Roasted Beet Borscht

MAKES: 4 servings

TIME: About 1 hour, plus time to chill if desired; largely unattended

Roasting the beets concentrates their sweet, earthy flavor and turns the soup a deep purple. No, it’s not the way my grandmother made hers, but I know she would approve because it tastes so good. She wouldn’t have used golden beets either (she probably never saw them), but feel free; their sunny color is awesome.

This soup is good either hot or cold.

21/2 to 3 pounds beets, any kind, peeled and quartered

1/4 cup neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 large white onion, finely chopped

1 bunch fresh dill Freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste

4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and quartered (optional)

4 medium red or white “new” (waxy), potatoes, boiled until tender and kept hot for garnish (optional)

Sour cream or yogurt for garnish

01 Preheat the oven to 375В°F. Put the beets in a roasting pan, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil, and sprinkle with salt and lots of pepper. Toss to distribute the oil. Roast, turning once or twice until a thin-bladed knife pierces a piece with little resistance, 30 to 40 minutes. (The recipe may be made ahead to this point, the beets cooled, covered tightly, and refrigerated for up to 2 days.) When cool enough to handle, roughly chop the beets as finely as possible.

02 Put the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a deep skillet or medium saucepan and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until golden and very tender, 10 to 15 minutes more.

03 Add the beets, along with the stems of the dill (tie them in a bundle) and water to cover, about 6 cups. Turn the heat back up to medium-high and bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the soup is well colored and the beets are starting to melt away, about 10 minutes.

04 Snip or chop the remaining dill. Remove the dill stems from the soup and add the lemon juice. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve the borscht in bowls, with the dill and any of the garnishes you like, and pass the sour cream at the table.

Variations

Roasted Mushroom Borscht. Even deeper in flavor: Start with 1 pound of beets and 2 pounds of any mushrooms, like shiitake, cremini, portobello, white, or a mixture of these. Prepare the beets as in Step 1 and trim the mushrooms but leave them whole. When the beets and mushrooms are ready, chop them all as finely as possible and proceed to Step 2.

Cold Roasted Beet or Mushroom Borscht. Quite refreshing: Prepare either the master recipe or the preceding variation through Step 3. Cool and refrigerate, covered, until well chilled or for up to 2 days. When ready to serve, proceed to Step 4.

Borscht Consomms. An elegant and unusual starter: Replace the water with about 6 cups any vegetable or mushroom stock, along with a bay leaf. When very tender, strain; discard the beets (and the mushrooms if you are making the above variation). To the liquid, add lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste. Reheat and serve hot, garnished with dill or chives, with or without sour cream.