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Modern Love: Borscht Crostini

Modern Love: Borscht Crostini

Shared by Leah Koenig

With all due respect to matzo ball soup, borscht is my Ashkenazi comfort soup of choice. I’m not talking about the chilled version, though that too hits the spot on a shvitzy day. I’m talking about steaming hot, fragrant, ruby-colored borscht that comes brimming with tender cabbage, carrots, and beets, and topped with a downy cap of sour cream. That’s the stuff my Jewish food dreams are made of. 

It makes sense, of course. My mother's family's roots are Russian and Lithuanian - places where a taste for borscht runs in the veins. I ate the soup occasionally as a kid, but really fell in love with it after moving to New York in my early 20s. There, at the counter of B&H Dairy, an ancient kosher/vegetarian restaurant in the East Village, I tried the most garlicky, deeply savory bowl of borscht imaginable - and never looked back. When my husband and I were first dating, we would often stop at B&H after a night out for a borscht fix. He taught me the trick of ordering a matzo ball in your borscht. It seemed blasphemous at first, but it's actually genius: the soup's flavor soaks into the matzo ball, staining it a gorgeous shade of red. After that, I knew he was a keeper. 

As a food writer who focuses primarily on Jewish cuisine, I constantly think about ways to take old world flavors and bring them into a contemporary context. While working on my forthcoming cookbook, the Little Book of Jewish Appetizers (which comes out in August), I decided to transform the building block flavors of the soup I love so much into something new. The result: borscht crostini.

From Little Book of Jewish Appetizers, by Leah Koenig, photographs by Linda Pugliese (Chronicle Books, 2017)

From Little Book of Jewish Appetizers, by Leah Koenig, photographs by Linda Pugliese (Chronicle Books, 2017)

Borscht Crostini

Serves 4 to 6

3 small beets (about 1 pound total), peeled, halved, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 medium carrots (about 1 pound total), peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 2-inch lengths
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, divided
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from 1-2 limes)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 small red onion, quartered and sliced as thinly as possible
3/4 cup very finely chopped fresh dill
zest of 1 lemon
1 large clove of garlic, roughly chopped
16 1/2-inch slices of sourdough or rye bread
Creme fraiche or sour cream, for topping

1. Preheat the oven to 450° and line a large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Put the beets, carrots, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a generous amount of pepper on the baking sheet and stir to coat. Bake, tossing once with tongs, until the vegetables are tender and lightly browned, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to the touch.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar, the lime juice, the sugar, and a pinch of salt. Add the onion slices and toss to coat. Allow to sit for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring once or twice, to soften and lightly pickle the onion. (Or cover and let sit in the fridge for up to 1 day.) 

3. Place the chopped dill, lemon zest, and garlic in a single mound on a cutting board and continue chopping until the garlic is minced and the ingredients are well combined. 

4. Turn oven down to 400°. Brush the bread slices on one side with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt; arrange on two large baking sheets. Bake until crisp and golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. 

5. Assemble crostini: Spread each piece with about 1 tablespoon of creme fraiche and top with a few pieces of beet and carrot, and some pickled onion slices. Sprinkle with the dill mixture and top with more black pepper; serve immediately.

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