My start-to-finish process for making a recipe often goes a little something like this…
Day 1 (Friday): Think about what recipes to make over the weekend. Decide to attempt chlodnik, a chilled Polish soup with buttermilk and beets. Look at recipes online. Make a shopping list.
Day 2 (Saturday): Oversleep, miss the farmers’ market. Instead of cooking, go out to eat later with friends who are in town playing a show.
Day 3 (Sunday): Go to the grocery store in the late afternoon; pick up beets, buttermilk, cucumber, dill, scallions, radishes. Get home from the store late and too hungry to “cook”. Make a veggie “taco salad” with romaine, tomatoes, avocado and cut up pieces of a Dr. Praeger’s Tex-Mex veggie burger and call it a night.
Day 4 (Monday): Work late, get home starving, make frozen potstickers and salad for dinner. Finish too late to really have time or motivation to be in the kitchen. Try to make some headway on your book club book.
Day 5 (Tuesday): Plan on at least prepping some ingredients tonight, but get an invitation to go to a friend‘s for dinner, and accept. At this point, decide that maybe instead of making the soup for weekday lunches/dinners, you’ll just bring it to a potluck picnic on Saturday.
Day 6 (Wednesday): Go to the gym after work because it’s been, like, over a month. Have another salad for dinner. Actually get around to doing some prep work- peel and cut up the beets and cook them; set aside in the fridge.
Day 7 (Thursday): Fully intend to do the remaining prep after work, but instead get caught up cleaning kitchen for three hours because of discovery of an invasion of tiny bugs that have entered your home via a bag of cat food.
Day 8 (the following Friday- yes, a full week after the plan has been put in motion): Get down to business. Cut up cucumbers, radish, scallions, dill; combine with beets and buttermilk, a little sugar & salt, and some sauerkraut for good measure. Taste. Beam with pleasure that it tastes as good as how you remember it when you used to work at that deli that makes it. Refrigerate overnight to blend the flavors.
Day 9 (Saturday): Serve chlodnik with marble rye on the side to friends in an idyllic setting. Bask in the compliments (hey, it’s no small feat to impress these hardcore gourmands, let alone expose them to something they’ve never tried before!). Decide that this is going to be your go-to chilled summer soup for the next little while.
NB: I am not making any claims of “authenticity” for this version of chlodnik, other than to say it closely resembles the one I used to eat at Russell St. Deli when I worked there. In looking at recipes online, it seems there is a great deal of variation. One of the things I ran across a few times was that this recipe is supposed to be made with baby beets, about the size of radishes, and that you’re supposed to use the whole plant, stems, greens and all. I couldn’t find any baby beets (see above re: sleeping in & missing the farmers’ market!) but I’d like to try it that way in the future just for comparison’s sake. Other variations include the addition of grated raw turnip, chopped pickles, and quartered hard-boiled eggs. My only departure from the Russell St. version was the sauerkraut, but I didn’t add so much as to overwhelm the other flavors.
Chlodnik (Chilled Buttermilk-Beet Soup)
6 cups buttermilk (if you’re in MI, the Calder brand is good)
1 lb beets + 1 cup beet cooking liquid (see recipe)
1 cup seeded & diced cucumber (½ a large English cucumber will yield this)
1 cup very thinly sliced radishes (3-5 radishes depending on size)
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 Tbs finely chopped fresh dill
1½ tsp sugar
1½ tsp salt
½ cup sauerkraut + ¼ cup sauerkraut juice
optional: ½ cup sour cream
optional: hard-boiled egg quarters for garnish
Many of the recipes I found called for some sour cream, which made for a thicker soup than what I had remembered. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you have a good quality thick buttermilk, you may not need it. If you’re using sauerkraut, use a salt-fermented sauerkraut (the Bubbies brand is awesome) rather than one in vinegar.
This recipe makes a fairly large amount of soup (about 10 cups). If you want to make a smaller batch, just use 1 quart buttermilk (4 cups), and reduce the quantities of the remaining ingredients by about 1/3. As with many soups, precision is not of the essence.
Peel the beets with a vegetable peeler and cut into matchsticks. Raw beets don’t stain much, so you don’t really need to worry about wearing gloves for this. Place the beets in a small saucepan and add water just to cover. Cover and cook at a very low simmer until tender (do not allow to boil or they will lose their bright color). Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid.
If using the sour cream, place it in a large bowl. Whisk in buttermilk a little at a time until the mixture is liquid and no lumps remain. Add all remaining ingredients and stir well. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Refrigerate until well-chilled.
Ladle into bowls and garnish with a little sprig of dill and a couple hard-boiled egg quarters, if desired. Pumpernickel or rye bread is good on the side.