The glorious beet. We now know it as a superfood, but to our forebearers in Eastern Europe it was a diet staple relied on for nourishment and sustenance through hard winters. Long before we added chicken soup to the menu (our holdout on trespassing Nana’s territory) we had a hot borscht that was fit for the Russian army. A simple peasant soup, borscht is one of those dishes that exists in countless different iterations from shtetl to shtetl and kitchen to kitchen. At Mile End ours has steadfastly stood as a vegetarian beacon (initially in a lone category with only classic poutine) in a menu loaded with meat and more meat. Over the years we refined the hot soup recipe by adding leafy kale and delicate fingerlings and developed a cold version with a lick of creamy buttermilk for hot summer days.
When James Merker came on to lead the kitchen of our new Sandwich Shop in the spring of 2012 he proposed a remix of the deli classic and offered up a luscious and cooling beet gazpacho topped with salsa verde and crispy shallots. None of us could argue with the approach: it put the hearty vegetable front and center and with minimal treatment coaxed out the sweet flavor of the ruby beet. I first tried the gazpacho on a damp April day and knew at the time that it would be the perfect remedy for August humidity.
On August 25th we’ll be among dozens of restaurants serving at the Harvest East End Wine and Food Classic and we couldn’t come up with a better offering for a sun drenched open field than this cooling beet gazpacho. The recipe is so simple, and so perfect for summer.
When choosing your beets go for hard, small or medium sized ones. Always avoid a root larger than a baseball; as the vegetable grows it’s natural sweetness and flavor becomes less concentrated. As for which gin to use: Chef Merker (aka Jimmy) selflessly took on the arduous task of tasting and testing a variety of labels and after much research determined that Farmer’s Gin is our preferred brand. It’s a small batch, organic and aromatic spirit that complements the earthy vegetables, though, if that seems too particular, really any gin in your pantry will do the trick.
RECIPE: Serves 20
Medium dice of:
- 1 bunch celery
- 4 seedless cucumbers
- 3 red bell peppers
- 2 jalapenos
- 3 medium red onions
- 5 peeled medium RAW beets
- 10-12 peeled medium COOKED beets (brought up from cold in salted water until fork tender)
- 1 cup sherry vinegar
- Mix all diced ingredients together and season with salt, several splashes of gin, and about 1 cup of sherry vinegar.
- Let mixture sit at room temperature for 1 hour to marinate. Taste for seasoning again and add more vinegar, gin and salt as necessary.
- Once marinated blend until your desired consistency is achieved. We aim for somewhere between applesauce and oatmeal.
Jimmy will be heading out to Amber Waves Farm to gather our produce for the event so check back soon for photos of that visit.