Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Borscht No. 1

Admit it. This is what you've been waiting for. Borscht! Beautiful, filling, delightful borscht: the Monarch of Soups.

Er, okay...maybe not. But it is delicious.

Borscht No. 1
                                                        Yield: 6 - 8 servings

This borscht requires the use of black garlic which lends a somewhat beefy flavour to the broth.

Borscht with soured cream

4 small beets, about 3 - 5 cm. (1.5 - 2") in diameter
1 carrot
1 medium-sized red potato
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1 cup grated purple cabbage
2 cloves black garlic, finely chopped
4 sprigs fresh dill
3 - 5 cups chicken stock or water from steaming vegatables
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup commercial soured cream

Beets, carrot, potato, black garlic and purple cabbage

1. Thoroughly scrub beets, potato and carrot under running water to remove sand and debris. Remove any wilted or discoloured tops and roots. Place whole beets in the basket of a food steamer or pressure cooker. Steam vegetables. If using a pressure cooker, follow the user manual. Otherwise, when a fork can easily pierce a beet to the centre, turn heat off. Remove vegetables to a heat-proof container and set aside to cool. Reserve fluid from steamer to use in this borscht preparation, or else store for later use.

Steam rises off the beets, carrot
 and potato cooked in a pressure cooker

2. When beets, potato and carrot are cool enough to handle, slip the peels away. Dice. Reserve. 

Diced beets, carrot and potato

3. Place peeled and diced red onion in the soup pot together with diced black garlic, whole sprigs of dill and 3 cups of chicken stock (or the liquid of your choice). cover. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 5 minutes.

Black garlic and fresh dill

4.  Add diced beets, potato and carrot. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 5 minutes to enable flavours to mingle.

5. Add grated purple cabbage. Raise to boiling point, then reduce heat to simmer for 10 minutes.

Purple cabbage cooking in the beet mixture

6. Remove from heat. Add freshly ground black pepper to your taste. Add red wine vinegar or lemon juice. Stir.

7. Ladle into bowls. Top each bowl of borscht with a tablespoon of soured cream.

You will want second servings. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cooking beets in a pressure cooker - Part 2

What have I learned about cooking beets and other root vegetables in a pressure cooker?

Steam rises from beets, a carrot and a potato cooked in a pressure cooker
For the beginning of this post, see Cooking beets in a pressure cooker - Part 1

First: The lid cannot blow off. 

Second: The way the steam emerges, it bursts out in four directions rather than in one, so the steam is dissipated in a less dangerous and more effective manner that it was in the monster from the deep. 

Third: There is a steam-controlled metal stop that prevents the lid being opened before the pressure inside has reduced to a predetermined safe level.

Fourth: One is advised against cooking chick peas and such legumes in a pressure cooker. However, it can be done safely if certain precautions are taken. There is no danger of blowing up the kitchen.

Fifth: The modern pressure cooker is not the dangerous contraption that the old ones were and (yahoo!) there is no longer a pressure gauge.

This latest addition to my kitchen arsenal is rather larger than it ought to be for the cooking I undertake. It should really be only 3 - 5 quarts in size for my needs. This one holds more like 8 - 10 quarts. In the shop, it didn't look so large but, now that it is home in my postage-stamp-sized kitchen, it looks huge.

Cooking beets and root vegetables in the pressure cooker is safe and easy if the instructions for safe handling are followed.

Following is the process I used to cook beets, a potato and a carrot for later use in making borscht.

1. Wash the vegetables. Place them in the pressure cooker. Add water just sufficient to cover the vegetables. In this case, that was 6 cups of water.

2. Following the user manual, attach the lid and turn it to lock it in position.

3. Place the pressure cooker on the stove and turn the heat element or burner control to 'High.' Leave it on 'High' for 8 - 10 minutes, during which time the water inside will have reached boiling point and steam will have begun to be emitted from the pressure release valve. This is when a steam vent cap is placed upon the pressure release valve. Through this vent cap, steam is emitted in four directions rather than one, as was the case long ago.

4. Reduce the heat to 'Medium' for 6 - 8 minutes.

5. Turn off the heat. Remove the pressure cooker to an unheated element. Leave to sit until the steam-controlled metal stop is heard to drop down with a metallic 'thunk' sound. 

6. Remove the lid. Remove the vegetables to a heat-proof container. Decant the liquid to another heat-proof container. In this case, there were 4¼ cups of liquid remaining in the pressure cooker at the end of cooking.

And that's that. Finished. Caput. Finito.

Lessons learned

The pot was left scarred by the vegetables that were cooked in it.

I'm guessing this is avoidable if a steamer basket is used. In addition, I am not keen on boiled food, preferring it steamed instead. So next time I fire up the pressure cooker, I plan to try using a steamer basket insider.

This is a wee steamer basket found years ago on Spadina (Toronto) in a shop owned and patronized by mainly Chinese customers.

The steamer basket fits perfectly inside the pot.

I will use 4 cups of water in the pressure cooker rather than 6 cups, and the basket should shield the vegetables from the water, yielding steamed rather than boiled vegetables.

Cooking beets in a pressure cooker - Part 1

Using a pressure cooker has become almost fashionable in some demographics. You know: being eco-friendly and green, and saving the world. For others, it's a necessity.
My shining new pressure cooker

Three factors prevented me using a pressure cooker for all my years until now. 

