Winter Borscht & a Class to Sway You
Photo: Liz Rueven

Winter Borscht & a Class to Sway You

Borscht, a simple beet soup with roots in Eastern Europe, never held much appeal for me. So when Rabbi Evan Krame, spiritual leader of The Jewish Studio, suggested that I teach a zoom cooking session about borscht, I politely suggested other seasonal options.

But NO. He wanted BORSCHT as the subject of this class in a series on Jewish cooking. And now I’m glad he did.

Never having made it myself, I dug into The Gefilte Manifesto to read what the mavens of Ashkenazi food ways had to say about how to elevate the meek, pink jarred soup of my childhood memories.

Jewish food cooking borscht
Photo: Liz Rueven

Maybe this was an opportunity?

The more I read, the more absorbed I became. This is a soup with deep roots in seasonal cooking. It can be eaten hot in the winter (see my recipe below) or chilled in the summer. It may be hearty, with bone broth at its base, or vegetarian, allowing for dairy sour cream. It can be chunky or blended until smooth.

roasted beets for borscht
Photo: Liz Rueven

Seasonal foods were central to the food-ways of the poor (really, almost everyone), and wild beet roots were free to foragers. During the brutally long, frigid winters in Russia, Poland and Ukraine, hearty beets stored as well as potatoes. Both were regularly used in winter soups.

According to Gil Marks in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Foods, bland foods were paired with acidic foods like pickles, sauerkraut, sorrel, rhubarb and sour cream, to provide contrast and interest to a very basic diet.

In The Settlement Cookbook (1903), mostly aimed at Eastern European immigrants in the USA, there are two recipes for beet soup. One is called “Beet Soup Russian Style (Fleischik)” and includes brisket, onions, sugar and citric acid. The other is “Beet Soup Russian Style (Milchik)” and suggests sour cream or milk thickened with egg yolks.

Jewish cooking borscht
Photo: Liz Rueven

I’ve played with sweet and sour elements by using the often overlooked umami sweetness of ketchup and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

I know that ketchup and lemons weren’t available in Eastern Europe, where my grandparents came from. But my grandmother, Bertha, often used ketchup to sweeten her creations. I don’t recall seeing lemons in her fruit bowl but I believe she would have loved this borscht.

Jewish cooking: borscht
Photo: Liz Rueven

I blended it all into a velvety puree but if you prefer chunky, that’s fine, too. ‘Cause I love textural contrasts, I opted to bake crunchy sourdough croutons to offset the pink puree. Trader Joe’s has a wonderful kosher sourdough that works perfectly here.

Jewish food cooking class
Cooking with Friends at The Jewish Studio

Join me on Sunday, December 19, 2021 at 4:00 PM and allow me to sway you if you’re not a beet lover. We’ll be whipping up vegetarian borscht and talking about all things Jewish cooking and yes, beets. The class is on zoom and free, but donations to The Jewish Studio are appreciated.

And a big thank you to my dear friend, Susan Barocas, expert in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Sephardic food history and culture, for recommending that I present this class.

Note: For another warming winter veggie soup take a look at one of my faves here.

Disclosure: When readers purchase items through some of the links in this post Kosher Like Me may benefit by receiving a small percentage of sales. There is no cost for the buyer. Thanks for supporting this blogging habit of mine.


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