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:
best peach of 2007

Or about the watermelon that was so sweet and juicy, it was tender all the way to the rind:
baby watermelonbaby watermelon

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.

tomato tastingtomatoeszebra tomatoes

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.

Summer Borscht
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.


GET IT GIRL said...

I absolutely love your blog, Mercedes! I will be making the olive oil ice cream this weekend and I will be sure to let you know how it turned out. I can't wait..yippee!!! Thanks for such wonderful recipes!


Anonymous said...

Yea ok so I guess I don't NEED to look at ice cream anymore, but I do think that was an excellent idea, and it kept ME coming back. You should give it another go next August.

Nice summer meal!

Anonymous said...

Great to hear how you are enjoying all the fresh late summer produce. I do plan on making your beet ice cream, but maybe I need to try this borscht first. I think it would get a good response in the family since you use tasty simple ingredients to showcase the earthy sweetness of beets.

Sandi said...

Mercedes, where in the world do you live? There is nothing like that anywhere I shop.

Cindy Garber Iverson said...

Your photos in this post are absolutely breathtaking! I just love coming here. It is really a treat for my eyes. Cindy at Rosehaven Cottage

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Not cooking and still eating fabulously! Isn't that the best! Wow Mercedes, love that PINK! certainly sounds like a soup I'd love.

Mercedes said...

Stephanie- thank you, I hope you like the olive oil ice cream, it really is one of my favorites!

Hillary- ha, yes, it was a ploy to rope in all you readers. I think next August will have to be sorbet, or salads, or something more diet-friendly.

bri- it's funny, now that you say that, both the soup and the ice cream rely on beets and sour cream. yet I think they produce very different results. Tey're both delicious though!

Sandi- oh, that makes me sad, in my experience most places have gorgeous farmer's markets and such. The photos are from my apt. in new york, and nyc's Grenmarket.

cindy, mykitchen- thanks!

Linda said...

this is the only dish my boyfriend makes for me. i can't wait to show him this post.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mercedes!
since you brought up your favorite mezze, I have a question to ask. Have you ever run across a recipe for this containing tahini? I live in a neighborhood that is incredibly diverse and that has an even more diverse Middle Eastern population (they're from eeeeverywhere). There's a takeout joint that makes a salad that sounds exactly like your favorite that the boyfriend and I adore. We've always noticed a certain something about it and I finally got up the nerve to ask the guy what it is, and he said it's tahini but won't give me the recipe. I'd love to try recreating this on my own, and since you mentioned it... well, I figured, well, there are no stupid questions...

ps -- I loooove summer borscht. thanks for your recipe for it!

Anonymous said...

pps -- I love to serve chilled borscht with slices of hardboiled eggs. And now I'm really done! ;-)

Mercedes said...

Linda- that's so sweet!

Ann- yes, this dip is often made with tahini! In fact, many Arabs add tahini to everything. They stir it into chopped tomatoes, spread it on bread, even grease their cake pans with it! There's also a dish of beet greens stewed in tahini.

Here's a Damascene version of the beet dip (shamandar mezze):

2 cups cooked shredded beets
1/2 cup plain yogurt (I use labne)
1/4 cup tahini
pinch salt, nutmeg

Combine all, serve with diced hard boiled eggs on top.
I like to add some minced mint or arugula also.