Glorious beet, the queen of the garden: vibrant, voluptuous, earthy and packed full of more goodness per gram than any other vegetable. If beets had beds they would insist on a four-poster with velvet curtains because the humble root just doesn’t get lusher than this. Even the six rather pathetic looking specimens I picked up from an almost empty tray in the back corner of the local Woolies proved capable of filling the pot with an explosion of colour and flavour.
A gathering of disparate friends in a small suburban kitchen on a cold winter’s night (a thick frost had formed on the cars outside even before we had finished mains) was the perfect occasion to bust out a bit of beet action in the form of a borsch. What I love about this particular recipe is the degree to which each guest can nuance the taste and texture of their bowl to suit their mood. Feeling like a little tart? Add a bit more sour cream. Need to carbo-load for the ten minute walk to the shops in the morning? Add some potatoes. Your razor-sharp wit getting in the way of small talk with the cutie sitting next to you? Add a little dill. Served with a cheese board of cheddar, stinky blue, organic figs, dried apricots and roasted almonds, and a choice of fluffy white or fruit loaf, this went down a treat.
Two cattle dogs wrestling under the table and oodles of red wine added considerably to the pleasure of the borsch and the general chaotic atmosphere of the evening. The conceptual-artist-turned-art-blogger hypnotised my puppy, and then called the independent-activist-documentary-filmmaker on her paranoia about all things ‘nano’. At the other end of the table myself and another anthropologist grooved to some Italian lounge jazz, while an expert in Taiwanese art tried to get her head around the difficulties of building houses in remote Aboriginal communities being explained by a bureaucrat in a position to know. The only time the ruckus died down was when the historian of Jewish Lithuanian execution sites shocked us all with a detailed account of how to identify mass graves using ground penetrating radar.
If it sounds like I’m bragging about how interesting my dining pals were it is because I am. They are all ace individuals whose munificent friendship, along with the borsch and the wine, helped to take the chill off my winter blues for at least another day.
Veggie stock to taste
1 large onion
2 sticks of celery
Lemon or vinegar
4 boiled eggs, chopped into chunks
4 boiled potatoes, chopped in to chunks
Salt and pepper to taste
Trim and boil the beetroots for half an hour or so, until tender. Cool, skin and dice into small cubes. Brown finely chopped onions with celery, add beetroot and stock and bring to the boil. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for twenty minutes. Add finely chopped dill and juice of one lemon, or a tablespoon or so of vinegar, and simmer for another ten or until done. Puree, and if too thick add a little water.
Serve hot. Provide sides of chopped boiled potato, sour cream, more dill, chopped parsley, and chopped boiled eggs (or anything else you think might go well – pickles? chives?) and add these to your bowl with generous whimsy reflecting the mood of the moment.