Lithuanian Summer Borscht

June 20, 2007 at 12:32 PM (beets, cucumbers, dishes by cuisine, Lithuania, milk and milk products, vegetables/ fruits, yoghurt)

If you are fond of beets, you are in for a treat; if not, you may well be converted by this simple, summertime recipe. Of course, you probably won’t give it a whirl if you don’t like beets, therefore, pass this recipe on to someone who does! Then, if you’re feeling brave, you can take a spoonful…

pic.jpg

I was one such person long ago…well, not that long ago I suppose…When I was in my early twenties I worked in a nursing home. Air-conditioning? Just near the nurse’s station at the centers of the long corridors. It was hardly noticeable at either end or in the rooms, where I did most of my work, and not at all in the basement, where the employee lounge was located. That was where a good friend and I would try to meet for lunch; you see, we both had the habit of bringing food with us (as opposed to the “snackers” who raided the vending machines), and, since we both had an inbuilt natural curiosity, seeing what the other had brought was a matter of course! And one warm summer day during our lunch-break, she talked me into a spoonful of this fuchsia-coloured stuff.

My friend was taken in, as a child, by foster parents, who happened to be Lithuanian. She was very proud of this fact, partly, I am sure, by the sheer exoticness of it all, but mostly, I think, because they were very kind people who cared very much for her, and that stability and unconditional love helped her become the person she is today: a registered nurse living in Austin, Texas…kind, caring, mature, self-confident, and still enthralled with life.

Unless she’s now dead; honestly I haven’t heard from her in quite a few years, nor she from me! Somewhere, sometime, between all the moves we have both made in our lives since those naive years, we lost track of each other. Perhaps someday fate will bring us together again for a quick “catching up” over something potable. Perhaps not.

The good news is that I managed to pry 3 recipes, this among them, from her and her recipe-hoarding foster-mom. [evil laugh] You see, her “mother” (perhaps I shouldn’t use the quote marks because this kind woman was everything a good mother could be) was quite old-fashioned in an Old-World way: most protective of her family’s gastronomic secrets. She had a thick, fascinating accent when speaking English, still…her use of it was good enough to politely evade my several requests for this and other recipes… until, finally, as the time drew closer to her daughter moving away for an irresistable job-offer, she loosened…just a bit. 

Such a simple recipe too, to cause all this mischief! But, when you consider that it is delicious enough to convert a staunch beet-hater into a beet-worshipper, it’s simplicity becomes a part of its charm; simple, that is, in its original avatar. By now, if you know me even somewhat, you will note that I enjoy tinkering a bit. And tinker I have indeed with this little gem from the Baltic sea-coast. I present to you a soup to catch the eye, cool the body and soothe the mind- both my version and the original (er…..I think….[always wonders] ) for you to play with as well…

You might notice how very much it resembles an Indian raitha…

You might want me to stop babbling and just get on with it…

You might be right!

Lithuanian Summer Borscht- original as it was dictated to me

Take about equal parts of cooked, shredded beets, chopped cucumbers and sour cream. Mix these well, then add a good amount of fresh, minced dill and a few grinds of black pepper. Thin it with buttermilk (I don’t think she meant true buttermilk- rather the thinned yoghurt available and sold here labeled as “buttermilk”) to a soup-like consistency and salt it to taste. Refrigerate it for at least a few hours, but preferably for a day to allow the flavours to blend. Serve chilled, of course, with crusty home-made bread. (Can we say rye?) And… (I recently learned this) boiled or fried potatoes….also, traditionally this soup is decorated with slices of hard-boiled eggs (I am rarely in the mood for these, so I’m afraid, pretty as they would be, they do not grace my photo).

