Borscht with Pickled Mushrooms and Cucumbers

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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.

Ingredients

  • 6 large red beets
  • 8 shiitake, tree oyster, or any wild mushrooms, stemmed, stems reserved
  • 1 teaspoon gin
  • ½ cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled, finely chopped
  • teaspoons salt
  • 1 cucumber, peeled
  • 1 medium onion, peeled, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 quarts chicken or chicken-duck stock
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 small red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, chopped
  • 1 small yellow bell pepper, roasted, peeled, chopped

Method

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 ½ teaspoon of the salt in a saucepan for 1 minute. Cover and let marinate.

Cut cucumber lengthwise in half, scoop out seeds with a spoon, and thinly slice crosswise. Put cucumber and 1 teaspoon of salt in a bowl, mix, and let marinate.

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.

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