Many years ago, I had a strange hankering for borscht. Strange, because I didn’t really like beets. But I decided to try it and it was delicious. And extremely refreshing in the heat. I am referring, of course, to cold vegetarian borscht, not the hot version with chunks of meat.
When I found a recipe, it called for sour salt, and I couldn’t find any. By then, my grandmother was no longer alive, but my husband still had one grandmother. Our heritage is Russian Jewish, so I figured she’d know about borscht and sour salt.
She did. Not only that, she had three or four unopened jars of the stuff (which is also referred to as citric acid– now that I know that, I can find it in New York). It struck me as rather optimistic that a 92 year old bought in such quantities; at the rate I make borscht, I would exhaust such a supply in 8 or 9 years.
The sour salt gives borscht that tang, almost like the Japanese umami. In fact, when I was pregnant with my third child, my cravings were limited to borscht and miso soup, which gets its umami from the miso paste. And, oddly, my youngest daughter loves both soups, proof perhaps that what you eat when you are pregnant influences your kids.
This soup is refreshing, even when the mercury hits 103º.
4 medium beets, peeled and quartered
1/2 pickle, finely chopped
1/2 cucumber, finely chopped
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp sour salt.
Cover the beets with water and cook for 20-25 minutes. Grate the beets – if you do this by hand, your hands will be stained red. I use a Cuisinart. You can also use golden beets, though the flavor is not as intense.
Put the grated beets in a bowl with the cooking water, buttermilk, cuke, pickle and sour salt.
If you like beet greens, you can add them about 5 minutes before the beets are done, then chop and add back in.
Chill till very cold
You can serve with cold boiled potatoes and sour cream or Greek yogurt.