Omelets and Toast

I'm on an egg kick. It's springtime and the eggs from the farmer's market are better than ever. Yes, farmer's market eggs are pricier than the ones found in the supermarket, but the difference in flavor is noticeably in favor of the more expensive option.

I'm willing to spend a little more on things that are going to taste amazingly better. The yolks are darker, the eggs turn out creamier, and they just taste better in a way that words don't adequately explain. 

The other splurge for this meal was the bread. Again, I'm willing to shell out more dough (no pun intended) for something that is exceptional. I had been curious about these rustic loaves of bread at the Sunday Hollywood Farmer's Market, but the high price tag kept me away. Also, they don't offer samples (I sort of understand the principal of this, but on the other hand samples really work, and I probably would have been hooked on this bread months sooner if I had tried it). 
Ok, at the risk of sounding super bougie, here's what makes this bread special: Kenter Canyon Farm's makes these loaves from from locally grown heritage wheat berries, they mill the flour themselves, they bake the bread from a sourdough starter, and then they sell it at the local market and at Urban Radish. This bread is worth every penny. I'd argue that it's the best loaf of bread I've tried in Los Angeles. 

Back to the eggs... omelets can be filled with whatever you want (from fried chicken, to leftovers from dinner, to squash). It's best to prepare the filling separate from the eggs. The eggs only take a few minutes to cook, and you don't want to try and cram a bunch of raw cold things into a pocket of hot eggs at the last minute. You can use the same pan for both the omelet and the filling, just transfer the filling to the plate you're going to use for the final dish before you make the eggs.  

I had some spring onions, kale, and feta on hand.  I like the combination of something green and something cheesy. Greens love lemon, and I gave the cooked kale and onion mixture a squeeze of lemon juice before I put them in the omelet. Actually, eggs are also big fans of lemon. I'm pretty sure everything is better with lemon. 

I ate this plate of lovely eggs, hearty greens, creamy feta, perfect avocado and buttered-garlic-rubbed rustic bread and my day just got better from there.

This omelet recipe is as flexible as anything, but it's hard for me to think about serving any omelet without a great piece of toast. Find a good rustic bread with a thick crust and soft center and you're set.

Kale and Feta Omelet, with Garlic Rubbed Toast
Serves 1 
(Multiply for however many you want to serve. Omelets are best made one at a time with 2-3 eggs per omelet)

2 large eggs (or 3 if you want a super hearty omelet)
dash of cream or milk (optional)
1 cup chopped kale
1 spring onion, or 2 green onions, sliced
as much crumbled feta as you like, or goat, cheddar, swiss, brie, etc.
salt and pepper
good olive oil
good butter
good bread for toast
1 raw garlic clove
1 lemon wedge, for squeezing
1/2 avocado, sliced

Prep your ingredients: in a bowl, crack open your eggs and add a dash of cream or milk. Whisk them up and season with salt and pepper. Chop up your onions and kale. Crumble the cheese. Peel a clove of garlic. Slice up some bread. Slice up some avocado. 

In an omelet pan (an 8-inch non-stick or whatever you like to use to make eggs), on medium high heat, sauté the kale and onion in a drizzle of olive oil with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Once the greens and onions are wilted and cooked to your liking, transfer them to a plate. Squeeze a little lemon over the greens. Make sure your crumbled cheese is nearby; it's easier if all of your filling ingredients are in the same place. 
Before you cook the eggs, get your toast going. Toast will take longer than the omelet, and you don't want cold eggs or limp toast. Toast the bread. Rub the toasted slices with a raw clove of garlic, and then butter them.

In the same omelet pan, add a little butter and olive oil.  I would have used ghee (clarified butter), but I ran out. On medium high heat, add the egg mixture. With a spatula, lift up one side, tilt the pan, and let the raw egg seep into the empty space.  Do this in different spots around the pan until your eggs solidify into a single layer.
Once the omelet is still a little wet on top, add the filling, fold it over and slide it onto a plate. The eggs will continue to cook a bit even when you turn off the heat.  

