The last preparation was called pot roast, and I wanted to lick the dish after it.
—BABYLONIAN TALMUD: MEGILLAH
When the Purim revelries had passed, cooks in the Ukraine and northern Poland turned their attention to the long process of preparing rosl. They placed beets in earthenware crocks, covered them with fresh cold water, and let them slowly ferment, skimming the froth and foam weekly. A month later, a tangy, vegetal beet essence perfumed the shtetls, and the clear scarlet rosl was at last ready to be braised with pot roast or brisket and served as the popular Passover main course, roslfleisch.
With my cramped little kitchen and bulging closets, I’ve never had a place to secret a pot of fermenting beets for more than a day or two. So I substitute a delicious fresh beet soup or even jarred borscht as the braising liquid. To replace the tart, beautifully nuanced flavor of the traditional rosl, I add a bit of sour salt, then call upon beet’s longtime partner, freshly grated horseradish, which throws off its clean bite when cooked and blooms with complex earthiness.
Tender, homey potato knaidlach, or dumplings, echoing the horseradish flavor, soak up the wonderful sauce the brisket provides. To make them I use prepared horseradish because the texture of freshly grated would be too coarse and woody for the dumplings, and the vinegar in the prepared kind preserves more of the kick, even after cooking.
© 2000 Jayne Cohen. All rights reserved.