When I visited Palm Springs last summer, I was hankering for some flavors that I missed from my time living on the east coast, and so I sought out the famed Sherman’s Deli, an old school diner that has east coast deli sandwiches with meats sliced thin and served piled high, traditional Jewish foods, and my a cold borscht soup which I had never tasted before. So I decided to opt for the soup and sandwich combo.
The soup was a revelation. Full stop. So much so that when I was in palm springs last month, I went to visit Shermans again just for that soup! It’s one I literally dream about!
It had piles of shredded beets, slices of homemade half sour pickles, and fresh cucumbers in a light broth that took on the flavors of the vegetables. You mix in some sour cream, and it adds a smoothness to the soup. And while this sounds like it could just be a one note dish, there are a variety of textures that keep it interesting: the beets and pickles provide a contrast of soft and crunchy, and the cucumbers provide a brightness to the dish, which otherwise reads “cooked.” It’s tangy, sweet, salty, cold and refreshing.
Now that summer has hit in Las Vegas, the heat has me constantly searching for something cooling and refreshing. Fruit and vegetables have never tasted so good. I think it’s because they somehow feel more hydrating than eating hunks of meat. And so the tangy, cold borscht crossed my mind again and I thought—why not turn it into korean naengmyeon…. or a mocktail!
But then I wondered, can this work without the textures? So I gave it a try, and I’m happy to report: Yes, it is! It’s freaking delicious! Plus you can still give yourself a little snack as as a garnish.
What you’ll need
At the end of the day, this is just a variation of a Gibson martini, where we’re adding a few more flavorings to make it really pop.
- Your favorite NA gin, like Pentire Adrift
- Your favorite NA vermouth, like Roots Divino Bianco or Roots Divino Rosso
- Cooked beets - use canned or roast your own!
- Cornichons or half sour pickles
- Persian cucumbers
- Kombu (a dried sweaweed often used in Japanese and Korean cooking, optional)
For the NA gin, we’ve selected the Pentire Adrift or the Pentire Seaward because it has both the herbal elements and the salinity. And then we picked a fruity vermouth. For this one you can use the rosso to enhance the red color if you want!
Note: We’re omitting the sour cream for this for aesthetics, but if you want to bring that in to make it smoother and more unctuous, you can!
Making the Borscht
You'll want to prepare the borscht base at least a few hours in advance so the flavors have some time to infuse. So if you're planning on doing this for a brunch party, then make it the night before.
This part might seem intimidating, but it's actually pretty easy. Roasting the beets is the easiest way to intensify the earthy sweetness. Simply scrub your beets well, and then wrap in foil and roast at 400 degrees F for 1 - 1.5 hours. You'll know it's done when you can poke with a butter knife and there is very little resistance. Take the beets out and let it cool slightly. Wear gloves and a paper towel to peel it.
If that's too much work, you can just as easily get the pre-roasted beets from Costco or Trader Joe's.
Once your beets are cooked, set one aside for garnish and use the rest for the borscht base.
For the garnish, decide how you want them to look when you use it as garnish. If you want to be extra fancy, cut them into little gem stone shapes that you can spear with a toothpick.
For the other beets that are going into the base, cut them into small matchsticks so that there is more surface area to come in contact with the water. To prevent your cutting board from staining as you do this, spray with vegetable oil.
Get a large bowl or pitcher and fill up 3/4 of the way with water. Put your borscht base beet matchsticks in, and chop up 5-10 cornichons and drop them in as well. Chop up your persian cucumber into thin rounds and drop them in too. Add a pinch of salt and you're all set!
Making the drink
You'll pour in the ingredients, give it a shake, and strain into a chilled glass. Then garnish with your gem cut beets and a cornichons on a cocktail skewer.
Alternatively, you can make this a large batch cocktail. Simply strain out the solids from the borscht base, and scale up the volume of gin and vermouth you add. What you're looking for is a ratio of 4 parts borscht to 2 parts NA gin to 1 part NA Vermouth. Serve the ice in the individual glasses so that the overall drink does not become too diluted.
Non-Alcoholic Borscht Gin Martini Batch Mocktail
Quench your thirst this summer with our extraordinary Nonalcoholic Borscht Gin Martini Batch Mocktail! Using non-alcoholic gin and vermouth, this batch mocktail captures the essence of a classic martini, while embracing the tangy and savory side of a cold borscht recipe.
Similar to a Gibson or a Dirty Martini, this embraces the umami qualities that comes from the salty-sweet pickled vegetables. The cold tanginess provides the perfect jolt to the tastebuds for sipping under the sun and for some reason just tastes rejuvenating.
3-4 medium cooked red beets or 2 large cooked red beets
10-15 cornichons, halved
5-7 tablespoons cornichons brine
1 Persian cucumber
1 inch piece Kombu (optional)
8-10 cups of filtered, chilled water
4 Parts Beet Base
2 parts Pentire Adrift
1 part Roots Divino Bianco
3-4 medium cooked red beets or 2 large cooked red beets
For the Borscht Base
For the batch cocktail
For the Garnishes
Roasting the beets
For a more flavorful broth, steep the kombu overnight in a covered container 2 cups of room temperature water. If you can’t find kombu, you can skip this step and just use plain water later.
Roast the beets until in the oven until fork tender or get pre-cooked ones in the package, like the ones from Trader Joe’s. If you roast your own, peel the beets after they come out of the oven using a paper towel. If you’re desperate, you can also use canned beets.
Prepare the Garnish
Put on gloves to prevent the beets from staining your hands. Spray your cutting surface with vegetable oil to prevent staining. Reserve some some of the beets for your garnish and create fancy shapes for the garnish by cutting into little gem shapes or use a melon baller. Do this first so you don’t forget!
Prepare the Cold Borscht Base
Get a large container that will hold at least 12 cups of water and that will fit in your refrigerator. Fill it with filtered water put to the side. You will be steeping ingredients in this in a moment.
Small dice the beets, cornichons, and cucumber and place in the steeping container with the water.
Cover with the lid or with saran wrap and put in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours or overnight. You should see it bloom into a beautiful magenta color.
Make the Batch Mocktail
Get a large pot and a strainer, then strain out all the solids from the borscht base. You want this to be crystal clear so it’s easier to drink. Be sure to catch the magenta liquid in the pot and DO NOT pour the borscht base down the drain!
In a large serving pitcher, measure 4 parts borscht base to 2 parts gin and 1 part vermouth. If you use the entire borscht base that would be 8 cups borscht base, 4 cups gin, and 2 cups vermouth. Give it a big stir. Do not add ice to this mixture and continue to store in the refrigerator until it’s time to serve.
Serving the Batch Mocktail
Prepare a chilled glass with a couple ice cubes. Be sure not to add too much ice or it will dilute the drink. Each serving should be roughly 4-5 oz.
Skewer your beet sphere alongside a cornichon and add to the glass as a garnish.
Serve immediately and enjoy!