C’s Beet Soup (Borscht)

Despite appearances, I’m not actually of Eastern European heritage.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the hearty and delicious food of the old county.  Case in point: beet soup (aka borscht).  The first time I remember eating borscht was all the way back in 1986 during the last years of the Cold War.  But it wasn’t in Russia, Ukraine, Georgia or any Eastern European country.  In fact, it wasn’t even in Europe – nowhere near Europe, in fact.  It was in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  The occasion was Expo ’86, the world exposition which in retrospect was like a trade show where different countries set up shop in these pavilions to sell people on how wonderful their countries were.  Unfortunately I remember little of these pavilions or the fascinating facts that were undoubtedly on display. What I do remember was running around to the different pavilions with my sister, scrambling to get as many country stamps in our “special” passport books as we could.  One pavilion, though, does stick in my mind. After a long day of passport stamp hunting, we ended up at the restaurant of the Russian pavilion where my parents ordered this strange purplish soup called borscht.  They said it was made with beets.  Beets!?  Now, up until that point my only real experience with beets had been of the entirely too sweet, canned variety served in the starting salad (iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots, beets and vinegar) at my favorite Mexican restaurant at the time, a place called El Burro.  While I credit El Burro with opening my eyes and stomach to the wonders of chorizo (I still dream about those chorizo enchiladas), I can’t quite forgive the usage of those canned beets in those salads because that’s no way for a kid to discover beets.  But, thank God for international boosterism and Expo ’86. So there I was in the Russian Pavilion restaurant with my family. In front of me, a steaming bowl of borscht with a dollop of sour cream on top.  I stirred in the sour cream so that the deep purple became a lovelier shade of violet. I took my first spoonful: subtly sweet, sour and savory all at the same time. How was this possible?   I polished the soup off in no time.  And now over 20 years later I can say proudly that I love beets.  I love their color.  I love their taste.  I love to roast them and eat them straight from the roasting dish or add them to salads. And of course, I love beets in soup.  So, with that, I give you my version of beet soup or borscht.  I’m not really sure where I got this recipe only that I was probably influenced by memories of that first borscht as well consulting various recipes in books and online. Feel free to add to, subtract or alter to your tastes.

3-4 medium sized beets
4-5 carrots
8-10 stalks of celery
1 medium onion
6-8 cups of broth (beef broth is the most traditional I guess but you can use chicken, pork or vegetable broth as well)
3 tbsp of white vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
3-5 bay leaves
serve with sour cream, yogurt of creme fraiche

Here’s how I do it:


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