There is something primal that happens to me when I have ingredients that are commonly used in any Eastern European cuisine. Yes, my background is Hungarian, but over the centuries borders were more fluid: Austro-Hungarian, Russian, Ottoman, Napoleonic, and so forth. All of these cultures had their influences on the region my dad’s family now call Hungary.
I was exposed to as much Ukrainian influenced dishes as Hungarian. In the Canadian Prairies there was a large influx of overall Eastern European immigration over the last 50-60 years. The richness of each region added to the unique Canadian tapestry of cultural influences.
One of my favourite dishes from Ukraine/Russia is borscht. The intense, rusted violet-red colour of the beets, the rustic chunky bits of vegetables and smoky bacon or sausage make a hearty soup that borders on stew depending on the cook’s hand.
I thought I’d used some of the common ingredients I’ve seen in a borscht and make a salad: cabbage, carrots, peas, sour cream and csabai (a dry cured, smoked Hungarian sausage) along with golden beets. I could’ve used the traditional deep violet-red beets, but the golden beets don’t bleed as much of their natural colour and tint everything else with its hue. It’s more out of visual aesthetics than anything, so feel free to use any beet you like.
Golden Borscht Salad
For the Rhubarb Sour Cream Dressing:
2 tsp rhubarb juice (obtained by juicing fresh rhubarb or puréeing it and straining it through a sieve)
1 tsp white vinegar
2 Tbsp sour cream
1/4 tsp salt
In a small bowl, stir together the rhubarb juice, vinegar, sour cream and salt until combined. Set aside.
For the steamed vegetables:
3/4 cup golden beets, peeled and cubed into 2cm/1″ pieces
1/2 cup carrots, peeled and cubed into 2cm/1″ pieces
Bring a pot of water to a simmer over medium heat. Add the beets and carrots to a steamer basket/insert, place over the simmering water, cover with a lid and steam for 12-15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl to cool.
For the Crispy Csabai Bits:
1/2 tsp cold pressed canola oil
1/4 cup csabai sausage (or other dry cured, smoked sausage), cubed into 2cm/1″ pieces
In a small sauté pan over medium high heat, heat the oil to smouldering. Add the sausage bits and fry until golden on all sides. Drain on paper towels and cool.
For the salad:
Prepared Rhubarb Sour Cream Dressing
Prepared Steamed Vegetables
Prepared Crispy Csabai Bits
3/4 cup green cabbage, finely sliced
6-8 fresh snow peas, finely sliced on an angle
Rhubarb juice to accent
In a medium bowl, mix the cabbage, snow peas and Rhubarb Sour Cream Dressing together until uniformly combined. Allow to sit for at least 15 minutes to soften the cabbage slightly.
Divide the steamed beets and carrots over two plates. Mound the cabbage-snow pea slaw in the centre of both plates. Scatter some Crispy Csabai Bits around each plate and lightly spoon some rhubarb juice over both salads. Serves 2.