Add the sliced avocado and buttered garlic toast to the plate. Serve and relish each bite.

Baked Eggs with Spring Onion and Spinach

Spring is here and with it comes all the new and tasty, green, yellow, orange and pink things popping up at the market and in my CSA (Farm Fresh To You). I'm still trying to figure out if the CSA system works for me as a single person that loves going to the farmer's market to pick out her own produce. The truth is, some weekends I'm too busy to go the farmer's market. The nice thing about the CSA is that I don't have to think about how I'm going to get quality organic produce into my kitchen. Also, I love getting surprised by seasonal items that I might not have thought to pick out on my own.

For example: spring onions. As much as I like onions, it's never really never occurred to me to seek out spring onions. Usually, I reach for the leeks instead. This bundle was delivered yesterday and I immediately felt inspired by these sweet and delicate onions. 

Baked eggs are such a foodie trick. They couldn't be easier, and they look so pretty baked in their own little white dishes (doesn't anything seem fancier when baked in its own dish?). Most importantly, baked eggs are delicious.

I ate this for lunch with a small salad, and I left the table full and satisfied. This recipe works for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You can add some cheese or sausage to the baking dish if you want something heartier. A splash of cream could add a nice richness to the dish, if you're so inclined. Tarragon or basil would be nice additions, too.  However you choose to compose your little egg dishes, you'll have a meal on your table in 20 minutes or less.

Baked Eggs with Spring Onion and Spinach
Serves 2 (Can easily be halved, doubled, tripled, or quadrupled)

2 small spring onions, tops and bottoms trimmed, thinly sliced 
1/2 cup spinach, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 eggs
cooking spray
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray two 6-oz. baking dishes with cooking spray. You can use a ramekin or whatever small baking dish you have (oval, round, square); smaller dishes will simply hold less of the filling, but they'll work perfectly well. Frankly, you can use large muffin tins if you don't have any baking dishes (use one egg instead of 2 per each cup). For the spray, I used coconut oil cooking spray, which adds a mild coconut flavor to the dish.  

Thinly slice your spring onions and roughly chop the spinach and flat leaf parsley.  Set aside and reserve. 

In a pan on medium high heat, melt a teaspoon of butter with a teaspoon of olive oil. You could use just butter or just olive oil; I like the flavor of butter mixed with the lighter quality of oil. Add the spring onions to the pan, and sauté them until they soften and a lovely onion aroma wafts out of the pan, about 2-3 minutes. Add the spinach to the softened onions, and cook it until it just wilts, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat.  

Divide the onion and spinach mixture evenly between the baking dishes.

Add two eggs to each dish. Top the eggs with chopped flat-leaf parsley.

Sprinkle a little more salt over the eggs.

Place the baking dishes on a baking sheet, and put the baking sheet in the oven for 15-18 minutes, or until the eggs have fully set, and the yolks are just slightly soft. Check your eggs after 10 minutes to gage their level of doneness.

Serve with crusty bread, a side salad, and hot sauce. 
Enjoy each flavorful, fresh, buttery, onion-flavored bite!

Sushi in Tokyo

It's hard to quantify how Japan changed my relationship to food, but like any great culinary experience, it most certainly did. I experienced tastes I had never even imagined before. I ate foods I had never heard of, and I ate foods I had heard of many times but had never tasted in their most perfect form.

No food was more surprisingly exquisite than the sushi.

Sushi was the first meal I ate in Japan.  We were up early due to jet lag (16 hour time difference), and soon after 5 AM we set off for Tokyo's famous Tsukiji fish market. 

Among other things, Tsukiji is the place where tuna auctions take place, and every imaginable type of fish is sold. Certainly, tourists visit this place in droves. However, just like Pike Place in Seattle, this is a real functioning market. Just outside the market are countless restaurants and food stalls.  They're all up and running, bustling and steaming, before the sun has even considered rising.