First, it never occurred to me to want to use one. 

Second, when a thought concerning a pressure cooker flitted through my mind, what was recalled was an enormous, heavy, metal vat used by one of my aunts at harvest time when she was preserving food from her garden. It had a cogged lid with a gauge (or gauges) on it and there were other protruding things that made it look like something from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. I was made to know that this cooking vessel was DANGEROUS!!!

This leads to the third factor that stopped me using a pressure cooker: the fear factor. Yes. FEAR.

And it's no wonder that I harboured the fear. I had it drilled into me that the steam which screamed and hissed and spit its way out of the contraption could take my skin RIGHT OFF! And the pressure inside could make it BLOW UP! The lid could fly off and hot peas would explode out of it like BULLETS and take my EYES OUT! And so, if I knew what was good for me, I'd make myself scarce.

Recently (i.e., in the last couple of years), Enmax -- the energy company that we, the citizens of Calgary, are supposed to own -- has been extorting money from me at a rate and volume that is more Mafioso than the Mafia. Of course, Enmax needs to put the screws on customers in order to hand over huge wads of money to the snouts in the trough who do nothing but use our money to pay rock stars to entertain at their homes. Oh, yes, -- and they dream up weird surcharges to attach to the bills they churn out for us. For instance, a charge is added to the bill for compiling the bill, and then that grand theft is topped off with the stealer tax, adding insult to injury.

Having surveyed the grounds, you can tell where this is leading.

Because I am a low energy user and still am suffering crazily escalating energy bills, investigation of more energy-efficient ways to cook is in order. Since beets take a substantial amount of time to cook, especially when cooked whole as I prefer, one alternative to steaming or roasting that came to mind was the monster from the deep. As luck would have it, I saw one advertised by a national retailer, and it was at a discounted price. 

Just as I was about to make the leap into pressure cooker ownership, a colleague told me that another colleague had a disastrous  experience with her pressure cooker. She said that the pot had exploded because pressure couldn't be released. This had destroyed the kitchen stove and the kitchen.That put me off. It didn't take much.

Some weeks later, after talking to the horse rather than the horse's backside, I discovered:
 (a) that  the source of the problem had been that chick peas were being cooked in the pressure cooker, which clogged the steam vent(s), and
 (b) the disaster had occurred forty years ago in India when, of course, the old monster from the deep was in use.


Now that I knew the folly of believing the alarmist rantings of an uniformed, or partially informed, gossip, I was again enamoured by the lure of shortened cooking times. And, just then, I again came across a pressure cooker offered at a reduced price by a national retailer.

Reader, I bought it.

Beet greens smoothie

Beet greens smoothie
                                                           Yield: 1 serving

Beet greens are used as the basis of this olive-green coloured smoothie which contains a variety of fresh green fruits and vegetables: mung bean sprouts, fresh mint, Kiwi fruit and star fruit to deliver a fresh, fruity punch. In this smoothie you will consume five servings of fruit and vegetables, plus olive oil for the health benefits it delivers to your nervous system.

Beet greens smoothie for a clean, refreshing taste of goodness

1 bunch of fresh beet greens, chopped (about 3 whole leaves minus stalks)
1 handful or more mung bean sprouts
1 Kiwi fruit, peeled, chopped
2 - 3 sprigs fresh mint, leaves only
½ star fruit, seeds and seed cases removed
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup water

Beet greens, mung bean sprouts, Kiwi fruit,
dragon fruit and fresh mint combine in a
thick, refreshing taste treat


1. Wash the vegetables. Separate the leaves from the stalks. Roughly chop the beet greens and put them into a blender.

2. Add remaining ingredients when peeled, seeded or otherwise treated as indicated in the ingredients list.

3. Pulse on 'High' until pureed. Decant. Enjoy!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Beet greens chop-chop

Beet greens chop-chop
                                                  Yield: 1 - 2 servings

This dish of beet greens is called chop-chop because everything, except the sunflower seeds, is chopped. Whatever it is called, the beet greens make a cooked salad which is handy as a main meal or as a side dish. For instance, you might prefer to omit the balsamic vinegar and eat it warm with bite-sized chicken or pork cubes that have been stir-fried in a wok or steamed.

Beet greens chop-chop

The quantities are only roughly estimated since each bunch of whole beet greens will yield a different measure of chopped beet greens. Likewise with the spring onions and Chinese celery.


1 bunch of beet greens, about 6 whole leaves with stalks
4 spring onions
1 clove fresh garlic
2 - 3 whole stalks of Chinese celery
1 - 2 tablespoons raw sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon whole flax seeds
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Balsamic vinegar
Black olives


1. Wash the vegetables. Separate the stalks from the leaves. Chop the beet leaf stalks, the celery stalks and the spring onions. Peel garlic clove and finely chop it. Slice the beet greens and celery leaves, or chop them; whichever you choose, they should be in bite-sized pieces.

2. Heat olive oil in a non-stick pan on medium heat. Add chopped onion, vegetable stalks, garlic and sunflower seeds. Stir and cook for 2 - 3 minutes until the red beet stalks begin to look a bit translucrent. 

3. Add the beet greens and celery leaves. Sprinkle flax seeds over the greens. Stir for 2 minutes until beet greens have wilted. 

4.  Grind black pepper over the mixture. Stir. Remove from heat.

5.Turn out onto a warm plate. Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar. Add black olives.