Good old cold borscht
Food to me is so much more than just the sum of the ingredients that were put together and cooked into a meal. It’s a real, down-to-earth representation of one’s culture, landscape, climate, etc. Soured milk is one such ingredient that stands out in my native Lithuanian cuisine. It represents a food culture that dislikes or can’t afford waste. Milk that has been left to ferment turns into an entirely new thing, with a distinctive taste, increased amount of healthy microorganisms and new recipe possibilities.
It also reminds me of those hot summer days in the Lithuanian countryside with a gentle breeze, harsh afternoon sun, blue skies and a glistening lake. This was the time when we’d pack the car full with 3 months worth of stuff for holidays and head to North Eastern Lithuania to our summer house by the lake.
One of our undying summer rituals is to kayak to the other side of the lake to get 3 litres of fresh raw cow’s milk. As the days go by the milk gets more sour until it can’t be consumed as milk anymore. This is how soured milk or buttermilk is made in the summer months in my family. It is just left on the window sill, no added grains, nothing.
If you’re in the UK you can easily buy buttermilk or kefir in any Polish or Lithuanian foodstore. Buttermilk and kefir taste pretty much the same, the main difference is that kefir is made with kefir grains and contains lots of strains of bacteria and yeast, while buttermilk contains only one strain of bacteria called Lactic acid bacteria.
Buttermilk or kefir is the essential ingredient for cold borscht soup or ‘Saltibarsciai’ in Lithuanian. It is a summer staple food and is eaten almost daily at home or can be ordered almost anywhere serving food. Thanks to cold kefir it is a refreshing dish and with added herbs, such as dill and spring onion, you’ve got something real special that tastes of summer and is simple to make. You can use dairy milk or plant milk, although traditionally it is made with cow’s milk.
The other essential ingredient, pickled grated beetroot, can also be found in Polish and Lithuanian foodstores. Beetroot pickled in vinegar adds the necessary sourness to the taste.
I love making saltibarsciai for friends not acquainted with Baltic/Eastern European cuisine and seeing their reaction when they first see it- the soup is bright pink!
Recipe (serves 2)
150g pickled grated beetroot (buy at the Polish foodstore)
A bunch of dill
A bunch of spring onion or chives
4-6 average size potatoes
A pinch of salt
- Put potatoes to boil. You can peel them or boil them with skin. Cook for about 20min or until cooked.
- While potatoes are boiling mix kefir with beetroot.
- Cut cucumber in cubes. Finely cut dill and spring onion. Add it all to kefir and beetroot mix.
- Add some salt to taste.
- Serve in a bowl with boiled potatoes on a side.
That’s it, really easy and simple!