We thought of this article way before the events of 2022’s Russian invasion of Ukraine. You will read about a recipe given to Ashley by her Polish friends, but Chlodnik is also a recipe with deep roots in Ukrainian culture. It is a form of cold borscht and borscht is itself the national dish of Ukraine. In Ukrainian this dish is called ‘Kholodnik’ and in Russian it’s ‘Holodnik’ and is also found in Lithuania.
Food for us is and has always been the glue that holds cultures and families together while also bridging the gaps creating binding ties between cultures. This dish is an example of that. Our thoughts are with Ukraine and through food we hope to create awareness and connect people together.
My Polish shelter in Istanbul
Being a part of Istanbul’s vibrant expat community means that my friends are themselves a mixture of varying cultural backgrounds. One of my closest friends here in the big city is Polish, having moved to Istanbul when she married her Turkish husband many years ago. From the moment I met her, I felt a sense of ‘home’. Immediately it was as if my mom or my favorite aunt were with me here in Istanbul. It gave me a sense of comfort that I desperately needed at that time, as I was struggling with the daily language barriers and bureaucratic hurdles that we ‘new’ expats often find ourselves facing.
There were many days spent following my friend home after work like a lost puppy, staying for dinner with her family. Dinner at their house was always a mixture of Turkish and Polish cuisine, an interesting meeting of two cultures. However, it was from my friend’s shared knowledge of food and life as an expat that I learned how to recognize which vegetables were in season at the local bazaar (market). I learned from her how to ask for certain things in Turkish, as also had to traverse this when she was new to Turkey. It was via my friend that I learned how to throw together simple, healthy, quick meals; sometimes Turkish recipes, but more often Polish.
The first time I saw a bowl of Chlodnik
One of the most interesting things that she ever prepared was a cold soup called ‘Chlodnik’. I’ll never forget the first time I saw this. The color of this soup alone left me speechless! When you see this soup, you will be mesmerized; you will stand still in place and you will question what you are looking at.
This soup is a shade of the deepest magenta, somewhere between neon pink and purple. In my ‘past life’ as an artist, another version of me before moving abroad and becoming a teacher, I fell in love with certain colors. I was living day and night at the intaglio printmaking studio of my university and I became obsessed with a particular hue of ink. The brand was Charbonnel and the color was ‘solferino violet’. I loved that color and dedicated my entire senior thesis of prints to it. It was a magenta so vibrant and full of depth, uplifting yet somehow simultaneously melancholy. A color that reminded me of the deepest pink in a sunset.
Once you get past the beauty and intrigue of the color, the taste of this soup will also seem perplexing. It’s somehow sweet and yet tangy, spicy even. It’s refreshing and light while at the same time filling enough for a meal. It’s earthy and vegetal while also creamy and decadent. It’s familiar and soothing yet also totally unique and interesting.
The first time I ate this, I was just in awe. I had never had anything like this in my life before.
What is that?!
So what is it?
Chlodnik is a soup made with beets, yogurt, herbs and served cold. It is found in Eastern European cuisine (Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, Lithuanian) and uses ingredients that are just starting to abound in spring. It’s usually garnished with boiled eggs, adding a richness. The taste is similar to a Turkish cold soup, called ‘cacik’, and also to that of the Greek meze ‘tzatziki’; however, the addition of beets in Chlodnik turn the soup a deep magenta color.
Beets also add an earthy sweetness not normally found in cucumber-yogurt soups/meze. The cooking liquid from the beets, seasoned with some vinegar and sugar, also gets added into the soup, giving it an almost briney pickled flavor.
In Poland, this is served around the Easter holidays. The beets are young and small, having just arrived in season. It is eaten all summer long, cooling you off during the heat of summer.
When I made it at home, the look on my roommate’s face was priceless. I remember she just said “What is THAT?” and I laughed because although the color is shockingly reminiscent of a CMYK Magenta ink cartridge, the color here is also totally organic, coming solely from the beets themselves. It’s also relatively simple in that it only has a few ingredients, mostly chopped vegetables.
This recipe is as it was told to me by my friend. If the beets are young, and still have their leafy stalks attached, chop up the beet greens and add those as well. In Poland, buttermilk or sour milk is often used instead of yogurt. That’s an ingredient hard to find here in Turkey, so it’s been adapted. The boiled eggs can also be omitted, but I really suggest at least trying it once because they really make the soup a velvety texture. Serve this with lots of fresh black pepper! Also serve it over hot boiled potatoes in colder months.
– 4-5 medium red beets + beet greens if using
– 6 small cucumbers or 3 large
– A small bunch of scallions (green onions)
– A Handful of fresh dill
– 2 ½ cups (about 500 g) plain yogurt
– 1 tsp. Salt
– A Pinch of sugar
– A Splash of vinegar
– Black pepper to taste
– **4 hard boiled eggs
– **boiled potatoes
1. Wash and peel the beets then place them into a pot big enough to accommodate them. Cover the beets with just enough water so that they are under the water. Add the pinch of sugar and the splash of vinegar here to the water. Boil the beets just until tender. Take the beets out and let them cool, but keep the water that they cooked in! Once the beets have cooled, slice them thinly.
2. Chop the cucumbers, dill, green onions, and beet greens if using.
3. Add the beets to all the chopped vegetables and herbs in a bowl. Stir in all of the yogurt. At this point, it will be very thick. Slowly, a few spoons at a time, stir in some of the cooking liquid (the water the beets were boiled in). Stir in as much as you would like to get a soupy consistency. The thickness here can be controlled by you.
4. Stir in the salt and lots of black pepper. Chill the soup.
Before serving, top each bowl with hard boiled eggs.
As another option, serve over hot, freshly boiled potatoes.