Garden Spells, by Sarah Addison Allen, our current Cook the Books Club selection, is another CTB pick in the tradition of food as magic, such as The Last Chinese Chef and Like Water for Chocolate. I am a sucker for a bit of the miraculous in life, and, this little gem of a novel certainly cast it's spell. I went right out and read every one of her other books, after finishing it. Got to love a book that mixes up a spellbinding plot with romance and good food.
Allen's story line about a magically gifted Southern family was unique enough to hold my interest, and her characters were well conceived, not at all predictable, but flawed, believable yet sympathetic human beings, who struggle with the emotional baggage we all carry, grow and come out changed for the better. Even the apple tree had personality.
There was plenty to inspire our culinary interest as well. My first thought was to do stuffed zucchini flowers, but the snails got all of the starts we put out. I should cook them, the little devils. But her mention of chive blossoms was a revelation. I'd had no idea you could eat the flowers, or that they would be so delicious, carrying a more assertive jolt of the chive flavor. I will never pass up that opportunity again. Mine are garlic chives, sometimes called Chinese chives, and have white flowers, rather than the lavender blooms of standard chives.
I thought how lovely they would look floating on a bowl of chilled beet soup. In the Russian/Estonian/etc. tradition with dill and cucumber, it would be perfect for our summer weather. And, anyone with hurt feelings at dinner might be soothed. Also the dill helps digestion and was thought to ward off any evil eyes lurking about, as per my Rodale's Encyclopedia of Herbs.
Cold Borscht with Garlic Chive Blossoms and DillInspired by Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
Makes 4 servings
* 2 medium beets
* 2 new potatoes
* juice of 1 lemon
* sour cream, whole milk yogurt, or kefir can be stirred in or served on the side
* 2 teaspoons horseradish (or to taste)
* 1 small cucumber, diced (if the seeds are large, remove them)
* 1/2 bunch scallions, thinly sliced, and or garlic chive blossoms, separated from the cluster
* 2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
* slices of hard cooked egg are also traditional
Peel beets and potatoes and place, whole, into a medium saucepan. Fill with water just to cover the veg and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes (check beets and potatoes with a fork; you may need to extend the simmering time by a few minutes depending on the size of your veg). Remove the beets and potatoes and let cool for a few minutes, reserving the water.
Once the veggies are cool enough to handle, grate the beets coarsely, either by hand or in a food processor, and dice the potatoes. When the water has cooled to room temperature, put the beets and potatoes back into the broth and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight (the longer the flavors can marry, the better).
When ready to serve, add salt, horseradish and lemon juice to taste, and whatever you want from the garnishes. Sour cream or thick yogurt are good to serve on the side, for everyone to help themselves. This cold Borscht makes a beautiful first course for your summer feast, or a delightful lunch. The flavoring is simple and the soup comes together easily. Just do the vegetable boiling the day before, and you'll be set.