Carole and I had the best intentions. We were going to work up a sweat power-walking around the National Arboretum, admiring the early spring daffodils and hyacinths. We were thwarted outside the gardens by a sign that announced: closed while they move their offices.

It was cloudy and cold, so we scrapped our hiking plans and headed over to Washington’s famous Eastern Market. After warming up with some coffee, we wandered through all the booths. Outside, we admired the pillow covers made from remnants of old Turkish rugs. Inside the renovated market, we ogled the fresh-rendered meat and fish.

Then we cruised the vegetable vendors and stopped in our tracks in front of a table of beets. $3.50 for a bunch. This was not your average “bunch.” It was 7-8 big beets per bunch, a real bargain. We asked the vendor where the beets came from. “Soutxrhymp” he said. “Southern California?” I asked. Almost indignant, he said, “No ma’am. South Carolina. We get our first vegetables of the season from South Carolina and then gradually move north with the local crops.”

Carole and I each bought a bunch, and went home to make borscht, a wonderful treat on a cold late March day. I never make the same recipe twice, but it’s a favorite of Sam’s, so I do make it several times a year. Here’s a base recipe sans cabbage. What’s yours?

Adaptable Borscht

4-5 medium beets or 3 large

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

15 oz tomatoes, pureed

2-3 cups beef or chicken stock

1 T vinegar

Leftover shreds of beef or pork (or skip it, which I often do)

Fresh or dried dill, salt, pepper

Boil the beets until tender and peel when cool. Meanwhile, slowly sauté the onion until translucent over medium-low heat in a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the garlic and saute for another minute or two.

In a food processor or blender, roughly grind the beets in 1 cup of stock to the consistency you like. We like a few chunks of beets to remind us where the borscht came from; some people like it pureed smooth. This may require two batches. Add the beets to the sauce pot with the onions. Puree the tomatoes a bit, and add them to the pot too. Then add the remaining stock, vinegar, meat (if desired), and enough stock to loosen to your desired consistency. Add dried dill, salt, pepper to taste. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Serve hot or cold with a dollop of plain yogurt. Or not.

This will hold us until our own beet crop comes in next summer. Which seems like a long way off when it’s 35 degrees.

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