this recipe was supposed to be part of a new recipe section based on a series of dinner parties that i have planned, but we got about ten inches of marvelously fluffy snow by dinnertime on saturday and nobody was going anywhere. instead, K and i enjoyed a cozy night with ourselves, drinking wine, watching the x-files, and eating borscht.
i adapted this recipe from m. f. k. fisher’s the art of eating (page 638), a collection of her gastronomical essays, which has become one of my favorite books, inspiring both creativity and envy. i often romanticize the transcontinental travels of those who lived in the early twentieth century. while the idea of a contemporary cruise is utterly repugnant, spending a few weeks in a comfortably tipsy and well-fed daze while crossing the atlantic sounds exciting, like an adventure unto itself. it is also largely thanks to fisher’s description of the perfect dinner party that has inspired me to start putting together my own. for fisher, a dinner party is about conversation between a gathering of unique and interesting individuals, and the food eaten should serve to facilitate a convivial and comfortable environment. the dishes should be simple and honest, never flashy, but if they happen to be impressive it should be due to the freshness, quality and seasonableness of the ingredients used.
and in the depths of february, what would be better than a steaming, ruby bowl of borscht?
borscht is very tangy, but the amount of vinegar used can be adjusted to taste. i served it with some boiled, peeled small potatoes, sour coconut cream, fresh pain a l’ancienne, buttery spread, a mild ajvar, a salad made with kale, apple, fennel and pecans and a Chenin Blanc. the cream and potatoes immediately curb the borscht’s sharpness while the bread and butter round out the lower end of the meal. for dessert: apples, roasted hazelnuts, hot chocolate, and watching the snow fall deeper in the dark, february night.
m. f. k. fisher’s borscht
adapted from fisher’s recipe for hot winter borscht, specifically
12 beets, rinsed and peeled
2 cups good vinegar (i used apple cider)
3 tbl olive oil
1 large sweet onion
2 large carrots
1/3 c fresh parsley, chopped
2 bay leaves
3 tbl flour
1/2 gallon good vegetable stock (i made this earlier from vegetable scraps, but storebought is ok [low sodium!])
– the day before serving or at least two hours ahead of time, shred eight of the beets, cover them with the vinegar, and refrigerate.
– shred the onion and carrots and brown them in a large pot or dutch oven with the olive oil
– when the onion is translucent, after about 5 minutes, add half of the flour and continue to sautée, stirring constantly until the flour is a nice golden color
– add the rest of the flour, the bay leaves, a pinch of salt and a good grind of pepper and the drained, vinegared beets, reserving the vinegar
– add the stock and simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are completely tender
– shred the other four beets and add them to the soup five minutes before service with 1/2 to 1 cup of the reserved vinegar, to taste
– serve steaming hot over boiled, steamed or baked potatoes and with a good dollop of sour cream
quick sour coconut cream
1 can good quality coconut milk, chilled for several hours (thai kitchen brand is the most reliable)
1 tbl apple cider or coconut vinegar
– carefully open the bottom end of the coconut milk can and pour off the translucent coconut water, leaving the solidified coconut cream
– scrape out the coconut cream and whip it, either by hand (macho) or with mechanical assistance
– when fluffy, drizzle in the vinegar and a scant pinch of salt and whip some more. taste for tang and salt and chill a bit before serving