The Remix: Borscht
Borscht, reconsidered. Amy Kritzer/JW
active: 30 min
total: 1 hr 30 min
This is the next installment in our series The Remix, in which we seek to gently rework the more challenging dishes in the Jewish culinary canon. With a little bit of love, we’re convinced we can make any dish delicious, even ones that seem a bit bizarre to the modern palate
Every time I remix a dish for this series, I think the dish I’m working on is the one most in need of an update. But borscht really is.
Beet soup just sounds so unappealing, and many people think the purple-pink vegetable tastes like dirt. But I’ve always been a fan of it and its neon color. Surely there’s a way to bring everyone over to the bright side.
It originated in Ukraine. Beets were inexpensive and easy to grow, so they got cooked down with onions, carrots and vinegar and made into a deep red soup. In the vegetarian version, they were topped with sour cream. Jews of different regions added potatoes, cabbage, sugar and brisket (yum), in accordance with local flavor preferences.
According to Gil Marks, the late Jewish food expert, beets were one of the few produce items that could survive the eastern European winters, so borscht became a staple for the early spring holiday of Passover. Today you can purchase borscht in a jar; Manischewitz and Gold’s both make more versions. There is even low sodium for those watching their salt intake, but the result is way better when you make your own. Many order the jarred stuff by the case for the winter months and Passover – no more!
But how to craft the most appealing update? There are about as many ways to make borscht as there are consonants in the word. You can go hot or cold with your borscht. You can add meat, or not. You can push the soup’s sweet side hard, or balance it out.
Since it’s January, this version is hot. But as I discovered as the soup cooled during its photography session, it even tastes good cold. Score!
I went vegan, with coconut milk as a thickener. That way you can pair it with a pastrami sandwich for the ultimate warming lunch. And I like to let the beets shine, along with mild leeks and a hint of honey for sweetness.
This certainly isn’t your Bubbe’s borscht. It’s even brighter than the traditional version, puréed with a sweet swirl of coconut milk and topped with pickled red onions.
Amy Kritzer is a food writer and recipe developer in Austin, Texas. She blogs at What Jews Wanna Eat.