The beetroot is in my roots, borscht in my bloodline.
My great grandmother was Ukrainian. The story goes that during a pogrom in the early 1900s she stabbed a Russian solder who was attempting to rape her, then escaped with nothing but a pair of brass candlesticks. I can’t vouch for the truth of this story – it could be that my mind has simply embellished a snippet overheard in childhood – but I’m not too bothered either way. As a storyteller, I’m a fan of narrative embellishment. What is true is that my great grandmother eventually made her way to England where she married a Polish man and had four children, one of whom is my paternal grandmother.
Either way, those candlesticks are still in our family, and have sat on the table during Friday night dinners since I can remember. She died before I was born, this fabled great-grandmother, and so I inherited her name. I’ve also inherited her borscht recipe via my buba (the secret? stir in an egg yolk for richness), and one day I’ll inherit those candlesticks.
That said, there is no pretence towards traditionalism in this Winter Borscht Salad. I’ve simply used the flavours so prevalent in borscht – earthy-sweet beetroot, fresh grassy dill, chewy rye bread – and tossed it together for a warm, quick and easy, winter lunch. It’s toothsome and flavoursome, light enough to warrant the title of salad, yet hearty enough to warm the cockles on a cold day.
It is also so delicious that although I made enough for two, I ate the whole lot myself, in one sitting.
Winter Borscht Salad
This salad is uncomplicated and very flavoursome. Don’t skimp on quality here – make sure you get fresh beetroot,
6 dutch carrots
2 slices rye bread
1/3 cup pearl barley, cooked
1 cup dill
Forkful of pickled fennel (optional)
Olive oil, to cook.
2 tbsps plain yoghurt
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp maple syrup
Cracked pepper & sea salt, to taste
Preheat oven to 200°c/400°f.
Top and tail the beetroot then cut horizontally into slice approx. 1cm thick. If the carrots are on the larger side cut them in half vertically, otherwise leave as is. Toss the carrots and sliced beetroot with a generous glug of olive oil, then spread in a single layer on a baking tray along with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Roast in pre-heated oven for approx. 25 mins, or until they are cooked through and starting to colour.
While the vegetables are cooking make the dressing by whisking the yoghurt, vinegar and maple syrup together. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then set aside.
Roughly chop the fresh dill.
Cut the rye bread into chunky squares. In a shallow pan over a medium-high heat add a generous pour of olive oil along with the rye bread squares. Cook for about 7 – 8 minutes, tossing regularly, or until the rye bread squares are toasted on all sides.
In a large bowl, combine the cooked barley, the roasted veges, the dill, the rye croutons, and a forkful or two of the pickled fennel, if using. Toss through the dressing, and enjoy immediately.