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.