Lithuanian Summer Borscht- the Pel variation

1 1/2-2 lbs of fresh beets

2 lg cucumbers

1 C green onions- green part only, sliced into 1/4-1/8″ rounds

1 fresh hot green chile- such as serrano, seeded and minced very finely- like 1 mm dice

3-4 T fresh, minced dill-weed (not the flowers or tough stems)

several grinds of black pepper

3 C whole-milk yoghurt (or a mix of real sour cream and yoghurt, or low or non-fat yoghurt- whatever spins your wheels)

salt to taste

See? Nothing terribly foreign to the Lithuanian taste-buds…and I am sure that, besides having a few “chile-heads” there, it is probable that there are many in search of a lighter version of this recipe- hence my use of yoghurt in place of sour cream…but, the two can be mixed if you like; I sometimes do this.

1)Wash and trim both the stem-end and root-end of each beet, place in a saucepan and cover with enough water to be an inch or so above the beets. Bring to boil, lower to simmer and cook for 45 minutes- 1 hour until tender. Allow to cool in the cooking liquid.

2)Remove each beet and slip the skins off- they should slide off quite easily; discard the peels, but retain the cooking liquid; place the skinned beets in a separate dish. Allow the cooking liquid to sit undisturbed while you complete the next steps. (obsessive me will often strain this through a fine sieve into another bowl, but I didn’t want to admit that- ooops, I just did!)

3)Into a large mixing bowl, shred the beets using a medium-cut shredder (if too fine, they tend to form clumps I’ve found). You should have 2 1/2-3 C or so…

4)Peel the cucumbers (if using small, young cucumbers there is no need to peel) slice each in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.* Slice each hollow half into 1/3″ strips lengthwise, and then across into 1/3″ cubes. Again, aim for about 2 1/2-3 C… Add these to the bowl.

5)Add the sliced green onions, minced chile, minced dill and black pepper to the bowl. Add the yoghurt and/or sour cream and mix very well.

6)Thin the soup by carefully decanting the reserved beet-cooking liquid into the mixture until a desired consistency is reached. (Any missed dirt will sink to the bottom, so don’t use the final dregs of the bowl. If you’d like it thinner yet, use water or American “buttermilk”)

7)Here’s the part that your real skills as a cook are on display: salt this soup to taste. Try not to overdo it: add salt little by little and mix very well before adding more. Salting a cold mixture is tricky, because it doesn’t dissolve as quickly as adding salt to a hot liquid- therefore, it is very easy to over-salt- what tastes fine now can turn to saline-unpleasantness in 30 minutes. Thin it with more liquid if this happens. Those of you adept at raitha-making already know what I’m talking about.

8)Chill for at least 4 hours, but preferably for a day to allow the flavours to meld. Serve with bread, toast, a sandwich, as a first course for a light summer meal or as a snack to cool you off. Offer some to your neighbor with the all-white rooms and act drunk as you step inside the door, clumsily offering a bowlful. Hours of fun! [winks]

*Oh yeah, the cucumber seeds…why chuck ‘em? They’re perfectly fine and delicious, but they tend to cause faster spoilage in cold soups… So…here are a few things I do with them: break the pulpy chunks into bite-size pieces and place in a bowl…then either 1)season them with salt and pepper 2)season them with Thai fish sauce, lime juice, and a sprinkling of ground chiles 3)season them with Indian chat masala and lime juice 4)make of them a paste, and smear it on your face- or other body-parts- as a cooling moisturizer! (rinse it off before you go somewhere, unless you need a new look)

And one more little tidbit for those of you who enjoy reading my verbal dribble so much that you got this far: I sometimes add a stalk of finely-sliced lemon-grass to the soup as well, if I have some handy, which I often do…adds a lovely lemony note that goes quite well with the tart yoghurt! (But don’t tell any Lithuanians that I snuck in a Thai ingredient)

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29 Comments

  1. Manisha said,

    Or use seedless cukes?
    So borschts are raitas? This is so much like a beet raita.

    No kidding! I thought the same…like a cuke and beet raitha combined. The “winter borschts” (can that even be pronounced?) don’t usually contain sour cream- I had to stop writing and check out wiki; read this…okay, apparantly only Lithuania has this type- where the sour cream (or yoghurt) is blended into the broth…otherwise, the Russian cold Borscht just has a dollop on top- had it that way once in San Diego. Interesting that these countries adore beets so much!

