This is a post for those who are beetroot lovers, like me. This is a post for those who do not measure the Glycemic Index or for those who do not care about the Montignac diet program. This is a post for those who adore dirty jobs and do not make faces once they have to peel red and bloody beets.
These bad beets are one of the most popular vegetables in Poland. In fact, they are so common that the word itself (beetroot – burak) has a second meaning which describes a peasant or a person who behaves primitively.
Beets are eaten all year round in my country. We, Polish people, pickle beets, for example, with garlic. Sour beet starter is the base for one of version of “borsht”, which is a one of the most popular soups in Poland, especially served with raviolis stuffed with ceps for the Christmas Eve. Warm beet puree is served traditionally as an accompaniment to meat dishes, for example, Zrazy.
Cold beetroot and horseradish salad called Ćwikła, is often served as an accompaniment to Easter dishes, in particular cold meats and pates. Young beets, with their leaves and stalks, which you can get only in summertime, are used for “botwinka” – a soup made out of young beets.
Those, who are familiar with Polish cooking, probably already noticed that I have not yet mentioned “chłodnik litewski” (in direct translation from Polish - “Lithuanian cold soup”), which is a soup traditionally eaten cold and which is always served in summertime. It is made from young beets, their leaves and stalks, sour milk (buttermilk or kefir), freshly chopped herbs and some raw chopped vegetables.
This absolutely tasty and vivid pink cold soup, in its today’s "luxury" version served with crayfish tails and quails’ eggs, is not less original and tasty than internationally known cold soups, for example Spanish Gazpacho.
It is totally refreshing; slightly acid and having an extremely pink color. In summertime, in Poland, one can taste its more rustic version everywhere, meaning in every canteen, cheap and fast restaurants and other more sophisticated places as well. It is a huge, huge pity, that the soup is not known anywhere else in the world.
Well, why is this soup called “Lithuanian”? Probably because it came ages ago from Lithuania. As I already mentioned it in my Zrazy recipe, for ages, Poland was with Lithuania in a political union and that is one of reasons why we are influenced by its culinary traditions.
Nowadays the soup is so popular, that I do not feel any discomfort presenting it as one of typical, Polish dishes.
I prepare it very often in the summer, when young beets are available at every food market (at least in Poland, in Paris you will not find them so easily). There exist various ways to prepare this soup. However, you will always need young beets with their leaves and stalks, sour milk (buttermilk or kefir; or even natural yoghurt, if you cannot find any of the three products)). In old recipes it is advised to add a lot of fresh sour cream which, nowadays, may seem excessive because it is too rich. I add just a bit, and not always.
Then you have to buy cucumbers, fresh chives and dill (if you do not like dill, you can use more chives). A bit of something sour is advised – most likely, some Polish-style beetroot concentrate, or Polish-style sour cucumber’s juice. But remember! If you cannot find any of those ingredients, just add a bit of a fine vinegar (for example, red wine vinegar) or lemon juice, or just omit it (the soup will still be good!). A traditional version for this soup does not contain any garlic, but I know people who add some of it. Other people add chopped radishes and Polish-style pickled cucumbers, too.
Nowadays the most popular accompaniment to the soup is hardboiled eggs or potatoes. However, one could remember that one hundred years ago it was often served with cooked crayfish tails or some baked meat (for example, veal).
In my recipe, I bake one half of the beets and I use the second half to prepare the beet broth* (in my opinion, beets cooked in water lose a lot of their taste. I add the baked beets into the soup, cut into slices).
This is an exquisite version of the rustic soup - I recommend it to all of you who like beets! Bon appétit!
Cold beet soup (Chłodnik litewski)
1 l sour milk (or buttermilk, kefir or natural yogurt - to buy in food stores carrying Polish or Russian food)**
100 ml crème fraiche (optional)
3 young beets (around 300-350 g), washed and dried (for baking)*
2 young beets (around 200 g), peeled, washed and cut into slices*
5-6 stalks of young beets, washed and cut into halves*
2 handfuls of young beets’ leaves, washed and chopped
3 small size pickling cucumbers or 1 medium cucumber, peeled, washed and chopped into very small cubes (around 200 g)
1 bunch chives, finely chopped
1 bunch dill, finely chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or 100 ml Polish-style sour beet concentrate or sour cucumbers’ juice, but it is not so easy to buy) (optional)
8 to 10 hardboiled quail’s eggs (or 4 regular hardboiled eggs)
120 g crayfish meat (optional)
A pinch or two powdered sugar
Preheat your oven until 180 degrees.
Place 3 beets in the oven and bake them until soft, for about 30 to 40 minutes depending on their size (check if they are baked with a fork).
Remove the beets from the oven, let them cool down completely, peel them and cut them into cubes or slices and put aside.
In the meantime, in a pan, bring to a boil about 500 ml of water. Add the remaining raw beets and stalks and cook until completely soft. The beets broth will have a deep, nice color. A last, add the beet’s leaves to the broth and cook for another 5 minutes. You should have about 250 to 300 ml of broth.
Strain the broth, throw away the beets and, eventually, stalks (at least I do not eat cooked stalks, because I do not like them). Reserve the leaves. Let the liquid cool down completely.
In a large bowl, mix buttermilk with cream.
Add chopped cucumbers, beets leaves, dill and chives. Mix everything.
Then start to add slowly little by little the beets broth, mixing and controlling the color and texture of the soup.
Add the sour beet base or red vinegar (should you want to use any), season with salt, pepper, sugar and mix.
The color of this soup should be intense pink.
The soup should a bit thick, rich in ingredients.
Place the soup in the fridge for at least one hour.
Serve it cold with baked beets, eggs and crayfish meat.
Note: this soup tastes even better when served on the next day.
*You may, however, simplify this recipe by cooking slices of peeled beets, their stalks and leaves together in water. This is how the beet base is usually prepared.
**if you cannot find any sour milk, kefir or buttermilk, you can try to use natural, liquid yogurt.
Buttermilk: 2.20 €
Organic young beets: 3.90 €
1 pack of crayfish (cooked): 3,20 €
1 pack of crayfish (cooked): 3,20 €
Quails eggs: 3.00 €
Chives: 1 €
Dill: 1 €
Cucumber: 1 €Other ingredients: 1 €