04 September 2007
August and It's Favorite Lunch
Whew, aren’t you glad that’s over? As much as I enjoyed exploring one item in depth, by dedicating August to ice cream, I unwittingly side-stepped all those other culinary joys of late summer. Contrary to popular belief, I do not subsist on sweets, and all through August I kept thinking about the other wonderful edible things I was enjoying and how I wished I could share them with you here. About the simple pleasures of August, the vase of sunflowers on your table, the late summer sun, the bowl of fresh-sliced fruit.
About how this was the absolute best peach of the summer:
Or about the watermelon that was so sweet and juicy, it was tender all the way to the rind:
Or the thousands of heirloom tomatoes consumed. One perfect Sunday we went on a picnic with friends and brought along an assortment of seven different types and had a tomato tasting. The large green heirloom won, and I’ve been loving the small Green zebra tomatoes. Somehow the green-when-fully-ripe varieties taste the most like tomatoes, perhaps because they are more vegetal and less sweet.
And of course, there are the tomatoes I grew in pots, four different varieties, along with eggplants and peppers and herbs. Speaking of which, I didn’t get to tell you about the conversation I had with the guy at the market about lovage (a celery-like herb), and how it’s often used in Romanian cuisine, and the differences between marjorum and thyme.
The good thing about all of this produce is there’s almost no cooking required. Summer food generally goes something like this: shop (preferably at a farmer’s market), slice, and enjoy. And true to form, I’ve barely done any cooking over the past month, and yet I’ve been eating fabulously. There has been, however, one dish that’s been making repeated visits to my lunch hour, when it’s not usurped by those tomatoes. Summer borscht, a twist on that Russian classic in the form of chilled beet and yogurt soup. I actually first made this soup back in the winter (it’s good in any season), and loved it, and since then I’ve made it at least six times, a near miracle around here.
It should be no surprise that I like this, since one of my favorite appetizers/mezzes is a beet and yogurt dip (to make it: combine grated cooked beets, plain yogurt, with garlic, lemon, and mint or dill to taste). This soup is full of crunchy cucumbers and beets and creamy yogurt, and though it has lots of ingredients, it will still be good should you happen to be out of sour cream, or accidentally omit the vinegar. Because you stir everything together and let it sit overnight, it’s perfect for your lunchbox, and I can attest to the fact that it travels well. It would also be a good make-ahead dish for company, with some salmon and nice slices of pumpernickel bread. Just don’t be alarmed by it’s shockingly pink color, which I have to say, brings me a bit of child-like glee.
So here’s to August. I’ve planted beets for fall and they’re already growing like crazy, so I have a feeling summer’s favorite lunch is here to stay.
I love this cool, creamy soup enough for any season. Please note that this is a large recipe and you'd be well-advised to halve it. Also, I usually use non-fat or low-fat yogurt and sour cream and find there's no harm done. Adapted from Ina Garten.
4 large or 5 medium beets
12 oz (1 1/2 cups) plain yogurt
8 oz (1 cup) sour cream
1 tbl sugar
2 tsp mild vinegar or lemon juice
water or chicken stock
salt and pepper
2 cups seeded and diced cucumber
1/2 cup diced scallions
2 tsp chopped fresh dill
1. Scrub your beets well to remove any traces of dirt from them. Place the beets in a large pot of boiling salted water and cook uncovered until the beets are tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the beets to a bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine sieve and also set aside to cool.
2. Peel the cooled beets with a small paring knife or rub the skins off with your hands. Cut the beets in small to medium dice.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together 1 1/2 cups of the beet cooking liquid, yogurt, sour cream, sugar, vinegar, a pinch of salt and pepper. Add enough water or stock to the soup base to reach a thick-but-pourable consistency (you may not need any, or you may need up to 1 cup). Add the beets, cucumber, scallions, and dill to the soup. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight. Season, to taste, and serve cold with an extra sprig of fresh dill.