Sunday, August 10, 2008

Beets Braised in Sour Cream

There was a time when I didn't like sour cream. It's hard to imagine it now, really, but I was highly suspicious of the white, smooth, gloopy substance. If it was mixed with something else, if it was part of a sauce, well, fine. But sour cream on its own? Ick! Yogurt? Ick! They weren't a part of my growing up, and I resisted them mightily (until I grew some sense, or went to college, or both -- sour cream on everything in the dining hall made the dining hall palatable).

I was sure I hated sour cream. I also was sure I hated beets.

Nothing Beets Borscht would have scared the heck out of me back then, especially with this recipe.
Beets Braised in Sour Cream
(Svyokla so Smyetanoy)

This recipe should satisfy all those people who thought Russian cooking was synonymous with sour cream and beets. It will also surprise them, because this doesn't have any of the ghastly connotations that sour cream has for many Americans. The beets color the sour cream, and the dish is a bright magenta. It's such an incredibly brilliant color that even if you hat beets, and despise sour cream, try this just to see that fantastic color!

1 pound raw beets
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon lemon juice
A little bit of water
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup sour cream

Peel the beets and slice them thinly.

Melt the butter in a frying pan that has a cover. Add the beets, lemon juice, and enough water to keep the beets from burning (a few tablespoons).

Cover and simmer for about 40 minutes, or until beets are tender. Remove from heat.

Add the salt and sugar, and mix. Add the sour cream and heat the pan, but do not let the sour cream come to a boil, or it will curdle. When the cream is warm, serve.

Make sure the dish you serve it in shows off the beets' color. Black is very nice; so is white.

Evidently, my 1970s self was not alone in being highly suspicious of beets and sour cream. What was it, I wonder, about sour cream that seemed scary back then, but now seems so completely normal?

I would probably not call these "braised in sour cream" as it seems they are cooked in water, and then served in cream, but that's just me. I'd use the highest-fat sour cream you can allow yourself to buy, because the higher fat will stand the heat longer without breaking.

I haven't tried this yet, but I'd bet you can do this more quickly and with less mess by turning it into a pantry cooking sort of thing: a can of sliced beets (not pickled! not sweetened!), drained, with a few tablespoons of the liquid reserved (to stand in for the few tablespoons of water). Warm that up in a pan with the lemon juice, and then proceed with the recipe. No peeling raw beets, no slicing raw beets, no waiting for the raw beets to be cooked through. Might be a nice thing on a hot August night when you've been away at work and just want something easy, fast, and relatively healthy.

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