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The Russian Tea Room Borscht Recipe & The History Of Borscht

Chilled borscht in the summertime? We buy it at Zabar’s by the quart, along with chilled cucumber soup, fruit soup, and gazpacho.

In the summer, there are more chilled soups than you can shake a stick at*, as my Nana would say. Our personal Top 10 favorites (including those previously mentioned):

  • Ajo Blanco (Spanish Garlic and Almond Soup)
  • Chilled Borscht
  • Chilled Cucumber Soup
  • Chilled Greek Yogurt Soup
  • Chilled Fruit Soup: Blueberry, Melon, Peach, Pineapple, Any!
  • Chilled Tomato & Basil Soup
  • Chilled Watercress Soup
  • Gazpacho
  • Vichyssoise
  • Watermelon Gazpacho
  •  
    Most chilled soups (a.k.a. cold soups) are also delicious hot.

    While chilled soups are typically served as a first course, we like to serve the fruit soups as a light summer dessert.

    This brings us back to borscht.

    Recently, we had a bowl of hot borscht at the legendary, luxurious, and enchanting Russian Tea Room in New York City (photos #4, #5, and #6). We liked it so much that we asked for the recipe, which we’ve shared below.

    We then added a twist to the second batch we made: We used golden beets instead of red ones. A bit about golden beets (photo #7) is included in:

    > The history of beets.

    Today they are still a specialty item, sold at specialty grocers, farmers markets, and through online seed retailers worldwide [source].

    > National Homemade Soup Day is February 4th.

    > National Cold Borscht Day is May 22nd.

    > The history of soup.

    > The different types of soup.

    > The history of borscht is below.
     
     
    RECIPE: THE RUSSIAN TEA ROOM’S COLD BORSCHT

    See the finished recipe in photo #4. If you like to serve bread with your soup, pumpernickel or seeded rye are culturally good cultural choices, although brioche is always delicious.

    We like our pumpernickel or rye with sweet butter and crunchy coarse sea salt to sprinkle on top of it.

    (We enjoy this combination far more than salted butter, with the exception of a great salted butter, Vermont Creamery’s Cultured Butter With Sea Salt.)
     
    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 4 large red beets, chopped into medium-size pieces
  • 1.5 carrots, sliced into rounds
  • 12 ounces water
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 quart beet juice
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Garnish: fresh dill, sour cream
  • Optional: bread of choice
  •  
    Preparation

    1. BRING lightly salted water to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Add the chopped beets and carrots. Once the beets and carrots are cooked…

    2. STRAIN and reserve water and vegetables, cool to room temperature. Once the vegetables are cooled, place them in a blender or food processor and purée.

    3. ADD the beet juice, sour cream, and vinegar and adjust the seasoning. (Season to taste. You can start with 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

    4. BLEND. Once the purée is smooth and homogenous…

    5. PUT the soup in the refrigerator to chill. To serve:

    6. PLACE the soup in a bowl, and garnish with dill and sour cream.
     
     
    THE HISTORY OF BORSCHT

    Borscht, also spelled borsch, borsht, or bortsch, is a beet soup that is popular in Slavic countries. It is a key component in Russian and Polish cuisines, although Ukraine is frequently cited as its place of origin, and borscht is their national dish.

    The name is thought to be derived from the Slavic word for the cow parsnip (a.k.a. common hogweed, Heracleum sphondylium), which is borschevik.

    In early Slavic cuisine, the stems, leaves, and flowers of the cow parsnip were made into soup or fermented, yielding something along the lines of sauerkraut.

    Beets Take Their Place

    The more flavorful cultivated beet eventually replaced the wild cow parsnip as the basis of the soup [source]. The beets also gave borscht its striking red/magenta color.

    It is commonly believed that the origins of modern borscht date to the 14th century, in the area that is today Ukraine. Old recipes seem to affirm that it was the Ukrainians who made the soup from beetroot.

    Originally a peasant food, borscht spread across regions, becoming a culinary staple for all classes [source].

    Hundreds Of Recipes Evolve

    Today, the quintessential Ukrainian borscht is made with beetroot, potatoes, and pork fat (and of course, many variations thereof).

    But cooks everywhere added other ingredients according to both what they liked and what was growing in the region.