After walking around for a bit, we spotted a place full of locals and were lucky enough to walk in just before a long line formed behind us. The place seated no more than a dozen folks at a sushi counter manned by three chefs. 

These guys weren't messing around. With the first bite of fatty tuna (toro), I realized (despite having lived in Hawaii, despite eating sushi all over the West Coast), I had never had fish this fresh, and therefor had never tasted fish as good as I did in that moment.


toro (not meat, although it looks it)

The taste of uni was completely redefined at that sushi counter. Uni had never been as buttery, unctuous, or perfect. I instantly fell in love with Japan over breakfast, and the love affair didn't end for the duration of the trip.

For our last dinner in Tokyo, we went to Sushi Yuu. The recommendation for the restaurant came from a friend living in Tokyo with great taste in food. I knew it would be good, but I had no idea just HOW good it would be.  

The restaurant is inviting and warm, and Chef Shimazaki-San makes you feel welcome and taken care of from the moment you arrive. As an interesting side note, the Chef is married to a Russian woman. His English is quite good, but we were able to speak in Russian as well. I never expected I would be speaking Russian to a Japanese sushi chef, and it was a great joy to do so.

There's no menu, there's no ordering, you sit down and go along for the ride of incredible food. You will be served the highest quality fish, rice, wine, miso, freshly grated wasabi, etc. etc. etc. The sushi is a work of art in its own right, but I was equally blown away by the Chef's pickled baby ginger. I love anything pickled and anything ginger, and I had no idea that pickled ginger could taste as good and delicate as the chef made it taste. The ginger is pickled the same day it is served, and because it is baby ginger, it is tender, soft, not too sweet, and perfectly balanced in flavor and spice. I could eat buckets of the stuff. I would go back to this restaurant just for the ginger, and that's saying a lot, because the Chef served us the best sushi of my life. 

Here are some highlights:

tuna, with the incredible ginger and freshly grated wasabi

fatty tuna

mackerel (special sun-dried preparation)

another part of tuna, seared


type of herring


toro with onion

homemade plum wine, made by the chef's mother

end of a great meal

Sushi for our first breakfast and our last dinner were the perfect bookends to an incredible trip.  

If you find yourself in Tokyo, let me know. I will send you straight to Sushi Yuu.

Fake Food in Japan

Just got back from Japan (Tokyo, Naoshima, Kobe, and Kyoto). Jet lag is hitting hard. I am preparing multiple posts about the food I ate in Japan. Too many memorable meals to count. I fell in love with the country and its food, but I was also blown away by the fake cuisine!

There's real artistry involved in these plastic wonders. There are fake food displays are outside many Japanese restaurants, regardless of the type of cuisine being served there. Here are just a few examples:

And you can even by your own fake food at a fake food store! 

And if you can't go to Japan, just order online!

More soon...

Roasted Spiced Chickpeas

Appetizers and desserts are the best parts of every meal? Right?

I remember hearing Rayanne's mom saying so on My So Called Life, and it alway stuck (at 1:27 in the clip below).

Let's throw "snacks" into the apps/desserts/best-things-to-eat category.

I'm always attracted to foods that are crunchy, spicy, or smoky.  I also prefer those things to be homemade, and not totally unhealthy.

This is a quick, easy, protein-rich snack.  It's best to eat these guys soon after you make them.  They lose their crunchiness after a few hours.

I like smoky flavors like cumin and smoked paprika, but you can try any spice combo you think you would like.

This recipe makes a small batch, but you could easily double it and adjust the spices accordingly.

Roasted Spiced Chickpeas
Serves 2-3 as a snack

1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed, drained and patted dry
2 tablespoons olive oil or grapeseed oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1/8 teaspoon chipotle powder (or chili powder could be good, too)
pinch of salt (optional, doesn't really need it as the chickpeas are seasoned in the can)

Preheat the oven to 400°F, with a rack placed in the center of the oven.  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or foil.

Rinse and drain your chickpeas. Lay them out on a towel, or paper towels, and pat them dry.
In a bowl, add your dried chickpeas, olive oil, and spices.  Toss the chickpeas in the oils and spices so that each one is well coated with the mixture.

