Fresh Borscht with Dilled Onion-Butter Matzoh Balls

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Complex

  • Yield: About

    6

    servings

Appears in

A broth of beet is beneficial for the heart and good for the eyes, and needless to say for the bowels.... This is only if it is left on the stove till it goes tuk, tuk.

—BABYLONIAN TALMUD: BERAKOT 39A

The lovely caterer Arlette Lustyk shared the recipe for this simple delicious soup with me in her Paris office while my husband and daughter entertained themselves poring over photographs of the giant challahs that line the tables at her fabulous weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Madame Lustyk and her husband, Claude, recommend serving the borscht hot in winter, accompanied by klops, Polish-Jewish meatballs bursting with onions; for the summer, they combine it with crème fraîche and offer it chilled, ladled over a hot boiled potato. But it was spring when I was playing around in my kitchen and I decided to compromise. I enriched the broth with sour cream and served it warm, a supernal hot pink complement to my buttery matzoh balls.

To draw out all the fresh beet essence for the soup, the raw beets are soaked first in cold water for several hours or overnight, then slow-simmered in the liquid. The resulting borscht (the catchall Yiddish name for soups containing the ubiquitous beet) is more deeply flavorful than most meatless beet broths. I find that the plain borscht, without eggs or cream, also doubles quite successfully as an easily prepared rosl, a fermented beet juice, to be used for braising (see Beet-Braised Pot Roast).

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Ingredients

Borscht

  • About pounds fresh beets (weight without leaves)
  • 7 cups cold water (quality is important here, so if you use bottled water for coffee or tea, use it here)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • About 1 teaspoon sour salt, or to taste (available in specialty stores and those that cater to European and Middle Eastern clientele)
  • About 2 tablespoons brown or white sugar, or to taste
  • 2 large egg yolks

Matzoh Balls

  • ¼ pound onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup matzoh meal
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill

Optional Accompaniments

Method

  1. A day before you plan to serve the borscht, peel the beets and slice them thinly. Place them in a nonreactive stockpot and add the water. Cover the pot tightly and let it sit at room temperature overnight or up to 24 hours. Don’t peek.
  2. Start the matzoh balls. In a medium skillet, sauté the onion in the butter over moderate heat until soft and golden, about 7 minutes. Salt and pepper lightly and let cool. Beat the eggs in a bowl until foamy. Add the sautéed onion mixture and beat again. Whisk in the matzoh meal, baking powder, salt (about ¾ teaspoon, or to taste), and some pepper. Stir in the dill. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to allow the mixture to absorb the seasonings and liquids.
  3. When ready to cook the borscht, remove the pot lid and carefully skim away all the foam that has risen to the top. Add 2 teaspoons salt and about teaspoon pepper, or to taste, and cook over moderate heat for 1½ hours, vigilantly skimming off any foam and scum as it accumulates.
  4. About 10 minutes before the borscht has finished cooking, stir in the sour salt and sugar. Season generously with salt and pepper. Adjust sour salt and sugar until a happy balance between tart and sweet is achieved.
  5. Meanwhile, poach the matzoh balls. In a large, wide pot, bring 3 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon salt to a furious boil. Form the batter into balls the size of large walnuts. (You can also make them smaller, as you prefer.) Slip them in, one at a time, then turn down the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot tightly, and don’t lift the lid at all until you are ready to test them. Begin testing after 35–40 minutes of cooking. They should be light, fluffy, and completely cooked through. If necessary, continue cooking until the matzoh balls test done. To test, remove a matzoh ball and cut it in half: the interior should have no raw or dark spots. Remove them gently with a large slotted spoon or skimmer.
  6. Strain the borscht, reserving the liquid and returning it to the pot. (If the beet slices still retain their shape and flavor, toss them with a distinctive vinaigrette—and serve at another meal. Try walnut vinaigrette: Whisk together 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, salt, and freshly ground pepper. Slowly beat in 3 tablespoons walnut oil and 1 tablespoon mild olive oil until well blended and thick. Adjust seasoning to taste. Shower the beets with chopped toasted walnuts and fresh, finely minced chives. If all the flavor has cooked out, discard the beets.)
  7. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until light and foamy. Ladle in about a cup of hot soup, stirring to prevent curdling. (This is “tempering” the egg yolks—adding them all at once to the hot soup would result in curdling.) Gradually stir this mixture into the soup pot, and cook, stirring, over low heat, just until the ingredients are well incorporated and the soup is hot and slightly thickened.
  8. When ready to serve, if the matzoh balls are no longer hot, place them in the hot soup to reheat. If needed, warm the soup gently, but do not allow it to boil or it will curdle. Put a few matzoh balls in each heated shallow soup bowl and ladle the hot soup over them. If desired, add a dollop of sour cream, yogurt cream, or crème fraîche to each bowl and garnish with dill. Or pass these accompaniments separately so that guests can add their own.

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