Borscht. A dish hinted at, alluded to and whispered of throughout my formative years by my beautiful mother. A traditional Eastern European soup centring around Beetroot and Dill- in my mind, one of the culinary archetypes of flavour combinations.
Nothing speaks to me quite like these two flavours (well, thats actually a lie- cheap red wine speaks to me in rather convivial and enticing tones… alas, i digress). Ahem yes… the almost wistful pungency of these robust flavours is one that i find hard to shake off. Even the merest wisp of these smells sends me into a curious pensiveness- kitchen bound, just to stand for a few minutes in our tiny laboratory. Just to breathe it in. To pause and reflect on the simplistic beauty of nature.
To me, any dish that evokes this lyricism is worthy of as much time and effort as i can muster. The beauty of borscht is that it requires non of the labour of my more notable culinary endeavours.
In order to fully convey my adoration of borscht i should note this: (as incomprehensible as it is) i don’t really do soup- i don’t like making it and its certainly at the bottom of my list of things i would chose to eat. Not that theres anything inherently wrong with soup- by all references i should love it; its quick, healthy and economical. And still i have such disregard for the stuff (poor soup, whatever did you do to deserve this treatment?).
Borscht, however, is more than soup; its a memory i can’t place, from a land i’ve never travelled…
As providence would have it, the inspiration to create this meal came from a perfectly formed bundle procured from one of the larger Polish supermarkets in Leith, situated on Seafield road. A tiny parcel of curiosity, the smell of which lured me as soon as i entered the establishment- leading me directly to where it lay, nestled among the other saddened and half forgotten vegetables of a quiet Sunday afternoon. Rustic as they come, wrapped in simple twine; wilting leaves of cabbage encased an even more furlorn looking, but none the less regal head of flowering dill. Said parcel was sealed with a hearty head of garlic, sheltering a pitiful, withered sliver of ginger.
With great care and childish merriment i transported my wee treasure home, where it lay for 24 hours- just long enough to fill the flat with those ubiquitous olfactory notes.
So, to eventually get to the dish. It is clean, unpretentious and swift (like all good conversation should be). There certainly isn’t as much beetroot as is traditional, but i am attempting to coax Callum over to the dark (purple) side, so a gentle introduction was what i went for. That being said, the two beautiful roots we used, happily both flavoured and coloured the dish perfectly. In order to appease my prejudicial soup mind (yes, i believe that is the correct psychological term) i rounded the soup off with a simple sweet potato gnocchi.
I am more than happy to report that my attempts at gluten free, vegan gnocchi worked perfectly. Light and gentle, these little dumplings of joy pleasantly rounded off the soup, though the are totally irreverent (and should you wish to just make the gnocchi then you will not be disappointed).
(Serves 4, Vegan, Gluten free)
- 2 raw Beetroot, peeled and grated
- 2 large cloves of Garlic, grated
- 1 stalk of Celery, sliced
- 1 Onion (red or white), sliced
- 3 Carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/2 head of White Cabbage, thinly sliced
- 4 leaves of Savoy Cabbage, torn (optional)
- a good handful of Dill, roughly chopped
- 1/2 thumb Ginger, roughly chopped
- 1/2 a good quality stock cube
- scant pinch of Sea Salt
- 1 litre of boiling water
- 1/2 tsp of both ground Peppercorns & Mustard seeds
- 1 1/2 tbsp (coconut) Oil
- Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onions, celery and carrots, cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently
- Add the garlic, ginger, half the beetroot and the salt and pepper, cooking for another 5 minutes
- Add the remaining ingredients and cover with the water, cook for no more than 10 more minutes
Sweet Potato Gnocchi:
(I added this to the soup 5 minutes before cooking, just to briefly infuse them. Also, i only used half and saved the remaining for another dish, i.e. my hands, later on that evening)
- 1 Sweet Potato
- 1 tbsp of both ground Flax, Chia seeds & Psyllium
- 8-10 tbsp Chickpea Flour (depending on the size of your potato) + extra for rolling
- scant pinch of Sea Salt
- Heat your oven to 180c
- Roast the sweet potato whole for 20- 30 minutes, until to can easily pierce it with a fork
- Remove, cut in half and allow to cool fully
- Once cool, remove the skin and discard (i.e. eat), mash the flesh in a bowl
- Add the seeds and psyllium and stir well
- Gradually mix in the chickpea flour and salt, leave to congeal for at least 4 hours
- Use a spoon to scoop out small amounts of the potato, with floured hands roll into balls
- Heat a medium pan with boiling water, once all of your gnocchi is formed, carefully drop small batches (about 6 at a time) into the water
- Cook for about 4 minutes or until the gnocchi float to the top
- Ladle out and repeat until they’re all cook
- Pop into the borscht 5 minutes before serving