  • Cabbage. The addition of cabbage became standard in Russia’s Volga-Don river region.
  • White borscht. A fermented mixture of rye flour or oatmeal was used to make white borscht, a popular Polish dish. (Today, you can make white borscht with white beets, a mutation).
  • Green borscht. Tangy sorrel was used to make green borscht instead of the earthy beet.
  • Black borscht.The most innovative take is a modern one. Maxim Volkov, chef of The Mad Cook in Moscow, added cuttlefish ink to create a borsch of deep black color, which he called “petroleum borscht,” photo #9 [source].
  • Fruited borscht. In Ukraine and Romania, unripe plums and apricots add a twinge of tartness to the borscht.
  • Polenta. Moldova recipes can use a fermented starter of polenta and bran water infused with sour cherry leaves.
  • Meat. Different areas like meat in their borscht: beef, marrow, pork, sausages, etc.
  • Chiles. Borscht gets some heat in Georgia and Azerbaijan, which can add fresh red chiles or hot chili flakes.
  • Temperature. Borscht is eaten hot or cold. Summer borscht is often vegetarian and chilled, hot winter borscht adds meat.
  • Texture. Some borschts are clear and light, others thick and chunky.
  • Acidity. Many recipes counterbalance the sweetness of the beets with the addition of kvass (a sour, slightly alcoholic beer made from bread), fermented beets, vinegar, lemon juice, or citric acid.
  •  
    The Borscht Diaspora

    By the end of the 19th century, borscht had spread as far as Persia, France, and, the U.S. (via Jewish immigration).

    Each country or cultural group has its different take on borscht: Recipes vary between Ashkenazi Jews, Belarusians, Georgians, Lithuanians, Poles, Ukrainians, and Russians. Even China has a take on borscht, called luó sòng tāng, or “Russian soup” [source].
     
    Your Signature Borscht

    What would you like in your borscht?

    In our family, cabbage, onions, and dill were added to the beets, and the soup was garnished with small boiled potatoes, sour cream, and more dill.

    Summer borscht was served cold, hot winter borscht added carrots and meat: brisket or flanken (short ribs).

    You can play with the recipe and add just about anything:

  • Beans, bell peppers, carrots, eggplant, onion, tomato, turnips.
  • Fruits: apricots, cherries, olives (yes, they’re fruits!), plums.
  • Herbs: basil, mint, parsley, tarragon.
  • Meat: beef, chicken, lamb, pork (including sausage).
  • Whatever!
  •  
    Enjoy your delicious beet soup.
     
     
    ________________

    *The origin of this phrase: In merry olde England, farmers controlled their sheep by shaking their staffs at the animals to indicate where the sheep should go—human herding instead of dog herding. When farmers had more sheep than they could control, it was said that they had “more than you can shake a stick at” [source].

    †Doukhobors are a sect of Russian dissenters, many of whom now live in western Canada. Here’s more about them.

     

    Borscht In Bowl & Recipe
    [1] A beet and tomato borscht from Jamie Oliver. Here’s the recipe (photo © Jamie Oliver).

    Borscht In Bowl & Recipe
    [2] This Doukhobor† borsch is very different from typical borsch. It’s loaded with butter and heavy cream, and always and beet isn’t the main ingredient—it’s primarily used for color and then discarded before the soup is served. Here’s a recipe (photo Public Domain | PX Here).

    Borscht In Bowl & Recipe
    [3] A tempting pot of borscht (photo © Monika Grabkowska | Unsplash).

    Borscht In Bowl With Garnishes
    [4] Russian Tea Room’s famed borscht (photos #4, #5, and #6 © Russian Tea Room).

    A Banquette At The Russian Tea Room In New York City
    [5] A sumptuous banquette at the Russian Tea Room.

    The Entrance To The Russian Tea Room In New York City
    [6] The entrance to the Russian Tea Room.

    Multicolored Beets: Red, Yellow, Orange, Striped
    [7] Beets grow in different colors, including white, golden (orange), red, purple, yellow, and even red- and white-striped chioggia beets (photo © Edible Madison | Cibo e Vino | Facebook).

    Orange Beets
    [8] Some golden beets have orange skin, but are golden yellow on the inside; others have yellow skin as in the photo aove (photo © Good Eggs).

    Black Borscht a.k.a. Petroleum Borscht Made With Squid Ink at The Mad Cook in Moscow
    [9] “Petroleum borscht,” made black with cuttlefish ink, at The Mad Cook in Moscow (photo © The Mad Cook).

     

     
     

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    Summer Souvlaki Recipe: Dips For Grilled Meat On Skewers

    Souvlaki, which means “little skewer” in Greece, came to the U.S. with Greek immigrants and became a staple of street carts, Mediterranean restaurants, even diners.

    When you grill chunks of meat on skewers, you’re making souvlaki. Kebabs are the Arabic word for the same thing.

    The protein can be beef, chicken, lamb, pork, a plant-based protein (photo #5), or a combination. You can also use meatballs, sausages, and cubes of a firm fish (e.g. salmon, swordfish).

    If you prefer vegetables, those work, too (photo #2).

    Classic souvlaki serves the grilled skewers on a platter with salad or other vegetables, fries, pita bread, tzatziki (yogurt dip), and a wedge of lemon.

