17 November 2008

Benito vs. the Beet: Борщ

There are not a lot of beet lovers in my family. I remember during a game of Trivial Pursuit with my grandfather Chuck the following question came up: "What vegetable goes by the scientific name Beta vulgaris?" Chuck gave the correct answer, with the explanation that no vegetable could be more vulgar than a beet. I enjoy red beets and go crazy over golden beets--in fact the only ingredients I dislike are those that are bland and flavorless (chickpeas, I'm looking at you). With colder nights, I thought that it would be fun to make a hearty pot of borscht, a soup that doesn't get a lot of respect thanks to lingering misconceptions from the Cold War. Borscht is boiled beets and sour milk, right? Just like the trope that Russian women are ugly, and we all know how that turned out.

Like garam masala, BBQ, pasta sauce, and kimchi, there are as many conflicting recipes for borscht as there are grandmothers in the given culture. Arguments erupt, friendships split, cities go to war against each other on the soccer field. Somehow millions of different people each have the Perfect Version of Dish X, the One True Recipe Since Time Immemorial, and woe unto the heretics.

Without any relatives from the former Soviet Republics, I have no dog in the fight. So in looking at various recipes I decided to go with one attributed to the famous Russian ballet dancer and defector Rudolf Nureyev. Chuck roast, cabbage, carrots, beets, potatoes, tomatoes, assorted flavorings... I roasted the beets before shredding them into the soup, and I increased the amount of beef and tomatoes for additional flavor and body. When serving, be prepared to add two things: salt and acidity, the latter from lemon juice, white wine vinegar, or if you're like me, hot sauce. It's a deep, rich, savory soup, but that necessary punch is best moderated by the individual diners. Whatever you do, don't forget the dollop of sour cream in the middle, and if you have it on hand, a sprinkling of fresh dill.

Frankly I don't know if you can pair a wine with this--I just started eating the soup and the bowl was gone before I thought to try it with the wine. With the earthy peasant heritage beer might be better, but afterwards I relaxed with a glass of the 2007 Bodegas Naia Verdejo. $13, 13% abv, 100% Verdejo from the Rueda region of Spain. Big peach and spice cake aroma, with full-bodied apple and peach flavors. It's easy to get a little tired of fruit bombs with red wines, but luscious fruit flavors can be refreshing in whites. My pairing advice for this wine wouldn't include borscht, but I think it would be a perfect wine for assorted appetizers or a muffaletta: the touch of sweetness and fruit flavors make you crave ham and olives.

Thanks to my friend Angela at Kirby Wines & Liquors for choosing the wine, though at the time I wasn't even thinking about borscht. I can stop by and ask for something like a "fun Spanish white" and she'll select a winner for me. I can't stress this enough: talk to the people at your local wine shop and find someone who works there with similar tastes to yours. Those folks have most likely tried a lot more wine (good and bad) than you, and can quickly find something you'll like in your price range.


the Wine Commonsewer said...

Just like the trope that Russian women are ugly, and we all know how that turned out.

excellent point.

I used to live with a blond chick that hated beets. She'd say things like beets taste like dirt and, actually, if you picture it in your mind the way you would talk about wine (leather, smoke, etc), beets actually do have a bit of 'dirt' lurking there.

I like a little beets in a salad. Mrs TWC loves beets so I believe that i'll pass this along to her.

Samantha Dugan said...

I adore that little Naia and I think, "Fun little Spanish White" is a perfect description. I don't think I have ever had it with food...just so darn tasty on it's own, so much forward tropical fruit, citrus and simple soft acids..really delicious.

My son and I also adore beets, (The kid even eats the pickled ones right out of the can for a snack) and the hubbly, like your Grandfather thinks they are vile...maybe I will make your soup when the kid comes home for holiday break...that is if it ever cools off here, 90 degrees in November, yuck.

Benito said...

Newer readers might also be interested in this golden beet salad I made earlier in the year.

TWC--as for the dirt issue, I've found it has a lot to do with preparation. Even if you don't fully pickle them, any sort of vinegar or citric acid tends to override the earthy flavor on your tongue.

Samantha--Glad someone else out there likes the Naia. Spanish wines are my favorite bargain bottles these days, and the quality and variety are often surprising.

Steve said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve said...

I was just debating beets with a mutual friend the other day. I'm with your family, especially when it comes to cold beets. (In that same debate I sided with you regarding chick peas. What's the point?)

Cooked beets are OK, though, so the borscht sounds interesting. But I'm not sure it's worth that much effort to make something you can't eat with wine. :)