  2. Asha said,

    I love Beets.Beet raita is my fav. This dish looks good with a fancy name!:))

    I like the colour…it reminds me of another dish, a variant of Marathi Vangi Bhat… :-)

  3. Musical said,

    While i would also say that this is quite like the beet raita i make, who cares about the name! i tastes good, period! thats all i care about :)

    I like a woman with priorities!

  4. bee said,

    wow. what a beautiful, elegant, yet simple dish. i have canned beets.
    stop rolling your eyes so furiously, pel.
    those are the only canned veggies i use, ‘cos fresh ones are too messy to handle. when i get hold of a cucumber, i am totally trying this.

    I’ve often said the same thing! [winks] In winter, when beets are pricey, I’ve been known to use the canned ones- buy the whole ones and grate them…though, your fingers will be stained a bit this way too! Fresh is best really, and you can always wear gloves!

  5. sharmi said,

    what a color. I saw this recipe in some other blog too. looks so pretty.

    I thought you’d enjoy this colour! And. there was no fiddling with the pic…

  6. Manisha said,

    Canned beets?! NO!!!! OMG! Bee! NO!

    OK, so I use them, too. Just for the convenience of opening a can, grating them and eating the raita right away. But the real flavor is in fresh beets! Go buy some today and then do a haak with the greens. :D

  7. Anita said,

    I’ve had the hot-soup version of borscht – nothing in common between the two, other than the beets.
    This looks like the perfect summer soup – especially with the cooling dahi. I’ll remember the tip about the neighbours with the white walls too :D And include lemon grass, since I always have it (not bragging about what I grow, see?) – just wanted to tell you I read all the way to the last line) :lol:
    You have seedless cukes in the US of A?!! Is it hollow in the middle or is it an unattractive dense log of a cuke?

    I’ve eaten them here and there, but a cucumber with no seeds is quite un-natural! The seeds are actually still there, just very tiny, undeveloped, so nothing to save for planting next year! Local cucumbers in season have a lot more flavour than the grocery-store ones. I don’t know why…

  8. Manisha said,

    Hollow in the middle? LOL! Dense log? Unattractive?! ROTFL!
    Ever had seedless watermelon? If there were no seeds would it be hollow in the middle? If it has no seeds would it be unattractive? If it had no seeds, would it be d…scratch that last one.
    It’s like a regular cuke, with the soft center – just no seeds. Like <a href=”http://www.parkseed.com/product_images/5129.jpg” rel=”nofollow”>this</a>. And just cos there’s a link doesn’t mean I am not busy or working.

    Of course not!

  9. Cynthia said,

    I am not a beet-lover but gosh-darn I do love the colour it gives to ever dish it is in. Will <i>think</i> about trying this. (lol)

    Do consider; beets with sour cream or yoghurt is loved by many… such a delicate contrast between sweet and sour…

  10. Anita said,

    That cuke looks <i>strange</i> and unattractive. We get such good cucumbers in India… :D the ones that look more like gherkins. They would be sooo good in this soup.
    I can understand with the watermelon – but someone sure didn’t like their cucumber seeds to breed them out totally! What will they do for <i>chare magaz</i>?! Import from India?

    Gherkins are, after all, just young cucumbers- and very good in this soup too I might add. And I don’t mean tendli/ivy gourd…though, I imagine, any of the young, tender gourds could be used for this instead of cucumbers…

  11. bee said,

    technically speaking, hothouse or english cukes have seeds, only, they’re soft and not bitter. plus, those cukes are unwaxed.

    Yeah…no need to peel! Instead, carve fancy designs on the skin…

  12. Manisha said,

    Anita, I remember eating long cucumbers in hot and humid Bombay summers that didn’t have seeds. The hothouse seedless cucumbers are very like those. In general, the cucumbers here are like most other veggies: large, juicy and almost tasteless when compared to their Indian counterparts. It takes a while before you start appreciating the mild flavors of the vegetables here. Most regular cucumbers here have large seeds and they are not fun to munch on especially when the cucumber is grated. There are several appetizers where cored cucumber slices hold a cold stuffing. Yum!

