Borscht Toast (Beet Caramelized Onion Toasties)

Borscht Toast

Gone are the days when I diligently jotted a note here letting you know about writerly goings-on elsewhere. But! My fondness for cabbage took an interesting foray into a letter I penned to that cruciferous vegetable, printed in Volume V of the New Guard. And so, I recently began musing about how wonderful Borscht never makes it into the food headlines. It should. Something about the sweet earthiness of beets with enough cabbage to keep it grounded and a touch of dill to lift it up into a heady high-tail into the clouds makes it a soup for the ages.

I haven’t had enough of open-faced finger sandwiches just yet and am enamored of the soup, Borscht. It doesn’t get quite the attention of other soups, but makes a marvelous spread on bread in Borscht Toast. These bright pink bites are the stuff of Valentine’s miracles. Let it be known the bread can be ejected from the scenario and the beet caramelized onion topping can easily sub as a dip with crudités. We find it particularly good with carrots or shoveling it into endive leaves with a few snips of dill or chives on top would be good too. I have a hunch that even ham would play well with this bright pink dip that’s savory and a cheery addition to a winter spread.

Borscht Toast (Beet Caramelized Onion Toasties)


1 medium white onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup finely shredded cabbage

¼ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 small Yukon Gold potato, quartered and cooked until fork tender

2 small beets, peeled and cooked until fork tender (about 3 1/2 – 4 ounces total)

¼ teaspoon dried dill or ¾ teaspoon fresh dill

16  white sandwich bread slices

Fresh thyme or dill sprigs

Create the bread rounds by placing a biscuit cutter dead center in the slices of bread. Reserve the leftover bread for another use.* Toast the bread. Drizzle and swirl the oil into a sauté pan set over medium heat. When it shimmers, add the onions and salt. Saute them for about 10 minutes or until soft, stirring occasionally. Stir the cabbage, thyme, and pepper into the pan. Saute for 2 minutes or until the cabbage softens. Cool the onion mixture for 10 minutes. Grate the potato pieces using the fine holes on a box grater—the potato skins will make it easier to grate the potato and you can toss the peels afterwards. You should have about ½ cup finely grated potato. Place the onion mixture, grated potato, beets, dill into a food processor. Pulse until almost smooth, but still a bit chunky. Scoop about 1 tablespoon onto the toasts.

PS- These open-faced toasts look pretty with a sprig of fresh dill or thyme for decor if desired.

PPS- If you go with thyme, it’s a pretty decoration. Thyme sprigs are woody after all and not quite so edible.

*PPPS- I like using the leftover bread slices missing their middles for egg in the hole at breakfast.


Roasted Beet & Fennel Rocket Salad with Pomegranate Arils

SALAD RECIPES- Roasted Beet & Fennel Rocket Salad with Pomegranate Arils

I must admit my appreciation for arugula quadrupled once I heard that the Brits call it rocket. Who doesn’t want to eat a rocket salad? Okay, silliness aside, we have a newfound affection for the great sum of the parts making up this salad.

Roasting beets brings out their natural sweetness and it is my preferred way to enjoy them. This combination of roasted fennel with the beets is something truly special especially when you add in the bright burst of tartness in the pomegranate arils and the slight piquant quality of rocket. The pepitas give a bit of crunch. If you’re planning a dinner party and want a flavorful and colorful salad to liven up your winter table, pop into the oven a roasting pan of beets, fennel and celeriac.

roasted beet fennel arugula salad



YIELD: 4 side salad portions


  • 3 golden beets
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • ½ celeriac
  • 1 tablespoon grapseed oil
  • 2 tablespoon pomegranate seeds (arils)
  • 2 cups rocket (arugula)
  • 2 tablespoon pepitas



  • ½ tablespoon shallots, minced
  • 1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
  • ¼ cup grapeseed oil
  • pinch of salt
  • cracked black pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Peel beets and then cut into rounds. Lop off the bulb of the fennel from the limbs and then cut the bulb into rounds. With a paring knife, carefully peel off outer skin of celeriac, lop off the limbs and cut into chunks.
3. Place beets, fennel and celeriac on a roasting pan and sprinkle grapeseed oil over them. Rub the beets, fennel and celeriac in the oil to make sure all sides are coated.
4. Roast veggies for 45 minutes.
5. Let cool.
6. In a bowl, whisk together the grapeseed oil, champagne vinegar, salt and pepper with the mined shallots. Set aside.
7. Place rocket in a large bowl and add the cooled roasted vegetables. Sprinkle the pepitas and pomegranate arils on top. Mix in the dressing and toss to coat.


Roasted Beet Fennel Salad with Chicken a la Diable


So you want to make your roasted beet salad into more of a full meal? Easy- pair it with chunks of chopped up Chicken a la Diable. These chicken fingers had a good amount of heat that lingered and played off of the sweet roasted beets and fennel. For some added creaminess with the chicken, we tossed in some feta crumbles and sliced avocado. We followed the recipe pretty much by the book, with a few variations.

