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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)

MAKES ABOUT 16

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.

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Recipes

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.

 

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GOLDEN BORSCHT WITH POTATO CROSTINI

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

SOUP INGREDIENTS

  • 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

CROSTINI INGREDIENTS

  • 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

SOUP PREPARATION
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.

CROSTINI PREPARATION

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.

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