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You can’t beet this summer soup

I love how food becomes traditional, something you can count on year after year; something to look forward to.  Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving … all of these occasions usually present us with the same food to gather around with friends and family. But what about traditions in the summer? Well, in our family, believe it or not, the summer tradition is borscht.

The story goes that my grandmother’s Polish cousin taught her how to make borscht, and then she began to make it every summer as this is when all of the produce needed would have been ready in their gardens. Beets, beans, carrots, herbs – these vegetables are at their peak now (believe me, we tried to make it in January for my birthday, and it really didn’t taste the same). It makes a giant pot, so aunts, uncles, cousins and grandchildren would flock to my grandma’s house with container in hand to eat piping-hot soup in the middle of the summer. My mother even had it for lunch on her wedding day in August.

So a few years ago I decided that it was high time I learned how to make this soup that my grandma had perfected.   I watched every step carefully, and, I daresay, this year the results were fantastic.  I
’m about to divulge some serious family secrets here, but this pot is so good, I feel it’s my duty.
She begins the process with roasting some pork side ribs – this gives the soup some great protein and flavour.  Beet greens, the tops of the beets, are essential. If this is not possible for you, substitute some Swiss chard. Finally, if rhubarb is still around, this adds a nice touch. And, of course, cool the whole thing down with sour cream. Make it now, eat some, and freeze the rest to enjoy the traditions of summer when days cool down a little.

Beet Borscht Serves 8

  • 1 side of pork spareribs
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 10-12 medium sized beets, with greens
  • 6 carrots, cut into batons
  • 4-6 cups of yellow beans, cut in half
  • 2 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 1 small bunch each of parsley and dill, chopped
  • Zest and juice of 4 lemons
  • White vinegar, to taste

Sour cream, to garnish

Pre-heat oven to 400°F;

Season ribs well with salt and pepper and roast until really browned, then place in a very large pot and cover with cold water, about 8 litres. Add bay leaf and simmer until fork tender;

In the same roasting pan, add beets (without greens) and 1 cup of water; cover and roast until just fork tender; remove, cool, and slip off the beet skins; cut into half-moon slices;

Prepare all of the vegetables: roughly chop beet greens, cut carrots, beans and rhubarb and chop herbs;

Add all of the vegetables to the pot; simmer for 25 minutes and then add the herbs and lemon juice and zest; season well with salt and pepper; simmer a further 10 minutes. Taste: add salt, pepper and vinegar, if needed. Enjoy immediately, or cool down in smaller containers and refrigerate. As with most soups, this is better the next day when the flavours have developed; also, you can easily remove cooled excess fat.

Chefs Kirstie Herbstreit and Jody O’Malley are both Red Seal certified chefs. Together they run the company YouCanCook2, specializing in interactive dinner parties. You can also find them cooking at Entertaining Elements in St. Jacobs, where they hold private dinners for eight people. To contact the chefs, visit their website www.youcancook2.com.

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