    A gyro is a Greek sandwich made not from skewered meat, but by thinly slicing meat from a large piece that’s grilled on a vertical rotisserie. The meat is wrapped in pita with tzatziki (in the Middle East hummus is used). Gyros are handheld street food, while souvlaki is typically plated. (Gyro means circular, referring to the rotisseried meat.)

    A kebap in Greece is different from the Turkish doner kebab. A Greek kofta kebap is spicy minced meat, mixed with parsley, onions, and garlic, formed into balls or a longer shape and grilled on a skewer. (We suggested Americanized meatballs, above, but you can make a kofta recipe.)

    You can serve the grilled skewers as snacks, appetizers (see photo #3), entrées, or as a base for sandwiches (photo #1). You can just slide the meat off the skewer into a piece of flatbread with a sauce, from Greek tzatziki to the numerous other flavorful sauce below.

    Here are tips and some modern sauce pairings for summer grilling, from Flavor & The Menu, a website for chefs that follows restaurant trends, for the idea. It starts with a few tips:

  • SOAK the wooden skewers in a mixture of vinegar, water, and herb stems.* The skewers are traditionally soaked in water so they don’t burn while grilling, but this soaking “recipe” releases aromatics into the souvlaki, adding more flavor.
  • CREATE signature acid-forward marinades for the proteins. Be creative; for example olive oil, lemon juice, honey, garlic, oregano, thyme, smoked paprika, black pepper, and black lava salt.
  • ADD complementary dips to further distinguish the souvlaki, building on creamy/cooling tzatziki while pushing flavor boundaries.
  •  
     
    SOUVLAKI & SAUCE PAIRINGS

    FOR BEEF

    Use flank steak, strip steak, or top sirloin for:

  • Elote Beef Souvlaki: Beef skewer + elote dip (Greek yogurt ranch, charred corn purée, Cotija cheese, chipotle powder, lime, cilantro) (more about elote).
  • Greek Beef Souvlaki: Beef skewer + spiced eggplant cream (roasted eggplant/onions, feta, Greek yogurt, Calabrian chile flakes).
  • Latin Beef Souvlaki: Beef skewer + chimichurri green goddess dip.
  •  
     
    FOR CHICKEN

    For the breast or thigh:

  • Alabama Chicken Souvlaki: chicken skewer + golden white barbecue dip (Greek yogurt, Alabama-style barbecue sauce, grated roasted golden beet.
  • Cabo Chicken Souvlaki: Chicken skewer + avocado lime tzatziki (with shredded raw jicama).
  • Greek Chicken Souvlaki: Chicken skewer + sunshine dip (sun-dried tomato, grated cucumber, oregano, chickpea hummus, Greek yogurt).
  •  
     
    FOR PORK

    For the belly, loin, or tenderloin:

  • Greek Pork Souvlaki: Pork skewer + htipiti (Greek yogurt, feta, roasted red pepper, garlic, paprika, oregano, dill, lemon juice, olive oil).
  • Mexican Pork Souvlaki: Pork skewer + Mexican Cotija yogurt (roasted jalapeño, achiote, Cotija cheese, Greek yogurt, lime juice, avocado oil).
  • Southern Pork Souvlaki: Pork skewer + honey-hot mustard Greek yogurt, with crushed cracklings.
  •  
     
    ________________

    *This is a great use for herb stems that usually get thrown out. Toss them into the freezer. Of course, you can mix the different herbs in your soaking liquid.

     

    Souvlaki, Pita, Tzatziki
    [1] Classic souvlaki is served with pita, tzatzii (cucumber-yogurt sauce), fries, and often, onions (photo © Williams Sonoma).

    Vegetable Kabobs
    [2] Vegetable skewers, with beef on the side, can be served with just about any dip (photo © Sun Basket).

    Beef Skewer With Salad
    [3] A fun idea for a first course: a kabob atop salad (photo © McCormick).

    Beef Skewers With Red Chimichurri Sauce
    [4] Argentinian-style: beef skewers with red chimichurri sauce. Here’s the recipe (photo © McCormick).

    Plant Based Fish Skewers
    [5] Plant-based fish skewers from Good Catch.

     
     

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    Peach Caprese Salad Recipe For National Peach Month

    Peach Or Nectarine Caprese Salad Recipe
    [1] A twist on the Caprese salad, adding peaches or nectarines plus enough arugula to make it a green salad fusion. The recipe is below (photo © Colavita Recipes).

    Peach Caprese Salad With Bocconcini Mozzarella
    [2] A creative idea: use bite-size mozzarella balls (bocconcini) instead of sliced mozzarella (photo © Fruits From Chile).

