A party centered around fried potatoes: what's not to like? As usual, the annual latke party was happy, grease-spattered chaos, with the four year olds building a fort in my bedroom and the adults circling the frying pans like starved hyenas.
And therein lies the inherent difficulty of a latke party: for latkes to be at their best, they must be freshly made and fried. You can't make the potato mixture ahead of time, or it turns into grayish, soupy mush. And in my purist opinion, you can't really fry the pancakes beforehand, or they get greasy and flabby, tasting like warmed-over hash browns. But frying to order, with only two not-very-large frying pans at one's disposal, means producing only a mere handful at a time, certainly not enough to get everyone at the party all the latkes they deserve.
Oh, well. There was a lot of hot borscht to fill in the gaps, and this turned out to be the savior of the party. Who knew everyone loved borscht so much? Or this borscht, more to the point, because there were a lot of folks who claimed to hate the beet, or be indifferent to borscht, before this batch.
Nothing fancy in it, just a whole lot of Mariquita Farm's fabulous mystery box vegetables, augmented with fresh beets from the Alemany Farmers Market. In a big pot, I sauteed chopped onions, garlic, carrots, and a lot of parsnips in a splash of olive oil. (If I'd had celery root, or rutabagas or turnips, I'd have thrown some in too. Petrouchka, or parsley root, is a nice addition if you can find it.) Then peeled grated raw beet, a handful of chopped raw cauliflower, shredded cabbage, a can of chopped diced tomatoes and their liquid, a branch or two of thyme, enough water and/or chicken or beef stock to cover the vegetables. Why so many parsnips? Well, I had them around--lots in the mystery box--and they do nicely in a soup, relaxing all soft and sweet and earthy as they cook.
Season with plenty of salt, a spoonful of caraway seeds, and a hearty splash of apple cider vinegar. Bring to a simmer, turn down heat and let it simmer very gently for an hour or so. Add the shredded beet greens, plus a good handful of minced fresh dill and parsley, just before serving. Taste for seasoning, adding freshly ground pepper and a little more vinegar as necessary--it should have a slight tang to balance the sweetness of the beets, carrots, and parsnips. You could make this heartier, by starting with some meat bones and adding potatoes and white beans, but I like it as a vegetable soup. Since this was going with latkes, I didn't add potatoes, but you could certainly put them in.
It's hard to give quantities, since it's the kind of soup that's based around how much stuff you have on hand, and how much soup you want. It's almost impossible to make in a small quantity, and anyway, why would you want to? It keeps well in the fridge or freezer, and you can down it by the quart, since it's all veggies. Top each bowl with a spoonful of sour cream and a sprinkle of minced fresh dill, and serve with a slice of challah or seeded rye bread. Note that this is the hot, winter-in-the-Ukraine kind of borscht, not the same as the simple straight-up purple beet soup that's typically stirred to pinkness with sour cream and drunk cold from a glass with your scrambled-eggs-and-Nova and toasted bialy at Barney Greengrass.
Thanks must be paid to Jen, for her superlative, truly perfect sugar-dusted soufganiot (Israeli jelly doughnuts), filled with the homemade marmalade she got from PQ; to Liz for her excellent chocolate-chip gingersnaps; to Ken, for bringing six-packs of He'brew, the Chosen Beer; to Joie Rey, for Ritual Roasters coffee and a big wedge of Humbolt Fog goat cheese; to Nancy and Roxie, for taking over the frying, and bringing lovely Bodega Bay chocolates; to the happy flowers from Karlyn and Ray; to Shar for schlepping over the bridge, pink champagne in hand, after a very long day, and exciting all of us about Whale Wars; to Bill for bringing his very sweet mom (who introduced herself to everyone saying "Hi! I'm Bill's Mom!"), to Phil for finally intoducing his daughter Violet, now three and a half; to Susie for taking the train all the way from Santa Cruz, and for nearly crashing another latke party along the way; to Eric M., Liza, and DG for taking on potato-grating duty, and to all the other friends, new and old, who came and squeezed into the tiny house, with children, wine, and good cheer in tow.