Sweet Beet Soup (sladka pesna juha)
Potato-Spinach Dumplings (njoki) with Gorgonzola-Gouda Sauce
Fresh Tomato Garnish
I was in the mood for some healthy, not-too-meaty Slovenian food.
I had a couple of ideas, both appealing. One was borscht, or beet soup. The other was gnocchi, or njoki in Slovenian. Since I couldn’t choose, I decided to make them both.
It was a labor intensive dinner. So let’s consider the beet soup first.
Months earlier, I had noticed a curious recipe in the Progressive Slovene Women’s cookbook. It was called sweet beet soup, or sladka pesna juha. Definitely the sweet-and-sour type, with plenty of sugar and lemon juice, along with tomatoes and onions. But I didn’t know what to make of the eggs. What was this, a dessert or a soup? So I dismissed it.
But I got to thinking about borscht again, when we visited our favorite Polish restaurant and ordered their version of borscht, which we had enjoyed in the past. It was a clear red broth, with slivers of beets and large flat white beans. The last time, it had included beef, which seemed to be missing this time. And I was reminded that this Polish take on borscht was much more savoury than the sweet-and-sour Jewish style I knew best.
Now I was really intrigued by the myriad possibilities borscht can offer. Including that peculiar-sounding Slovenian recipe with the sugar and eggs. And when I discovered a couple of beets in the refrigerator, that clinched it. I had to give it a try.
Sweet Beet Soup
2 beets (½ bunch)
½ c. fresh tomatoes, cut up and seeds removed
¼ lb. beef stew meat, cut into small pieces
1-2 c. water
1 T. lemon juice
2 T. sugar
1 egg, beaten
Cook the beets, using whatever method you choose. When they are done, peel them and cut into strips or cubes.
(I used the microwave. I put the whole beets in a covered dish with ¼ cup water. I cooked them on high for 12-15 minutes, stopping every 5 minutes to turn.)
Combine the cut-up beets, water, tomatoes, onion, and beef in water. Simmer 3o minutes. Add lemon juice, sugar and salt. Simmer 30 minutes more. Taste and adjust seasonings. Beat egg in a separate dish. Add a little hot soup gradually, stirring to prevent curdling. Add to the pot of soup. Do not allow to boil.
I had many misgivings, but this beet soup was a delicious surprise.
My husband loved it. He thought it was among my best dishes so far. “This is in the top twelve!” he said.
I was convinced it would be too sweet. But it wasn’t. And it was just the right amount of beef.
The egg was the real puzzler. Because of my doubts, I had cut the egg down to half of what the original recipe called for. I wouldn’t have wanted more, but in this quantity the egg worked out just fine. The egg flavor was not overpowering, and it lightened the broth to a delicate pink. It didn’t seem too different from adding sour cream, a common way to serve Jewish-style borscht.
So why the eggs instead of sour cream? My husband and I can think of only one reason: to avoid combining dairy and meat, in order to observe Jewish dietary laws. But that would not be an issue in Slovenia, where the population is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.
So the recipe remains a puzzle. But there is no doubt: This sweet beet soup was a winner!
For that matter, so was the rest of the dinner.