In 1991, we vacated the Zen Center in Bar Harbor US with the intention to help Kanzeon Sangha and Genpo Roshi set up an international Zen Center in Europe. Each of us carried a large cardboard box filled with inventory and delivered it to Brussels. While waiting for the next step we, along with several other sangha members, travelled to Poland to a beautiful grand hotel high up in the mountains near Sosnówka Gorna. The hotel decor echoed of Soviet-era design; the parquet floor and black and white panelled walls of the grand dining room, that served as the spacious zendo, spoke of earlier times. There, Catherine – now Genno Roshi – led several Angos with a strong core group in Genpo Roshis’ stead. This felt a good way to live.
A fond memory of that time includes Boston, the hotel managers black Labrador, cheerfully running around the dining room while we supped traditional barszc (borscht) swirled with sour cream. The deep purple soup was always served with plentiful slices of strong rye bread seasoned with caraway seeds and tasty, mild, Polish cheese.
By spring of 1993, plans had changed. Roshi called from Salt Lake City to say the new Zen Center would be established there; so we left Europe behind and flew over to America. The rest is history.
The taste of beetroot soup never fails to remind me of that precious time. This version is not exactly traditional by any means but I like it all the same. The apple adds sweetness, the lemon tartness, and the soy sauce a touch of umami (savoury), all of which complement the soft earthiness of beets.
500 g (3 medium) beetroot
300 g (2 medium) apples
1½ litres (6 cups) water
1 tablespoon natural bouillon powder, or to taste
½ teaspoon ground allspice (piment)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1½ tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon dill
Salt & white pepper, to taste
- Peel and small-dice the beetroot.
- Peel, core and small-dice the apples.
- Put the water and bouillon powder into a large pot, and bring to a boil on a medium flame.
- Add the beetroot, apples, allspice, bay leaf and lemon zest. Return to a boil, turn the flame low, cover and simmer until the beetroot is tender, about twenty–thirty minutes.
- Stir in the soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, and dill. Simmer on a low flame for five minutes to marry the flavours.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Serve with sour cream.