Transfer the chickpeas to your lined baking sheet and place in the oven for 25-40 minutes (it depends on the chickpeas and your oven), until they are crunchy and browned.  Keep an eye on these guys, they can go from crunchy to burnt pretty quickly.

Serve and eat!

Seared Mushrooms and Polenta

oyster, maitake, and shitake mushrooms
photo by Mark Hanauer

I have looked through the pages of Plenty more times than I can count. I often flip through the pages when I'm looking for inspiration for a dinner party, client, or for what to do with a farmer's market bounty.  I've always been interested in the mushroom and herb polenta recipe, but it felt like a special occasion dish and I never found the right special occasion to make it.

Last night, I was in the mood to make something special for no occasion.  I suggested a few options to my dinner companions, and they voted for mushrooms and polenta.  I didn't feel like following a recipe, and I also felt like making seared polenta as opposed to the baked polenta in the recipe.  I also didn't have time to make polenta from scratch, bake it in the oven for at least an hour, then cool it, then cut it into rounds or squares, then sear it.  Instead, I bought pre-made polenta (in the tube, found at Whole Foods or most other grocery stores). I cut the polenta into rounds before searing it.  

The recipe recommends Taleggio cheese, but the store had was out.  The guy at the Venice Whole Foods cheese counter was super helpful, and found me a mild sheep's milk cheese that worked really well. A goat's milk Gouda might be nice. You could probably use Mozzarella if you only had that on hand.

If you love mushrooms, this dish is perfect.  The creamy crusted polenta pairs perfectly with the earthy browned mushrooms, fresh herbs, and creamy melted cheese.  This meal feels special, but it is perfect as a mid-week dinner after work.  I served it with a simple salad with a balsamic Dijon vinaigrette, and we all ate coconut ice cream for dessert.  It was a great and happy meal.

Here's the dish, inspired by Ottolenghi...

Seared Mushrooms and Polenta Rounds with Herbs and Melted Cheese
Serves 4-5

About the mushrooms:  I used maitake, shiitake, cremini, and oyster. You could use any mushrooms you like, but I would try to use shiitake and oyster if you can, as they have a more delicate texture than cremini, white button or portobello mushrooms. 

olive oil
5-6 cups mixed mushrooms 
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tablespoon, fresh thyme
1 tablespoon, chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper
2 18-oz sleeves/tubes plain polenta, cut into 1/2 inch rounds
4-5 oz Taleggio cheese, cut into thin slices (or use a mild semi-hard Sheep's or Goat's cheese)
1/3 cup shredded parmigiano-reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Line a sheet pan or large platter with paper towels. Line a second sheet pan with parchment paper, or tin foil.

Start by cleaning your mushrooms. Remove dirt and grit with a damp towel so as not to saturate the mushrooms with water. Cut up the oyster and maitake mushrooms into 1-inch pieces.  Slice the cremini and the shiitake mushrooms.  Prepare the rest of your ingredients: mince the garlic, remove the thyme from the stem, and chop up the rosemary.  

Add a glug of olive oil to a large pan over medium high heat. In batches, add some of the garlic, mushrooms, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper to the pan.  Be careful not to overcrowd the pan otherwise your mushrooms won't brown.  Leave the mushrooms in the pan to brown, then flip them and brown the other side.  I used two pans at the same time to speed up this process. I cooked the mushrooms in about 5 or 6 batches.  Transfer the browned mushrooms to a sheet pan lined with paper towels. Set aside all of the browned mushrooms.

Pat dry the polenta rounds before you cook them.  In the same pan you used for the mushrooms, add a tablespoon of olive oil and a pat of butter.  Add 5 or 6 rounds of polenta at a time.  Brown the polenta in batches (don't overcrowd the pan), cook them for 3-5 minutes on each side, or until they are nicely browned and crusty.  Transfer the browned polenta to the parchment-lined sheet pan.

Set your oven to broil.