    I’m partial to “lemon cucumbers” myself- when I can find them. I have some seeds sprouting right now (last minute gardening venture).

  13. Anita said,

    And I don’t even dare mention the really juicy <i>Dal lere</i>, the cucumbers from Srinagar, that are grown on the floating gardens in the Dal lake…snacked on through the day, (because Kashmiris don’t care much for salads with their meals!) sliced and sprinkled with salt and lemon juice.
    They must grow beets there too… the best lotus stem is found in this lake, without doubt.

    I know what you mean; I used to save my salad for a few hours after dinner- they make a perfect snack, any time of the day! Ah….Kashmir….y’all should have moved here to Wisconsin instead of Delhi; much more suitable climate and we need the culinary input! :-)

  14. Manisha said,

    What is chare magaz?
    Dal Lake? Isn’t that super polluted now?

    I haven’t the slightest…

  15. Anita said,

    I see Pel hasn’t answered that…
    Chare or Char Magaz is an edible seed mix of Char (four) kinds of seeds: musk melon, watermelon, pumpkin, and cucumber. It is used in desserts (halwa, and burfi), drinks (thandai, even in bhang), included into Mukhwas with aniseed, mixed into savory snack mixes (Namkeens, the Indian muesli?), made into a paste to thicken the gravy in many Muglai dishes, and may also be included in certain green cookies from Rajasthan… ;-)
    The word Magaz means ‘brain’ in Urdu, and this seed mix (as all nuts) are believed to be brain food.

    Rajasthani? Green cookies? Got a recipe?! :-) Char is four…ek, do, ?, char… ek anek, do piaza, …., char magaz… :-D I’ll be at 20 in no time! Charonji…chironji….isn’t that used in cooked chutneys as well? Does “onji” mean “seed”…kal+onji= “black seed”? Or no…?

  16. bee said,

    three = teen

    Oh! That’s awesomeness! And I forgot that I know “five” already…so: ek, do, teen, char, panch!!!! (One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, and four of weak…plus some nutmeg sprinkled on top). That’s nearly a quarter of my counting appendages now! Thank you!!!!

  17. A said,

    Pelicano dear,
    Your blog looks spooky.. every time I visit it, it feels like I visited a dungeon or something.. do you not like lights? why such a gloomy backdrop for both the posts and the site?
    A

    I had to think about that for a bit! When I first saw this design, I hadn’t seen anyone else using it. It is very “me” you see…the colours remind me of dawn and dusk- my favorite times of day, and they pass so quickly…
    In the bright sun of the day, we are blinded to most of the qualities of things by the way they appear…conversely, at night, we notice sounds and smells more strongly than appearance…it is at the borders between the two that things are truest- when the velvety blanket of night begins to creep in and lanterns are lit and hung, and again when night dissolves and the sky lightens; the birds begin singing and all is fresh and new. At these times it is easier to experience what lies between these facades.

  18. Manisha said,

    That’s poetry! You just elevated this theme to more than just a layout and colors.

    I’ve never found it gloomy but wow…

    And, dawn, dusk, drink (oops, scratch that last one), dark all begin with d.

  19. Manisha said,

    So now you have an A and a bee here…Do I have to wait my turn to be M or can I take C?

    I thought you wanted “D”?!

  20. Manisha said,

    I <b>got</b> D! ;-) Although right now, he’s in the doghouse.

    Uh-oh…

  21. Anita said,

    This is just what we need – lessons in Hindi counting and the English alphabet! I don’t think anyone here really knows <i>kanji</i> though that would be totally beautiful.

    I can count in Mayan glyphs to 20…would that get me the prize? How about Hindi for ek, do, teen, char, panch,…6? :-)

  22. Manisha said,

    How presumptious! No-one here knows kanji. Hmmph! I know three kanji. At least I think they are kanji. Or used to be kanji. :lol:

    Hehehehehe…yeah, we’ve all seen the little wall-plaques from Target dearie… :-D

  23. Manisha said,

    Oye, my superlative comment was annihilated by the pink cooling monster on this page!