    Peach Or Nectarine Caprese Salad Recipe
    [3] A minimalist, fruit-centric peach Caprese (photo © Good Eggs).

     

    August is National Peach Month, celebrating the juicy stone fruit* that is one of America’s Top 10 favorites. In the U.S., the peach season begins in June and lasts until the end of August. August is when the peaches are at their peak—so gather ye peaches as ye may.

    You could bake a peach pie or one of the other peach recipes below, but how about this easy Peach and Tomato Caprese Salad?

    A spin on the traditional Caprese, the peaches are a sweet complement to summer tomatoes. You can substitute nectarines for the peaches.

    Thanks to Colavita for the recipe.

    > Here’s more about stone fruits, also known as drupes.

    > You can make your own balsamic glaze from balsamic vinegar.

    > Caprese salad history.

    > More Caprese recipes.
     
     
    RECIPE: PEACH OR NECTARINE CAPRESE SALAD

    This salad can be a first course or a lunch salad.
     
    Ingredients

  • 3 ripe peaches (you can substitute nectarines or use both!)
  • 3 large ripe tomatoes (ideally an heirloom variety)
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella
  • 3 ounces fresh baby arugula
  • 1 ounces blackberries
  • 2 tablespoons Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 tablespoon Colavita Balsamic Glaze
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt, divided
  • 10-12 small basil leaves (rip larger leaves in half or thirds)
  • Optional garnish: shavings of Parmesan cheese
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREPARE the fruit. Cut the tomatoes lengthwise into large rounds about ¼” thick. Slice the peaches or nectarines into segments, discarding the pit.

    2. SLICE the mozzarella cheese into rounds about ⅛” thick.

    3. PLACE a circle of tomato slices onto a large serving platter. Season with 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. Layer the slices of mozzarella cheese on top of the tomatoes. Place the peach or nectarine slices on top of the cheese.

    4. MOUND the arugula in the middle of the circle of fruit. Sprinkle the blackberries onto the arugula. Sprinkle the arugula and blackberries with the remaining salt.

    5. SHAVE the Parmesan cheese with a potato peeler and distribute the shavings on top of the arugula and blackberries.

    6. DRIZZLE the entire platter with the olive oil, then drizzle with the balsamic glaze. Scatter the basil leaves throughout. Serve!

     
    ________________

    *Common stone fruits include the apricot, cherry, damson, nectarine, peach, plum, and hybrids like apriums, plumcots, and pluots. Here’s more information about stone fruits and other drupes.

     
     

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    8 Tips For Healthy Eating, For National Wellness Month

    We feel a bit hesitant to publish this “public service announcement” on the heels of National S’mores Day, but August is National Wellness Month.

    National Wellness Month focuses on self-care, stress management, and creating healthy routines, including eating.

    So here’s our PSA.

    These eight tips for healthy eating come from the National Health Service—of the U.K.! The advice is universal.

    1. Base your meals on higher fiber starchy carbohydrates (i.e., unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans).

    2. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables.

    3. Eat more fish, including a portion of oily fish (the latter include eel, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, sprats, trout, and tuna).

    4. Cut down on saturated fat and sugar.

    5. Eat less salt: no more than 6g a day for adults.

    6. Get active and be a healthy weight.

    7. Do not get thirsty (i.e., drink enough water).

    8. Do not skip breakfast.
     
     
    You can read the full article here.
     
     
    Dear reader, you may say, “I know all this.”

    Great! Happy National Wellness Month!

     

    Crudites Platter With Spinach Hummus
    [1] Spinach hummus with crudites, for a starter or snack (photo © Australian Asparagus Growers).

    Miso-Glazed Salmon With Edamame
    [2] Miso-glazed salmon atop mixed vegetables—edamame, mushrooms, onions. Here’s the recipe (photo © Chef Rita French | Urban Kitchen & Bar | Phoenix [permanently closed]).

     

     
     

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    S’mores Recipes For National S’mores Day

    S'mores Party Platter
    This party platter is a s’mores lover’s dream (photo © XO Marshmallow).

     

    August 10th is National S’mores Day. We never run out of creative s’mores recipes: Check them out here.

    Whether it’s a s’mores cake, s’mores pie, s’mores ice cream, s’mores popcorn, or the classic s’mores cookie sandwich, every bite is a delight.

    One year, we went overboard and had a s’mores party with six of these recipes. After tasting some of everything, some guests were begging for plain Greek yogurt to “detox.”

    Lesson learned: The next year we served just one (the S’mores Baked Alaska).

    Maybe next year we’ll treat family and friends to the s’mores party platter in the photo, the creation of XO Marshmallow.

    If it’s too overwhelming for you, default to these classic s’mores. You don’t need a campfire; you can melt them in the oven.
     
     
    > The history of s’mores.

     

     
     

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