Home Cooking

"Persian-Polish Borscht": cross-cultural take-out serendipity?

PayOrPlay | Feb 22, 200501:44 AM

As the rain continues to drench us here in formerly-sunny Los Angeles, my wife and I agreed on soup as the perfect choice for a low-key Presidents' Day dinner. The only problem, we couldn't quite decide on just one, so I called Junior's Deli in West LA and ordered three different soups: their classic "full house" chicken-noodle-matzoh ball-kreplach extravaganza; mushroom barley (my wife's request); and cold beet borscht (dairy version). The borscht was a special treat for me since neither my wife nor our son will touch beets, so I basically never get to order borscht when we go out even though it has been a favorite since I was little and my dad used to whip up a terrific simple version in the Ol' Osterizer.

Anyway, for whatever reason the service at the deli tonight was friendly but utterly distracted (even though the place was empty, contrary to all expectations) and among other minor annoyances, when I got home I realized they had remembered the boiled potatoes but had forgotten the sour cream. And we didn't have any in the house. BUT, then I remembered that we still had a nice big container of Must O'Kheyar, left over from a big Persian meal we'd hosted for some friends earlier this week. This is a thick yogurt-based dip with chopped cucumbers and herbs (the herbs seem to vary from recipe to recipe but I think the version from our favorite Persian restaurant uses mint and possibly dill). So, in went a big dollop, and--

What a fabulous combination! The yogurt in lieu of sour cream gave an extra kick of sour tang to the soup without the heaviness of the cream, the cucumber added an extra dimension of vegetal lightness together with the plentiful shredded beets in the Junior's recipe, and the extra herbs from the Must O'Kheyar added all sorts of complexity. I've quickly checked a few cookbooks tonight (including my grandmother's traditional Jewish one) and I haven't found any borscht recipes (especially not Jewish versions) that combine beets, cucumbers, mint, dill, and yogurt--although these ingredients seem to pop up in different combinations in the Ukranian recipe collections (and my grandmother's book has an intriguing variation with beets and rhubarb). So, maybe I accidentally invented something "new"? Or even if I didn't, it has instantly become my new favorite borscht recipe.

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