Top the browned rounds of polenta with the seared mushrooms.  Add a thin slice of cheese on top of each polenta round.  Sprinkle everything with the grated parm.  Place the tray under the broiler for about a minute until the cheese melts and starts to bubble (keep an eye on it, the cheese melts quickly!) Serve and garnish with freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley.

Kale, Date & Almond Salad

The other night I ate at Rustic Canyon for the first time.  I'm a big fan of Huckleberry, which is owned by the same folks. My expectations were high and overall the meal was quite lovely. The place was packed and the ambience was lively. The cocktail I had was perfect and the beer and wine selections looked great.  Everything we ate tasted good, but there were two dishes that stood out more than the others.

Service was outstanding for the first half of the meal.  For the second half of the meal, our waitress seemed to forget about us entirely. We were more or less ignored once our first round of drinks had been replenished; this made ordering dessert a little difficult. Service isn't something that matters to everyone, but it does matter to me. I'm particularly sensitive to service when the price tag of the meal is high. Regardless of what I'm paying, if a place has pretty good food and excellent service I'll almost definitely return to that establishment.  If a place has great food and terrible service I'm unlikely to go back.  Maybe it was an off-night because they were so busy (there happened to be celebrities there that night), or maybe that's just how it is. Rustic Canyon was yummy, but I'm not sure I'll go out of my way to return.

Back to the food... the gnocchi with oxtail, strawberry sofrito, pine nut, and fennel pollen was the stand-out dish, and the kale salad was a close second. I really like kale, but it's not something I tend to order at restaurants. On the menu the salad was described as having 'honey' dates, walnut, Parmesan and lemon.  It sounded good and different, and it tasted even better than I imagined. The kale was bright and slightly bitter, the dates were velvety and sweet, the lemon vinaigrette was creamy and vibrant.

I came home wanting to eat it again.  Here is a take on the great salad I had that night.

Kale, Date & Almond Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
Serves 2-3

4 cups kale (lacinato/tuscan kale would be best, but I used the regular variety), thinly sliced into ribbons
1/4 cup almonds, toasted and chopped (hazelnuts, pecans, or walnuts would also be good)
5 dates, pitted and halved
salt and pepper
juice of one lemon, Meyer if in season
drop of honey
3 tablespoons olive oil, or more depending on taste
crumbled goat cheese (optional)
shaved parmesan (optional)

Add the kale, toasted nuts, and pitted dates to a bowl. Lightly season the salad with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl or jar, add freshly squeezed lemon juice, a drop of honey, and a little more salt and pepper.  Whisk the olive oil into the lemon juice mixture until creamy and emulsified.  Taste your dressing and adjust accordingly.

Toss the salad with the dressing until the leaves are well coated.  Let the salad sit for at least 15 minutes before serving so that the kale properly absorbs the dressing and softens.

Top with crumbled goat cheese, or shaved parmesan if you're in the mood for that.

Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce

I admit to having a slight obsession with butternut squash. I love the flavor. I love its versatility. I love the color orange.

On the cooking show I work on we have used butternut squash in a couple healthy mac n' cheese recipes. The first season, one of our chefs made baked butternut squash mac n' cheese.  This season, Chef Vikki made a stove top butternut squash mac n' cheese.  I've seen a number of butternut squash lasagna recipes, and I even read about a squash carbonara.  Having tested, tasted, and loved the recipes for the show, it felt like it was time to take a stab at my own version of some kind of butternut squash pasta sauce.

For almost every squash recipe I make, especially soup, I prefer to roast my squash as opposed to cooking it in a liquid on the stove.  The squash gets caramelized, which adds to the depth of flavor. I find simmered or steamed squash slightly bland.

This recipe shouldn't be followed exactly. You'll need to taste the ingredients and add more of whatever you think it needs or doesn't need.  The basic idea is: roast squash, sweat onions and garlic, add roasted squash to the pan, add fresh thyme salt and pepper, add some water (or stock), add some milk, let it simmer and cook through, boil some pasta while that's happening, puree the sauce, add some cheese, top with fresh herbs, and serve.

