Some of the greatest Russian dishes are the soups like botvinia, okroshka, and chilled beet soup, especially when served with hot little meat pastries called piroshki. The soups contain sour elements like pickles, sorrel, lemon, dill, and horseradish, all very cooling in the summer. The soup plates in the photograph are the ones in which my aunt used to serve this violently colored soup, each thin crystal plate filled with a chunk of ice, and as you ate it, the spoon and the ice would ring against the fine crystal, the sound they made almost as cooling and satisfying as the soup. Use whatever wild mushrooms you have or buy some Chinese black ones. Pickle the mushrooms up to a week in advance.
Heat the oven to 325°F.
Scrub the beets. Bake in a roasting pan, covered with foil, until tender when pierced with a fork, about 1 hour. Let cool.
While the beets are cooking, heat the mushrooms, gin, vinegar, garlic, and
Cut cucumber lengthwise in half, scoop out seeds with a spoon, and thinly slice crosswise. Put cucumber and
When the beets are cooled, peel them, chop fine, and put in a pot with the onion, carrot, celery, thyme, bay leaves, and stock. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Strain. Whisk in the sour cream until completely smooth, and cool the soup in an ice-water bath or in the refrigerator.
Drain the mushrooms and slice them. Drain the cucumbers and put in a separate bowl.
Taste the soup for salt and pour into a chilled tureen. Put cold soup plates on the table with chunks or cubes of ice in them. Spoon the mushrooms, cucumbers, and peppers into each bowl and ladle the soup over them.
© 1986 Jeremiah Tower. All rights reserved.