Welcome to Cold Borsch Summer

Welcome to Cold Borsch Summer
Photo: A.A. Newton

Sweaty Season is fully upon us once again, and unfortunately, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. Turning on the stove may be a dealbreaker, but let’s face it: You can only eat so much salad before you need something more substantial.

This is where cold borsch (or chlodnik) comes in. First of all, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the beauty happening here — just look at that colour! But this isn’t a case of style over substance: Cold borsch is filling to the point that I regularly say, “Wow, I’m stuffed,” out loud after polishing off a bowl. It’s also dead simple to make. If you can spare about 15 minutes of hands-on effort to cook, peel, and dice some beets, you’re in business. When you have a batch of cold borsch in the fridge, you’re just a handful of garnishes away from an ice-cold, deeply refreshing meal that will keep you full for hours.

Above all, though, cold borsch is delicious. It may be nothing more than beets and the water they’re cooked in, but with the help of generous seasoning and garnishes, a humble bowl of watery beets transforms into a mosh pit of different textures and flavours. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s all good: wweet, juicy beets, crunchy cucumbers, sharp onions, herbaceous dill, and enough salt and acid to make your mouth pucker a little — but it won’t, because the sour cream rounds everything out. It’s utterly flawless. Here’s how to make it.

How to make cold borsch (chlodnik)

Photo: A.A. Newton Photo: A.A. Newton

For the soup:

  • 500g-1kg red beetroots, all about the same size
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup vinegar or lemon juice, plus more to taste

To serve:

  • Diced cucumbers
  • Sliced spring onions
  • Chopped fresh dill
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • Sour cream, crème fraîche, or Greek yogurt, or a vegan equivalent (I used homemade cashew cream)
  • Hard-boiled eggs (optional)

Scrub the beets well under running water. Transfer them to a cooking vessel, add enough cold water to barely cover, and cook until the tip of a knife easily slips into the centre of the beets. Cooking times will vary depending on the size of the beets and your method, but here are some general guidelines:

  • Stovetop: 20-30 minutes for smaller beets; 40-50 for larger
  • Instant Pot: 3-5 minutes at high pressure with manual release for smaller beets; 8-10 for larger
  • Microwave: 5-8 minutes on high power for smaller beets; 10-15 minutes for larger

When the beets are cooked, remove them to a plate or bowl and let them cool completely. Reserve the cooking liquid. Peel the cooled beets with your fingers, then grate or dice them, whichever you prefer. (I like a 1/4-inch dice.) Put the beets in a large mixing bowl and add enough of the reserved cooking liquid to cover them.

Now for the fun part: Season the beet mixture aggressively with salt, sugar, and your acid of choice. (Beets can absorb an almost concerning amount of all three, so don’t be shy.) When it starts to taste like pickled beet brine, you’re done. Refrigerate the soup base overnight so it’s completely chilled.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top with a handful each of cucumbers, scallions, and dill, a dollop of fermented dairy (or non-dairy), and a generous shower of freshly cracked black pepper. A halved hard-boiled egg is a delicious (and gorgeous) finishing touch, but it’s not required. This magical dish — which is pretty much just vegetables and seasoned water — is a truly satisfying meal all on its own.

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