In the dead of summer, when I crave bright, fresh flavors, the last thing I want to cook are my grandmother’s hearty Eastern European recipes.  However, there is one exception—beautiful, chilled Borscht.

Beautiful Borscht copy

Forget what you think you know about this intensely purple soup. Borscht’s flavors are the farthest thing from boring and out-dated. Tangy red wine vinegar and sweet roasted beets (plus a hint of sugar!) offer the perfect sweet-sour balance. Garnished with crisp cucumber, fresh dill and a dollop of sour cream, there is no better way to fill you up and cool you off this summer. Naturally, cold soups are one of our most requested dishes for summer cooking parties. Everyone wants to learn how to make them!

Feel free to serve this soup however you like. Substitute yogurt or buttermilk for sour cream, add steamed new potatoes for heartiness, or sprinkle on a few chopped chives. When the weather cools down, I even enjoy this soup warm. Don’t have the time to roast your own beets? These days you can find them roasted, peeled, and vacuum sealed at most grocery stores. Enjoy–you can’t beet this borscht!


Beautiful Borscht

Serves 12 as a first course, 6 to 8 as a main course

3 pounds (6 medium) beets, stems and roots trimmed and to no more than ½ inch long

3 tablespoons canola oil

2 cups chopped yellow onion

3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

7 cups chicken stock or reduced-sodium chicken broth

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

About 1/3 cup sugar

1 ¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cups finely diced English cucumber

1 cup sour cream

½ cup finely chopped fresh dill

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Tightly wrap the beets in pairs in heavy-duty foil. Bake the beets until they are just tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool the beets to room temperature. The beets can be prepared to this point up to 3 days in advance. Refrigerate in the foil packets.

Peel the beets and with a box grater, grate them coarsely.

In a large, nonreactive pot over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and garlic, cover and cook, strirring occasionally, 10 minutes. Ass the stock, grated beets, vinegar, ¼ cup of the sugar, the salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover and cook, stirring often, until the beets are tender and the borscht is very thick, 30-35 minutes.

Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, preferably overnight.

Adjust the seasoning, adding more sugar if necessary to taste. Ladle the borscht into bowls and garnish with cucumber, sour cream, and dill. Serve cold.