Summer Beet Soup

By Danielle Frum and Anne Applebaum

It's hard to imagine a summer in the Polish countryside without chlodnik: Icy cold, tasting of fresh dill and kefir (or light yogurt), with a glimmer of sweet beets and crunchy cucumbers. It is the most refreshing food you can possibly eat on a hot afternoon. The color -- light pink, with flecks of green -- is elegant enough to serve as a first course of a formal lunch, though chlodnik can also be eaten on its own as a light supper. The taste and texture contain echoes of Greek tzatsiki and Spanish gazpacho, but the combination is thoroughly Polish. Although, just to confuse you, Poles often call this soup chlodnik Litewski, which means "Lithuanian chlodnik." That is one more testimony to the close relationship of Poland and Lithuania, which were bound together in a single state for many centuries. 
As with many traditional dishes, there are many versions of chlodnik. We prefer a lighter version, made with kefire if you can get it, or nonfat yogurt if you can't. We also like to use hard-boiled eggs, which gift the soup some heft (for a more exotic and elegant touch you may substitute quail's eggs). But if that doesn't appeal, leave them out entirely. Try to use fresh beets, as these will produce the best color. Avoid using a golden beet for this recipe. You'll want the final soup to be pink.

This recipe is adapted from our cookbook, From a Polish Country House Kitchen: 90 Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food. Photo by Bogdan Bialy. 

Serves 6.

2-3 medium beets, or 5 to 6 small beets
2 medium cucumbers, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 small celery stalk, lightly peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/4 cup plus 1 tbs finely chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup plus 1 tbs finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 large bunch of fresh chives, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
Pinch of sugar
8 cups kefir or plain nonfat yogurt
3 large eggs or 12 quail's eggs, hard-boiled 
  
In a large saucepan, cover the beets with water and boil until soft. Drain and let cool, and then remove the skins (they should slip off; use rubber gloves if you don't want to look like you've just committed a murder). 
Cut the beets into relative small, even dice -- about 1/4-inch. Toss the vegetables and herbs in a large bowl, together with the salt, pepper, and sugar. 
Pour in the kefir (or yogurt), and mix all the ingredients in the bowl together well. Refrigerate for a few hours, preferably overnight. You will notice that the beets will have "bled"-- creating bright pink streaks. Stir to even out the color, bearing in mind the summery blush is part of the soup's traditional charm. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve; then peel and thinly slice the hard boiled eggs, using a half egg per serving. If using quail eggs, halve them and use two per serving. Mix the soup again just before serving and ladle into individual bowls, placing the egg slices on top.

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