    Weird…these two just today popped up in the spam pile…it’s like they get sucked up and caught for a bit…still…it’s nice to see ya; hope it doesn’t happen again.

  24. Balt said,

    “…this little gem from the Balkans…”
    Ehr, from the Baltic sea coast. Damn hot summers here too, but the winters may be damn cold. Unlike in Balkans.

    Sorry about that! I changed the post so I look like I know my geography better! Thank you! :-D So, do we have a Lithuanian in the house? ;-)

  25. Balt said,

    Now I’ve read the recipe more carefully, and i see that 1 igredient is missing (or I missed it?). It’s hard-boiled egg. Look here and you’ll see: http://www.rimi.lt/admin/recipes_sik/1118059622.jpg
    And here: http://www.eat-online.net/english/cookbook/lithuania/saltibarsciai.htm

    It’s not necessary if you don’t like eggs, othervise those pieces of the egg are the “gems” of this “gem” ;).
    To serve with bread is OK, but in LT everybody prefer to eat it with fresh hot boiled potatoes ;) Fried potatoes are OK too.
    Not sure about the “buttermilk”: there are 2 sorts of the buttermilk in LT: sour buttermilk,and “milky” buttermilk. In this case it should be a sour one, but actually it doesn’t matter whether there is a genuine buttermilk or kefir, or vinegary milk, or perhaps something else. Sour cream is like very fatty kefir or something: just the buttermilk fat is less than 1%, kefir or vinegary milk ~2.5%, kefir or vinegary milk made specially for the cold boshch 6 – 13%, and the sour cream – 15-40%. Yogurt (without jam and sugar) fat is 1-3%, it is OK if you can’t obtain the “real” ingredients.
    Sour cream, for those who are familiar with russian cuisine, is the same as in Russia or Ukraine, in russian it is “smetana” (in cyrylica – “CMETAHA”). It’s genuine Eastern-European sour cream.
    Bon appetit ;).

    That’s weird; I just had a dream about eating a hard-boiled egg (which I very seldom do) and found your comment! When I was served Russian cold borcht, slices of hard-boiled egg were included, and it is nice to know that it is included in the Lithuanian-style as well- it would be strikingly beautiful, the yellow and fuchsia! Gosh…!

    Kefir…I did some reading on this substance- most interesting! Quite similar to yoghurt-making, but significantly different cultures that produce a mild alcohol content in the finished product. I’ll see if I can find “grains of kefir” to experiment with… a few of my readers will find this quite interesting!

    With boiled (or sometimes fried) potatoes…I know one of my readers will be delighted to hear that! :-D

    The buttermilk available here is really thin yoghurt (like thin kefir)- sour…

    Smetana…like the name of the composer of THE MOLDAU?

    Thank you so much for all the information! Have you thought of beginning a blog yourself? You seem to be a “foodie” (interested in food, cuisines, food history) and would do very well! ;-)

  26. Anita said,

    Balt, thanks for leading us to a new food discovery! That is an amazing link you have provided…Maybe you know something about a goat cheese called shakreyeh or masheer kreyah?
    I doubt I can find kefir grains anywhere, but it was most fascinating to read.
    You have an aloo crazed reader or something, Pel? But then potatoes are such a comfort food, and so nutritious too! :D Naturally this creamy soup will pair wonderfully with soft starchy boiled potatoes

    …predictable! :-)

  27. Balt said,

    Hmmm, I suspect i really can’t help in this case ;) . Those names of the cheese sounds jewish for me, in LT we know just a “white curd cheese” in spite of it is made of cow’s or goat’s milk. Like this: http://www.ekologiskiproduktai.lt/images/uploads/suris-su-aguonom.jpg
    with poppy seeds, or this ordinary white cheese: http://www.rokiskio.com/images/zalkarv_varsksuris.jpg
    Actually there used to be plenty of the jewish food in LT until WWII, but later everything was nearly lost. I can say, that the investigation of the legacy of cookery or cuisine as such was forbidden by bolshevik government (it was treated like some attribute of the “rich capitalists”) and only scientists were alowed to make some researches. They did their job properly, but their results were classified. Now it’s golden mine, hehehe ;) .
    BTW, i suspect that making kefir at home with kefir grains may be unsuccessful if you use pasteurised (or sterilised) milk. Also there may be some other secrets. We buy kefir at the shops and nobody cares how to make it at home. To be honest, the sour buttermilk is nearly identical to a thin kefir, perhaps even better and healthier.

    Regarding Smetana, yes the russian word is same as the last name of that Czech (if i remember correctly) composer, just in russian its meaning is a description of the way of making a sour cream.

    Feta? That’s a Middle Eastern cheese…variations of it are used all across the Muslim world, the most common available here in the states is “Greek style”…… Ricotta is an Italian fresh cheese; I suspect it is passed through a strainer as it has a very fine texture, but similar in flavour in Indian panir…..also similar (but drier and finer-grained) than American “cottage cheese”….

    That cheese with poppy-seeds looks absolutely delicious! Is it used to stuff things: dumplings? vegetables? Or…eaten plain with bread/toast?

    Yes, sadly, much was lost during WWII… let’s hope that something like that doesn’t happen again! It’s good to hear that this large body of research is open to the public! Many societal advances occur when there is a free exchange of ideas….cuisines evolve, as an example…

    Here in the states, our longtime, traditional food (Western-Europe based) is still held dear, but the last few decades have seen a great influence of more-recent immigrants from SE Asia, India, Lebanon, Syria, and Mexico….in general: lighter, healthier cuisines from the tropics/ subtropics….for instance, I eat much more rice than bread or potatoes!

    Kefir-making? Actually the state I live in is well-known (Wisconsin) for its massive tracts of land dedicated to dairy farming….so, unpasteurized milk is available from local creameries (at a higher price of course!) . But, when making yoghurt, the milk is brought to a boil to kill off any stray cultures before the desired culture is introduced/mixed in….so, I suspect kefir-making is similar….I am odd, even here….most people just buy yoghurt already-made from the stores. I like to make my own- I like it a bit more sour…plus its cheaper to do so! ;-)

  28. Balt said,

    Agree about kefir-making, it was just my suspicion ;) . Once i was making something similar to kefir, but actually i don’t know what it was: it’s such a fungi, called “japanesse” (or “chinesse”) fungi (in LT); you put it in into a jar with milk – and soon it (milk) turns into kefir or something. The more you wait, the more sour it grow :). But nothing special. I guess it should be used for healing or so. Finally it turned into something inedible, or at least it looked so :)
    That cheese is like a normal cheese (to stuff dumplings we use curd, it is soft), I prefer the sorts with caraway seeds.

    That “Chinese/Japanese” milk-fungus sounds delicious! Send me some in an envelope… hehehehehehe :-)

    That white cheese so popular in LT is popular here too- we call it “farmer’s cheese”- a very young, fresh cheese- good for sandwiches and sliced on hors d’oeuvres (appetizer) platters with crackers…I like the one with caraway seeds as well, but my favorite has red chiles…. ;-)

  29. Balt2 said,

    Don’t add the egg to the pot of saltibarsciai – add it individually to each serving, if you want to use it. A lot of folks don’t. The egg turns quite vile if it sits around too long, and you really don’t want to have that. Foster mom’s recipe is right on, however, our mom always added chopped scallions (as you have done). Boiled or home-fried potatoes are, I believe, essential. Our mom used commercial buttermilk (in US) and enriched it with sourcream or with whole milk yogurt.Agree that cucumber must be seeded. I make a big bowl of this and eat for several days running. Will need to try some of your enhancements, they sound quite appealing.

    Hey, thank you! I too, love to have a big bowl of this sitting in the refrigerator to take ladles of- and the flavour improves as it rests as well. I’ll add the info about the potatoes to the post, and thank you so much for writing!

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