Rigatoni with Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce
Serves 4

olive oil
1 medium butternut squash (about 3 lbs.)
1 box rigatoni, or any other kind of pasta you like (i.e. brown rice pasta or quinoa pasta)
1/2 a large white or yellow onion, diced
1 large clove of garlic, minced
3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
1/2 cup water, or more as needed
1/2 cup milk (any kind), or more as needed
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere (or Swiss, or cheddar,  or mozzarella)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped flat leaf parsley

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Line a sheet pan with parchment or foil (easier clean-up).  Cut your squash in half, lengthwise.  Scoop out the seeds.  Drizzle olive oil over the squash.  Place flesh side down, and roast in the oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the squashed is cooked through (it should be soft when you pierce it with a fork or knife.  Once the squash is cooked, let it cool slightly.

Bring a large pot of boiling water to a boil.

In a deep sauce pan or pot, over medium high heat, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the diced onion to the olive oil and let the onion sweat until soft and translucent, about 7-8 minutes.  Add the minced garlic and thyme leaves to the onion and let it cook for another minute or two.  Scoop the cooked squash out of its skin, and add it to the pan.  Add the water and milk to the squash mixture. Bring the mixture up to a simmer, and then turn down the heat to low.  Let the butternut squash sauce simmer while you prepare your pasta.

Add your pasta to the boiling water, and cook until just al dente the box will indicate the correct amount of time for an al dente noodle, but keep your eye on those guys and make sure they don't get mushy because that's the worst.  Once the pasta is cooked and drained, add it back to the warm pot. This will allow any excess water to evaporate.

Using an immersion blender or a regular blender, food processor, or potato masher, puree your squash mixture until it is smooth and sauce-like.  It doesn't have to be perfect, in fact, just roasting the squash will make it break apart easily when added to the liquid. Turn the heat off.  Add the shredded cheese and stir until it is melted into the sauce. I like to go light on the cheese.  If you want to mimic mac n' cheese, add more of the cheese.  You can also adjust the thickness of the sauce by adding more milk or half and half if you're feeling decadent. This sauce is all about what you like. Season with salt and pepper.  Add the finished sauce to your pasta leftover sauce can be frozen.

Garnish with freshly chopped parsley.  Serve with grated parmesan and red pepper flake.

"Cookin' Cheap" - Cooking Club Recap

Our cooking club met this past Sunday, and as usual, a great time and great dishes were had by all. Each month, the host of that month's gathering chooses a theme.  My sister-in-law hosted this month's club, and she chose the following theme:

The theme for next cooking club will be bringing forth recipes that in one way or another came about to overcome hardship. Whether the hardship was due to war, poverty, dietary restrictions, I'd like to know and be inspired by what you guys have come across. I am not sure if this is totally clear, so I will rely on Tamar Adler's intro to her book An Everlasting Meal, lent to me by Liz to make a better point. In An Everlasting Meal, Adler pays homage to one of my favorite books, How to Cook A Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher.

"[How to Cook A Wolf] is a book about cooking defiantly, amid the mess of war and the pains of bare pantries... The essays it contains make it seem practical to consider one's appetite. It advocated cooking with gusto not only for vanquishing hardship with pleasure but for ' weeding out what you yourself like best to do, so that you can live most agreeably in a world full of an increasing number of disagreeable surprises.'"

She also shared one of her favorite old cooking shows that she grew up watching in Philly:

I love the show. I can't get enough of watching old cooking shows on youtube.  I'm amazed by the differences between now and then; different productions values, different styles of plating, different types of ingredients, and different cooking techniques.

I was a big fan of the theme.  Some of the greatest dishes of all time were born out of hardship.  Aside from the obvious types of economic hardships, it also got me thinking about what other types of hardships might bring about interesting dishes.

