Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Joan Nathan's Borscht

Joan Nathan says she's always had a particular fascination with French Jews and their food.

For Nathan, author of "Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France (Knopf, 2010), the love affair with French cuisine started as a teenager when she made her first trip to France in the 1950s.

“Because I have relatives and friends who are French, I’m always curious what they’re doing for holidays,” said Nathan, who relishes visiting people's homes to see what they eat and how they celebrate.

Some 600,000 Jews are living in France, making it the third largest Jewish population in the world after Israel and the United States. French Jewish history goes back 2,000 years.

Many cultures have seasoned French Jewish cuisine. Over the centuries, Jews have come to France from Spain, Portugal, the Balkans, Eastern Europe and North Africa. Moving back to their original countries with French recipes, some Jews later returned to France, bringing back variations of dishes they had taken with them.

“Food has never been static,” Nathan said. “Even old recipes are in a constant state of flux and refinement, subject to outside influences and improvements.”

Russian immigrants before World War I brought Borscht recipes to France.

2 pounds raw beets (about 4)
1 pound onions (2 medium sized)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup sour cream (or yogurt*)
4 tablespoons fresh dill, chervil, or mint cut into chiffonade
Peel the beets and onions. Cut them into chunks and toss them together in a large soup pot. Pour in about 2 quarts of water, or enough to cover the vegetables by an inch or so. Add the garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper to taste.
Bring to a boil, skimming the surface of any impurities that rise. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for about an hour, or until the beets are cooked. Stir in the vinegar and let cool.
When the soup has cooled off, ladle the vegetables and some of their broth into a blender and puree to the consistency of a thick soup. Adjust the thickness and seasoning of the soup to your taste, adding more beet broth for a thinner soup.
Serve cold in soup bowls with a dollop of the sour cream and a sprinkle of one of the herbs.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings