Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Borscht and pretzels

Borscht has been on my cooking to-do list for such a long time. I'm not quite sure why I wanted to try it so badly, was it the brilliant colour calling out to me or an opportunity to build up my repertoire of beetroot recipes? Certain things about borscht didn't really appeal to me, like serving it cold. Chilled soups are something I'm yet to get my head around and muster the guts to try, perhaps on a hot summer day when it makes a bit more sense. Warm hearty soups are what I need in the middle of winter in Melbourne.

I had been eyeing off a borscht recipe in World Vegetarian Classics for ages yet it seemed a bit too chunky for my liking. A few weeks ago Johanna posted a version that was mostly blended, I preferred the sound of this texture so I used both sources for inspiration and came up with something in between the two. Cashew based creams have been my preferred replacement for dairy sour cream for ages but as there was some silken tofu that needed to be used quickly I whizzed up a tofu/cashew cream to serve with the soup instead.

After sampling pretzels at Gasometer recently, I was keen to give them a try at home and tracked down a recipe on Peas and Thank You. This seemed like the perfect occasion to make them! I was playing a dangerous game by serving soup for dinner (which is generally frowned upon) and thought that some freshly baked pretzels might win me back some brownie points.

Mama Pea's recipe was written using a stand mixer with a dough hook which I don't own so I changed the process around to suit a traditional kneading method and used my prior bread making knowledge and judgement at times. After the dough had been kneaded, rested, rolled out and shaped, the pretzels had to be boiled for 30 seconds prior to baking. This is similar to a step I've read about in bagel recipes. The only problem was that I forgot to add bicarbonate of soda to the boiling water which is supposed to give the pretzels their shine and colour!

Similar to Gasometer's pretzels, I topped mine with coarse sea salt and caraway seeds and served them with vegan mustard butter - a mixture of dairy free margarine and seeded mustard. The boys weren't very keen on the soup but they loved their pretzels. Borscht isn't going to become one of my favourite soups but I did enjoy it's earthy flavour and was happy to eat the leftovers for lunches. On the other hand the pretzels were an absolute highlight that I'll definitely have to make again, perhaps a little shinier next time.     

Borscht - Beetroot soup with kidney beans and cabbage (Adapted from Green Gourmet Giraffe and World Vegetarian Classics)

1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
3 medium (500g) beetroot, diced
1 large (200g) potato, diced
1 large (200g) carrot, diced
4 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
1 x 400g tin red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
¼ small head green cabbage, finely shredded
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
300g silken tofu
½ cup cashews
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
Finely chopped fresh dill, for garnish
Freshly cracked black pepper

Place the onion, garlic, beetroot, potato, carrots, water and salt in a stockpot and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.

Meanwhile place the tofu, cashews, lemon juice and salt in a blender and process until no chunks of cashews remain. Transfer the contents to a bowl and refrigerate. Rinse out the blender.

After the soup has simmered for an hour, transfer batches to the blender and process until smooth. Return the blended soup to the stockpot and reheat gently. Add the kidney beans, cabbage and red wine vinegar and cook for a further 5 minutes or until the cabbage has just softened. Serve garnished with the tofu/cashew cream, dill and freshly cracked black pepper.

Pretzels (Adapted from Peas and Thank You)
Makes 4 large pretzels

1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons raw sugar
1 teaspoon dried yeast
¾ cup lukewarm water
2 ½ cups plain flour
2 tablespoon dairy free margarine, melted
10 cups water
2/3 cup bicarbonate of soda (I forgot to add it this time!)
Coarsely ground sea salt
½-1 teaspoon caraway seeds

Dissolve the salt and sugar in a jug containing ¾ cup lukewarm water and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes or until the yeast starts to look foamy.

Place the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour the contents of the jug into the well, followed by the margarine and mix the ingredients with your hands to form a rough dough. Turn the dough out onto a clean floured bench and knead for at least 5 minutes or until the dough is soft and supple. Rest the dough in an oiled bowl covered with a tea towel for 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size.

Cut the dough into 4 equal sized pieces. Roll each piece of dough out into long thin strands using your hands, each piece should be approximately 60cm long. Shape each piece of dough into a pretzel knot and press the knots together gently so they do come apart during the boiling process.

Preheat oven to 230C. Bring 10 cups of water plus 2/3 cup bicarbonate of soda to the boil and line an oven tray with baking paper (I didn't use baking paper and one of the pretzels stuck to the oiled tray so I would highly recommended using it). Gently lower a pretzel into the boiling water and allow to cook for 30 seconds. Remove carefully with a slotted spoon and place on the oven tray. Repeat for the other 3 pretzels.

Bake the pretzels in the oven for 12-14 minutes until golden brown.


  1. Wow you and I seem to be on the same wavelength given that I made pretzels recently too! I love the pairing with borscht. I liked bathing my pretzels in a cooled bicarb and water bath because it is easier to manage when things get frenetic and there is a toddler under foot. I tried the boiling water with pretzel rolls last year which was a disaster (but worked ok when I made bagels). I think my pretzels were a lot smaller which was fine for us but they needed more overhang on the end of the knot - yours look great.

    1. Our timing with pretzels was a bit freaky, wonder if that will happen again someday! I definitely had Gasometer's menu on my mind when I decided to make the pretzels to have with the borscht and am glad I did for the sake of the others. I wasn't as happy with my knots after seeing how great yours turned out, but perhaps the extra twist you gave them resulted in less overhang as well as the size difference?

  2. Oh yum, I need to try making my own pretzels. I've made bagels before but I don;t think I've ever even eaten a pretzel!

    1. They are a lot of fun to make! I hadn't eaten a pretzel until recently too and once I had tried them I wanted to try making them. I need to get around to making bagels one day...

  3. Borscht has always freaked me out a little--like I want to make it but I'm terrified I'll hate it (and I pretty much never order it out at restaurants). Adding the kidney beans & cabbage is an awesome sounding twist that I think I could go for! As for the pretzels, yum!! Yours look awesome!

    1. I felt exactly the same way about borscht, there was no way I was going to order it out in case I hated it, so eventually I had to try making some at home.

  4. You and Johanna are working hard to make me want pretzels! What impressive twists and I like the idea of seasoning with caraway seeds. I'm still a bit hesitant on borscht too but the pretzels I have no qualms about :)

    1. Hope you get around to making pretzels one day. I enjoyed making them *almost* as much as I loved eating them and the caraway seeds add a great flavour.

  5. I love it when you come across a blog post that just reads your mind - pretzels have been on my to-bake list for ages. There's a distinctly doable-looking version in the Vegan Boulangerie that's been looking at me! I don't think it tells you when to boil the pretzels though - do you have to boil *and* bake?

    1. Hope you knock them off your to-bake list one day too! Yes, it was a boil and bake but each pretzel was only boiled for 30 seconds before they were baked in the oven.

  6. Those pretzels look so inviting! I just can't get past the earthy taste of cooked beets, and so I generally stay away from Borscht. I could totally make a meal out of those pretzels, though!

    1. I'm not sure that I'll bother with borscht again although I'm glad to have tried it. The earthy flavour was a bit intense for a full bowl of soup. Pretzels have been requested frequently so perhaps I'll work them into another soup or stew dinner soon...