliced cucumbers.