Here's a recap of what the ladies made this month:
Ottoleghi's Salad with Radish, Sundried Tomato

Stewed greens with tomato and onion (greens were from the cook's garden)

Roasted brussels sprouts
Ina's recipe works well

spam fried rice with toasted coconut and herb topping on the side (the topping is such a good idea, I'll be stealing that for the future)

Turkish meatless meatballs (made of lentils and other nice things)
here's a similar recipe

Chocolate pudding and tea biscuit cake (that's all it is, pudding and tea biscuits :)

Coconut milk brown rice pudding topped with ground pistachios, served with macerated cherries and whole pistachios
Update: here's a simple recipe via Mark Bittman for something similar. You can add vanilla, cinnamon, and other flavors to jazz it up.  Top with dried cherry and pistachio at the end.

oh, and I contributed the previous posts's borscht

I am already looking forward to next months' club.  Theme TBD.  

My grandmother's Borscht

As the child of Russian immigrants, beets played a big role in my culinary upbringing. Borscht is the king of all beet dishes, and no one makes it better than my maternal grandmother.

Borscht is beet soup.  Many Russians include meat in their borscht.  The kind that I grew up eating was vegetarian, and it is the kind I prefer.

My grandparents have very civilized meals.  Among other things, they begin every dinner with a bowl of soup. Borscht is in heavy rotation in a cycle of other great soups.

I have made borscht different ways.  I have also made non-borscht beet soups (creamy, with yogurt and dill). This recipe is the most classic version of this type of soup.  To me, it tastes like home and family. It tastes like sweet earth, bright with lemon and dill. A dollop of sour cream is an essential component. Extra fresh dill always helps. The soup does take a bit of work, but each step is easy.

To make this borscht especially good, I started by getting all of my ingredients at the Hollywood farmer's market.  I especially like going to the market when I have a specific recipe in mind; hunting for root veggies and cabbage couldn't be easier in February... even if you're not in agriculturally abundant California. These ingredients are also readily available at any grocery store.

From my experiences growing up bringing "weird" things to school in my lunchbox, I know this stuff isn't for everyone. But if you're into beets, and you're into soups, you'll probably enjoy Borscht.

Baba's Borscht
Serves 10-12

1 large onion, or 2 small onions, peeled and halved
3 stalks of celery
handful of fresh parsley
1 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3-4 medium sized beets, shredded
2 medium carrots, shredded
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups finely shredded cabbage
2 cups roughly shopped beet greens (optional)
1/4 cup freshly chopped dill
Juice of 1 lemon
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
Sour cream 

Fill a large pot with water.  Add your peeled and halved onions, celery stalks, flat leaf parsley, garlic and bay leaf to the pot.  Season the water with a generous amount of salt.  Bring the ingredients to a boil, lower to a simmer, and let the steep for 30 minutes.  

While your broth is simmering, peel your carrots and beets.  If you do not want beet-stained hands, use disposable gloves whilst peeling your beets.  To make life easy, you can shred your carrots and beets in a food processor.  If you don't have a food processor, or you want to work out your dominant arm's bicep, you can shred the beets and carrots with a box grater.  Add the olive oil to a large pan on medium high heat.  Add the shredded beets and carrots to the pan.  Season with salt and pepper. Sautee the vegetables until they are softened, about 15 minutes.

Once the beets and carrots have wilted and softened, and the broth has been simmering for a while, you can scoop out the onion, celery, parsley, garlic, etc. from the broth using a spider or slotted spoon.  Add the shredded cabbage and beet greens to the pot (I save the tops of the beets, wash them really well, and chop them up... if you didn't get your beets with greens, you can skip this ingredient).   Add the cooked beets and cabbage to the pot.  Bring the liquid to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes.  

At this point, the flavors will come together, and the liquid will become a brilliant red color. Add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice and fresh dill to the pot. Ladle and serve the borscht with a generous dollop of sour cream.  I like to serve this soup hot, but you can also eat it chilled.

Borscht is best eaten with a chunk of hearty crusty bread.  If you're feeling really Russian, you can also eat your borscht with a side of raw garlic cloves, seriously.