One of the inconveniences of life in my first apartment has been making do without the arsenal of gadgets in my mother’s kitchen. I felt most deprived in my first few weeks here, when my stuff was in transit and I was reduced to preparing gruel-like dishes with a camping cookset — a subject for another day’s post, perhaps — but I still miss the luxury of having a lifetime’s accumulation of kitchenware at my disposal. Part of me (the brainwashed consumer part?) honestly believes I would be a MUCH better cook if only I had a [insert niche kitchen object here].
Recently I have been pining away for a food processor. This recipe came about as an act of food processor-deprived desperation, after a month-long unseasonal craving for summer borscht, the beautiful, chilled, and yes, pureed beet soup that is Russian cuisine’s answer to gazpacho. When on a recent trip to the farmer’s market I found the beets at an alarmingly low ebb, I decided it was time for an intervention. I snatched up the few remaining bunches, along with a tough-skinned late-season cucumber, and headed home to deconstruct my favorite pureed soup into a beefy salad.
Heretical? Yes. Delicious? Also yes, it turns out.
Apart from a few minor tweaks — I roasted the beets instead of boiling them, and added some caraway seeds for extra flavor — this is basically a recipe for summer borscht. As with so many of my favorite foods, the life of this soup is in the fixings — an all-star line-up of hardboiled egg, scallions, dill, and the inevitable Eastern European flourish, a dollop of sour cream. All were easily incorporated into the salad version.
Initially I was feeling a little sheepish about adapting a high-summer soup in the middle of November, but this garishly pink salad turned out to be just what I needed: a splash of summer decadence on a dour autumnal day.
In contrast to most already-dressed salads, this one improves radically and mysteriously with time, so if you can, make and refrigerate ahead of time, or reserve some for leftovers. This can also become that elusive grail — the “easy weeknight meal” — if you roast the beets and hardboil the eggs at the beginning of the week.
Summer’s Gone Borscht Salad
5 medium-sized beets
5 hardboiled eggs
1 small cucumber
small bunch of dill
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
pinch of sugar
1/2 teaspoon pepper
salt — more than you think
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Trim and scrub the beets. Wrap each beet in foil and place on a cookie sheet in the oven. Roast till tender, about an hour and twenty minutes.
2. While the beets are roasting, chop up the hardboiled eggs, cucumber, scallions, and dill, and prepare the dressing.
3. To peel the beets: let them cool just long enough for you to be able to remove the aluminum foil. Running under cold water, slip the skins off.
4. Chop the beets into 1/2 inch cubes. Combine with the other ingredients and toss with dressing. Taste. If something is missing, add more salt.