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Ukrainian Lenten Borshch

(meatless beet soup)

This traditional meatless borshch is refreshing and unusual--good when celebrating the Lenten season, and good cold in the summertime. Hard to believe it's a Lenten dish, though, it's that thick and rich, layered with flavors and aromas and downright lovely to view. I thought longtime Kiev native Andrei Radchenko was kidding when he said the beets would cook into whiteness, but they do. For Andy's other traditional soups, see his Russian rassol'nik and authentic Ukrainian borshch. Serve this one hot or cold to 8 for an excellent repast.

Garnish: 2 cloves of pureed garlic and chopped dill

In a large pot, bring the water and mushroom soaking liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, then stir in the carrot and mushrooms, salt, and keep at a simmer.

Heat the oil in a frying pan at a low heat, toss in the julienned beets, and let them sweat for 35 minutes--then scrape into the simmering soup. In the same frying pan, add a little more oil, toss in the onion and carrots, and let sweat for 10 minutes--then scrape into the soup. Toss the sliced potatoes into the soup, also stirring the bay leaf and peppers in, and let cook til tender. Then scrape in the cabbage, cooking until their done to your liking--crunchy or soft. At this point, remove the bay leaf and red chile pepper. Finally, break the fish into medium chunks with a fork and add them to the soup with the tomato paste.

Taste for seasoning. The soup should have a sour note, which you can strengthen with as much as 2 Tablespoons of vinegar.

When ready to serve--or chill, if you plan to serve the soup cold--stir in the pureed garlic and chopped dill. Ladle into bowls and serve.