Thursday, May 05, 2016

#VeggieDag Thursday: a Mother's Day edition. Cold Beet Soup from the kitchen of Mom.

VeggieDag Thursday
VeggieDag Thursday is an occasional Thursday post
on an animal-free diet and ecological issues.

As a child, I disliked all things beet. That's a mighty peculiar preference for a third-generation Lithuanian-American. Those beet-red roots are a Lithuanian culinary staple.

Sweet Beets

But as I've 'matured,' my Baltic roots have begun showing. I've grown to like beets and their sweet, earthy-fruit goodness. And, in particular, that which I abhorred but now thoroughly enjoy: Lietuviški Šaltibarščiai. It's Cold Beet Soup, a Lithuanian every-person, summer's day delicacy. That's as it should be.

Here's our family Cizauskas recipe, passed down to us from "the kitchen of Mom" (and fed to us by Mom: "oh no, not again!") and given to our mother, in turn, by her mother, our Nana.

Mom's Cold Beet Soup recipe
Recipe from the kitchen of Mom

Lietuviški Šaltibarščiai
    1 bunch beets (4-5)
  • 1 small onion, diced.
  • 2 scallions, diced.
  • 2 eggs, hard-boiled and chopped.
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and diced.
  • 1 small bunch dill, finely chopped.
  • milk
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream, plus a dollop.
1) Wash the beets well and cut off their roots and greens. (Reserve the greens for a salad, or, chopped, for a soup garnish.)

2) Cook the beets:
  • In a pressure cooker, in water, for 20-25 minutes.
    • Reserve the cooking liquid, now beet-red.
    • Peel the beets.

  • Alternatively, boil the beets.
    • Place in a large pot, then cover with cold water. Add 1 teaspoon salt.
    • Bring to boil and then reduce heat to medium. Simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, until soft, yet not mushy. Do not overcook.
    • Remove from heat, drain water (reserve it), and then plunge beets into cold water.
    • Remove from cold water. Peel skins.
3) While the beets are cooking, chop the hard boiled eggs, cucumber, onion, and scallions.

4) Chop peeled beets. Wear latex gloves and don't use a wooden cutting board. Beets will stain everything!

5) Mix 2 cups milk with the sour cream in a large serving bowl. Add chopped beets, eggs, cucumber, onions, scallions, and dill (reserving some sprigs). A little at a time, add more milk and/or reserved beet juice to adjust consistency and color. It'll be pink!

6) Put in refrigerator to chill well.

7) Serve garnished with the reserved chopped dill. (Mom showed me this trick with the dill. Don't chop it; snip it with scissors.) Finish with a dollop of sour cream (and maybe some chopped beet greens).

Rich Cold Beet Soup (01)

Mom, in America, used milk and sour cream as the liquid base. You, to be more properly Lithuanian, might make it with kefir (kefyras, in Lithuanian), a traditional probiotic-cultured milk. If you stay with milk and sour cream, you could add some freshly squeezed lemon juice to get the tangy kick.

Note Mom's admonition to first boil the water. Even today with a filter to remove contaminents and/or chlorine, that's good advice. Think Flint, Michigan.

Finally, serve your Šaltibarščiai chilled, with a slice of crusty rye bread on the side. And say: vieną alus, prašom ("a beer, please"). Chilled, with affection.

Rich Cold Beet Soup (02)

  • Pronounce Šaltibarščiai somewhat like SHAFE-ty-barsh-chay, with an accent on the first syllable, and a slight accent on the last.
  • My brother's preparation of Cold Beet Soup is pictured above. See more photos: here.
  • The recipe can be 'veganized' simply. Use soy or almond milk (or your preferred base) in place of dairy; just be certain that the 'milk' is unflavored and unsweetened. Use vegan 'sour cream': try this recipe from Oh She Glows. And, oh, yes: skip the eggs.
  • A vegan recipe, via Nutriplanet.
  • For winter Lithuanian fare, try Kugelis, a hearty potato casserole.
  • For a guide to modern-day 'farmhouse' beers in Lithuania, read, "Lithuanian Beer: a Rough Guide" (2014), written by Lars Marius Garshol, a Norweigan (!) technologist. He blogs on his beer-travels to Lithuania, and elswhere, at LarsBlog.
  • In 2009, American comedian Zane Lamprey toured Lithuania for its beer and spirits. Read: "Mak, Mak! Beers, drinks, & pagans in Vilnius, Lithuania."

  • Why the name VeggieDag Thursday? Here.
  • Read all the posts: here. Follow on Twitter with hashtag: #VeggieDag.
  • Suggestions and submissions from chefs, writers, and home-cooks welcomed! Contact me here.

  • For more from YFGF:

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