Tasty borscht in simple steps

September 19, 2001|By Melissa Clark | Melissa Clark,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

A bowl of chilled borscht with a dash of sour cream seems like an ideal late-summer soup, right up there with gazpacho made from the last of the ripe tomatoes.

But unlike gazpacho, which can be whipped together in a blender without once turning on the stove, traditional beet borscht requires a pretty lengthy stint of simmering. Ideal, maybe, to make in the chilly dawn of a Russian winter but not something you'd want to bother with during the still-warm September days.

This was my thinking until one day when I was indulging in a favorite pastime: perusing the produce aisle in my supermarket. There, garnet-hued and vacuum-packed, were small, bulbous bunches of cooked, peeled beets. They looked familiar.

I had seen something similar in France, where supermarkets sell cooked beets as a matter of course. And, indeed, these were French imports, each package about half a pound (250 grams) and retailing for 89 cents.

A vision popped in my head: instant borscht, a recipe as quick as a smoothie and much more appropriate for supper. So I bought the beets, along with a can of chicken broth, a red onion (to match the beets), a tub of creme fraiche and a bunch of fresh dill. Thus armed, I headed to my kitchen.

Just like the beets I had bought in France, these were cooked until meltingly soft, and perfectly suited to a puree. So I whirled them with the onion in the blender, gazpacho style, adding ice cubes along with the broth to eliminate the chilling time.

Out came a velvety, magenta liquid with the intense flavor of fresh summer beets. Clean and vibrant on its own, it was even better with a swirl of horseradish-spiked creme fraiche, an extremely elegant garnish that both underscored the soup's earthy sweetness and further belied its simplicity.

My version, cheating though it may be, takes about 10 minutes, no heat required.

Easy Blender Borscht With Horseradish Cream

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 cup creme fraiche or sour cream

2 teaspoons prepared horseradish

salt and pepper to taste

2 packages (250 grams) cooked, peeled beets

1 small red onion, peeled and quartered

1 can (14 ounces) chicken broth

1 cup ice cubes

1 1/2 cups cold water

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Preparation time: 10 minutes

In a medium bowl, whisk together creme fraiche and horseradish. Add salt, pepper to taste.

Place beets, onion, chicken broth, ice and 1 1/2 cups cold water into a blender. Blend until smooth. Season with lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve borscht with dollops of horseradish cream, garnished with dill.

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