– STRIP IT: Go with chicken strips and you will exponentially increase the number of portions you can expect to feed. We cut up the chicken breasts into strips.

– GO WHOLE:  Substitute in some whole grain mustard with the dijon to give a textural delight to the dish.

– GLUTEN FREE? If you’re gluten free, make gluten free breadcrumbs by grinding up Corn Flakes or Crispy Rice cereal and use gluten free flour instead.

Serving size: 1 1/2 chicken strip chopped up on each salad




Notes from the Kitchen

The Long Walk Out of the Darkness

If you scan many bucket lists, you might find the words “run a marathon” on them. I do not delude myself to include it on mine particularly after a chat with the Mister reminded me that the original marathoner died after his 26.2. No thanks.

I will happily cheer on my cousin Jacqueline as she continues setting higher running goals. I give high fives to my sister-in-law, the tri-athlete, after her most recent coup and celebrate with my father-in-law after he does his yearly century 100 mile bike ride. I can appreciate setting goals, training for them and then the rigorous head game of the actual event. I revel in clanging bells from the sidelines like when I saw my friend Susan cycling past on the day she became a tri-athlete. I’m a good cheerleader.

The first time I met Todd, I quickly knew I wanted to be friends with him and that was before I knew about his incredible musicianship and love of karaoke. His puckish expressions, mischievous sparkle in bright blue eyes and black studs piercing his earlobes were unforgettable. We met at the Living Room coffee house among street kid friends we hung out with every Friday night. Sometimes Todd would bring a portable cribbage set and play but most of the time he engaged the kids in conversation and was known for being a good listener. His intention with and deep love for people resonated.

We lost touch when he moved up to Seattle to play in a band and continue his songwriting. Our mutual friends Pam and Darren would keep me up to date with his latest exploits and so I knew my friend Todd was working at a coffee shop, playing music and also battling his bi-polar condition. What started out as a brief malaise, spiraled down as he turned to alcohol to self-medicate. We learned from his friends later that he had stopped socializing with them and had begun keeping to himself.

I was chopping beets in a different kitchen than the one I am chopping them now when I received the call. I remember Pam’s voice, struggling to utter the un-utterable statement and in between wracking sobs to tell me that Todd – killed – himself. I dropped the knife and held a gulp in the deep of my throat like trying to swallow down a titanic of emotion. We spent long minutes in silence and tried to deduct what had happened. I remember hanging up and looking down at my hands, stained magenta from the beets and thinking how inappropriate dinner all of a sudden seemed.

Darren gave a eulogy at his funeral and brought back stories from talking with Todd’s Seattle friends and a DVD of the service. Several months later, I met Todd’s parents, Connie and Rex for the first time. We swapped stories over coffee and cried and hugged it out. Months later, the death of their only child was a fresh wound.

Several months later, while waiting for the bus, I saw an advertisement that quickened my pulse. It read “Out of the Darkness” and described an overnight walk benefiting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I pulled out my mobile phone and punched in the numbers to Pam and Darren’s house. The words tumbled out like a charge, they rushed out like swimmers beginning their tread into open water. This non-marathon runner committed to walking 18 miles, the furthest distance I’d ever walked, 18 miles of the city of San Francisco from sun down to sun up.

This is where we began.

We assembled a team and began raising support for our walk. Every Saturday I moseyed down to Ocean Beach where other Out of the Dark walkers would meet to train and walk the distance of Ocean Beach to Lake Merced. In the beginning the walking was slow going and like with any other thing, involved all those small steps to build up to the big event. Our walking coach herself was bipolar and had walked many other Out of the Darkness events. We talked about Todd and her compassion ministered to me. She charged ahead with the faster walkers and then backed up to chat with slower walkers, ahem, met Her enthusiastic persistence made quicker work of 10 miles.

The evening of the big walk, we met up at a noodle joint in the Marina to tackle a big bowl of noodles as the beginning of our food fuel for the nightlong walk. In Crissy field, we proudly wore t-shirts emblazoned with one of our favorite photos of Todd’s mug, smiling out, friendly, a lover of people. I cried as a survivor told his tale of jumping off the Golden Gate bridge and living to tell the tale. I missed my friend just as Pam, Darren and Keoke missed him, and we walked for Rex and Connie as much as we did for their son. We, the living, set out to honor the living and the dead. We walked in solidarity. As the darkness settled above us, we began the slow walk of remembrance weaving our way through the Presidio and then into the Richmond. We found succor in talking with the family members and friends walking on behalf of someone else. We walked through the Sunset and through the Haight and north of the Panhandle. I’d never seen the Financial District so quiet and empty. In our numbers, we walked safely and sometimes in silence mulling over why we were walking. By the time we made it to North Beach, I could feel the growing blister forming on my right big toe. We stopped so I could bandage up my toe and then keep walking.

Even though it hurt to walk on, on we pressed.

