There is a bucketload of information you can collect about beets, whether from the Internet, cookery books, or the diaries of dead Mesopotamians. If you’re a beet freak, then you probably already know about the vegetable’s history. If you’re not … please proceed.
The ancient Romans used beetroot to treat fevers and constipation—which is not a surprise, because as I’m coming to find out, the Romans had a laundry list of foods they’d just throw at every disease and if any symptom was relieved, or the person got better, clearly it was because of something they ate.
On top of that, those frisky Romans believed beetroot juice was an aphrodisiac. But again, it’s become pretty apparent to me that simply eating was considered a turn-on for those guys, so I wouldn’t place any great weight upon that discovery.
Napoleon must have had a sweet tooth because during the wars that bear his name, the British cut the French off cold turkey from their regular sugar shipment. Monsieur Bonaparte got a twist in his knickers and dedicated a slew of acres to grow sugar beets, eventually opening schools for folks to study the plant. I’m guessing that business plan didn’t take off, as it seems the world is not populated with university franchises that churn out beet scientists. Just a thought.
Beets are often fed to both horses and athletes in vigorous training (usually not for the same race), likely due to the wealth of nitrites.
Beets were at one time referred to as blood turnips. Yeah, yum. Another marketing mishap.
Geosmin is what may cause the “earthy” flavor of beetroot. Or it might be that the guy assigned to wash them before cooking didn’t scrape enough dirt off.
And lastly, for our space fans out there, in 1975, the Apollo 18 crew was welcomed aboard the USSR’s Soyuz 19 with a banquet of borscht in a tube. Classy, huh?
So in honor of beets in space, and the fact that my mother-in-law is visiting, and it’s hands down the yummiest thing she cooks for us, we’re making BORSCHT!
Okay, to be precise, we’ve already made it. Now it’s your turn.
Nanna’s Beet Borscht: adapted from 3 million Jewish women in thousands of kitchens.
Beetroot 3 lbs (minus the greens – but save those for salad and sautéing!) peeled
2 Lemons (you’ll use at least 1 ½ of them for juice with the other half to be used as needed to taste)
1 Onion (about 8 oz worth)
64 oz of water
2 tsp salt
4 Tblsp sugar
Sour cream – for the table
Wearing industrial strength rubber gloves—or at least ones that haven’t been used to scrub the loo—peel your beets in the sink, or over an area well-protected from possible staining. (You can always collect and bag the skins to use for future egg coloring, clothes dying or art projects.)
Cut beets and onion into quarters and place in a soup pot with water, salt, sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and simmer until fork tender—30-40 minutes.
Beat eggs and add a few ounces of the beet liquid at a time until the eggs are tempered. Now, if you’re feeling sure of yourself, slowly drizzle a stream of the egg liquid back into the beet liquid, a bit at a time, stirring continuously. If you’re more the cautious type and don’t want to take a chance at making beet soup with scrambled eggs, ladle out 2 cups worth of beet liquid into another pan, add the egg mixture as above and then chuck the whole thing back in with the beets.
Remove a few of your quartered beets—perhaps around two beets worth (8 quarters), dice and reserve in a separate bowl on the side.
Puree the mixture in the pot, add your diced beets, season to taste and gently reheat, taking care not to boil the liquid lest you curdle your eggs.
Ladle the soup into bowls and serve hot with diced cooked potatoes in the winter, or cold with sour cream in the summer. It doesn’t matter which season we’re in—I need the sour cream.