I will always remember my law school years in Minsk as the most rebellious, careless and funnest time in my life. Every year, as the winter was giving up, students’ attendance of law classes was dropping gradually. By the time the weather was comfortable enough to drink beers outdoors, only the most persistent reported themselves to the classrooms. Birds returning home from their winter break; days becoming longer; girls’ outfits getting brighter, shorter and more scandalous; consumption of ice cream per capita increasing dramatically… All these factors shouted out, “Spring is here!” I remember another factor that also inevitably meant that spring was around the corner – that is when холодник (read, “khaladnik”), also known as cold borscht, appeared on the menus of affordable Belarusian delis close to the law school.
Холодник, the Eastern European cousin of gazpacho, has been loved and regularly served in Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine and Russia on hot summer days for decades, if not centuries. The recipe varies slightly depending on the region, however, the main ingredient stays the same universally – boiled beets. These are the beets that give this dish an unnaturally bright purple hue that is hard to believe exists in nature. The recipe I’m sharing with you here is the Minsk style холодник made with a French sorrel broth, which adds mild yet recognizable acidity. Other versions of this soup may use kvas (the fermented beverage made from rye bread), kefir, or even sparkling water as the base.
Active time: 30 minutes | Total time: ~1.5 hours | Serves: 6
3 cups French sorrel, coarsely chopped
5 medium beets, rinsed and scrubbed
2-3 cucumbers, chopped
Big bunch scallions, chopped
2 cups kefir
Big bunch dill, finely chopped
Bunch chives, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp sour cream
3 hard-boiled eggs
Bring 4 cups of salted water to boil, add sorrel and simmer for 5 minutes. Set aside and let it cool.
Boil the beets until soft when pierced with a knife (from 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the size of the beets). Let cool and, once cool enough to handle, peel and grate them.
Combine the French sorrel broth, grated beets, cucumbers, scallions and herbs in a large pot. Add kefir, sugar, season with salt and pepper and stir well until well combined.
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving. Peel the hard-boiled eggs and cut in halves. Garnish each serving bowl with a half of an egg and serve with the sour cream on the side.
To preserve the bright color of beets when boiling them, add a tablespoon of vinegar in the boiling water. Also, be mindful that unlike its hot cousin – borscht – холодник is best when enjoyed right after being cooked and unfortunately doesn’t get better in time.