As we neared Crissy Field once again, we caught sight of a lit up path woven between small paper bags with tea light candles inside. Each of us stopped to write our message, a message to the person we were walking for, on a bag. Inside, we lit a candle, illuminating the message before walking forward past the pathway, back to the staging area where our walk would draw to its final conclusion. The sunrise over the Golden Gate bridge encountered early morning fog and the seagulls had begun to wake up and circle the sky around us.

Eighteen miles was never something I thought I would tackle. For friendship and for love, wouldn’t most of us walk to the moon and back if we could?

Sometimes, certain foods bring back memories. Those food memories make us human. They remind us of what matters in the most mundane and most important acts: breaking bread at the table with people we love. And so as I make this Roasted Beet, Fennel and Rocket salad, I think of Todd and find myself grateful for the time we had and a bit wistful in wishing there just might have been more of it.

roasted beet fennel rocket salad


Golden Borscht with Potato Crostini

SOUP RECIPES- Golden Borscht with Potato Crostini

It pays to have people in your life who entertain for a living. My friend Katy sings opera and can do a spot on perfect Scottish accent or Russian. I chalk it up to her time studying for a role in Eugene Onegin several years back. Regardless, her Russian accent inspired the nickname Olga, so Olga she remains to me.

Earlier this year, she performed in the Pirates of Penzance. She landed the role of the Pirate Queen so to speak and had great fun wearing ruffles, velvet and a saber on a regular basis. Nathan and I attended a matinee of her performance with the privilege of sitting alongside her parents watching her nursemaid transform into a pirate much later in the performance. She possesses great spirit on the stage and as the case stands for most mezzo-soprano roles, either takes her turn as a nurse, maid or elderly aunt. When the role calls for humor, she gives the audience a rollicking good time.

Summers in San Francisco can be a bit chilly and this one was no exception. I will remember me clad in turtlenecks and coats for the summer of 2010. After Pirates finished, Nathan, Tyler, Olga and I joined her parents at a bistro for a light early supper. Olga ordered borscht as we ordered the goulash to split with salad. I had never before had the occasion to try that bright purple soup. When the gauntlet comes down about what’s for dinner, I can’t say, “Russian!” is usually what pops out of my mouth. A spoonful of her soup was full of dill and a hearty flavor. I found myself intrigued and kind of eyeing that bowl of soup from across the table wondering if I might sneak another taste.

The Pirate Queen herself & parents
Sans pirate makeup
Trying on my best pirate snarl

I love homemade soup. November is beginning to feel chilly in the city and I felt an urge to tackle the borscht myself, giving it a bit of a different spin. Nathan is a good sport as he puts up with my kitchen experiments and joins me in their execution. Tonight, and really all last week, the desire for a good hearty beet soup put me in an expectant mood. This one does not disappoint; I heartily suggest eating the crostini and soup in the same bites.




adapted from the Culinary Institute of America’s “Gourmet Meals in Minutes


  • 2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 celery stalks, trimmed, thinly sliced
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled, thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot, peeled, thinly sliced
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 head savoy cabbage, shredded
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 3 golden beets, peeled, grated
  • 1/4 cup dill, minced
  • 2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or as needed


  • 2 medium red fingerling potatoes, sliced thinly
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2 T of sour cream
  • 2 T of plain yogurt
  • 2 T dill, minced
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. onion powder
  • Cracked black pepper & kosher salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 350. Bring the broth to a simmer while you peel and prepare the vegetables. Heat a large soup pot over medium heat with the oil. Add the onions and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are tender and golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in the thyme.

Add the celery, sweet potatoes, carrot, leek, and cabbage. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are slightly tender, about 8 minutes.

Add the broth and the bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 10 minutes before grating the beets directly into the soup. Separate the third beet and grate into a separate small pot of boiling water where you will blanch the shredded beet and keep it separate. Simmer the soup, partially covered, until the soup is flavorful and the vegetables are completely tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the dill. Add the red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. With your immersion blender, pulse the soup to the desired consistency. We kept ours a bit chunky. Drain the separated shredded beet and garnish in each bowl for a bit more crunch. Garnish the soup with the potato crostini and serve. We found the perfect bite included a bit of the potato, the yogurt dill dollop on top and soup.


Place the thinly sliced potatoes on a cookie sheet. Brush the tops of the potatoes with the olive oil. Sprinkle some kosher salt on top of them. Stick them in the oven to cook for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Afterwards, pull the cookie sheet out and flip the potato crostini. Bake for another 5 minutes or until golden brown. While the crostini are baking, in a small bowl, mix together the sour cream, plain yogurt, dill, garlic powder, onion powder and a pinch of salt. Place them on a paper towel lined plate to catch any excess oil. Place a small dollop of the yogurt dill sauce in the middle of each of the crostini and serve with the soup. You can serve the crostini on the side of the bowl or in the middle of the soup for a more dramatic presentation.