By Josh McAuliffe
Whenever Lynn Conrad’s mother, the late Mary Pehanich, wanted her daughter to visit, all she had to do was say she prepared a batch of Saltibarsciai, a traditional Lithuanian cold beet soup.
Today, Mrs. Conrad uses the same trick on her son.
Chilled summer soups don’t come much tastier than this one, the winning entry for this week’s Times-Tribune Local Flavor: Recipes We Love contest. Mrs. Conrad, a West Clifford resident, received a $100 gift certificate from Ray’s ShurSave Supermarkets, which has locations in Old Forge, Waymart, Factoryville and Montrose.
The executive director of the Rail-Trail Council of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Conrad said she didn’t care much for Saltibarsciai when she was a youngster. But over time, she grew to love the soup, which could be described as a chilled take on the Eastern European staple borscht.
Upon her mother’s death, Conrad thought she had lost the recipe forever because she had never written it down.
“I tried a few times to prepare it but it was never quite right,” she said.
One day, Conrad brought up how much she missed the soup to her mother-in-law, the late Mary Conrad. Conrad replied, “Oh, your mom gave me the recipe!”
Ever since then, Conrad has been making the soup for her family, friends and co-workers, typically during the summer months when fresh beets are easy to come by. Conrad gets hers directly from her garden.
“This is the fourth time I’ve made it this summer,” said Conrad as she ladled the Saltibarsciai into a couple of bowls for some guests on a recent afternoon.
The soup, which her family has dubbed “liquid salad,” is a refreshing, nourishing delight. Besides the beets, it contains cucumbers, fresh chives, apple cider vinegar, chicken broth (you can use vegetable broth if you want to keep it vegetarian) and sour cream, which gives the soup some fat, as well as a pretty pink hue when combined with the beets.
It’s healthy and light. One could easily polish off two or three bowls of it.
Conrad’s husband, Paul, is a big fan of the soup. So is her son, Ben, who tends to show up at the house whenever he catches word that she’s made some.
“My granddaughter, who is 4, loves it. But she only loves the cucumbers. She won’t eat the beets,” Conrad said with a laugh.
Aside from the time it takes to boil the beets, the soup is quite easy to prepare, Conrad said. And while some people might be tempted to use canned beets, she advises against it.
“It’s just not the same,” she said.
Besides Saltibarsciai, Conrad continues to make other longtime family favorites, like “Hot Mix” — canned pickled hot peppers, cauliflower, carrots and garlic. She also cans her garden tomatoes and her homemade salsa, and goes mushroom picking, as her father, the late John Pehanich, did.
She’s keeping time-honored traditions alive, with delicious results.
Lynn Conrad’s Saltibarsciai
(Cold Red Beet Soup)
1 32-ounce box chicken or vegetable broth
4 to 5 medium red beets
2 medium cucumbers
4 to 5 tablespoons chopped chives or scallions
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
Wash beets, then cut off tops, leaving about 1 inch of stems (stops excess bleeding). Cook in pot filled with water for about 1 hour on low. While cooking, chop cucumbers into small pieces (about 1-inch cubes). (You can leave skins on home-grown cukes.) With chives, snip with scissors into small pieces (or cut scallions with knife).
Once beets are done, cool in cold water, then peel off skins by cutting off stems and roots, skin should slip off. Cut beets into small pieces, same as cukes.
Place beets, cukes and chives in serving bowl. Add broth, vinegar, sour cream, salt and pepper. Chill and serve with dollop of additional sour cream if desired.