Tuesday, 9 October 2012

No such thing as too many borscht recipes

Once upon a time, in another house, my husband made a fabulous pot of borscht with the produce of our massive garden. He'd found a lovely recipe online which involved cooking the beets with a whole slew of other vegetables to make a rich and vibrant stock, and varied it by adding the same contingent of carrots and cabbage and the like to the cooked beets and liquid for the final production. It was delicious, but sadly, never to be repeated, for the recipe was lost in the ether. And re-googling a term as popular as "borscht recipe" two years later is never a sound plan. Trust me, I tried.

As every second site the first two pages of my borscht google search told me, there are as many ways to make borscht as there are Russians/Ukrainians/Pols/Mennonites (which nationality depended on the website). Basically, if you've ever had a beet or cabbage soup made by someone whose ancestors once lived in Eastern Europe, it was probably called borscht. Furthermore, if you, the soup-taster, are also of Eastern European descent, said soup probably had you wondering why it did/didn't contain beef/pork/tomato/cabbage/anything other than beets. If the recipe for that soup made it on to the internet, as about half of them seem to do, it was likely labelled the "best borscht ever", and, as it was made by the author's grandma/oma/baba, that's subjectively right, because there's no arguing with food memories from your grandmother's kitchen.

Eventually, I gave up on finding any one recipe, and settled on making my own - and posting it too, because, clearly, borscht recipes are in vogue. I pulled on the collective memory of my husband and myself on our two-year-old borscht experience, the current contents of our fridge, the common seasonings noted from my internet research (namely dill, garlic, pepper, allspice, and vinegar), and my notions of what ought to be in borscht in the first place, i.e. how my grandma made it: chopped vegetables, no meat, a broth so intensely magenta it was almost opaque, served with a dollop of sour cream.

Here's what we came up with:

Stock:
3 lb beets, well washed but not peeled, ended, and quartered if needed (i.e. if larger than a fist)
1/2 head savoy cabbage, chopped
3 large carrots, halved
2 onions, quartered
5-10 leak & scallion greens, washed & ended
1/2 cup celery leaves, roughly chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, peeled & crushed
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
2 tsp dill seed or several young dill stalks, washed & ended
1-2 tsp white vinegar
water to cover

Assemble all ingredients in a large stock pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and simmer, uncovered, for 1-2 hours or until beets are fork-tender. Remove beets and set aside to cool. Strain stock, squeezing excess liquid from veggies. Reserve stock and set aside.

Soup:
2 tbsp olive oil
4 small onions, chopped
1 bulb garlic, minced
5-6 carrots, chopped
1 small head green cabbage, chopped
1/2 head savoy cabbage, chopped
Stock + 2-4 cups water
1 head bok choy, chopped
1 bunch beet greens, chopped
5 medium white potatoes, chopped
1 bunch dill weed, finely chopped
beets from stock, peeled & chopped
1 tsp each dill seed, allspice, black pepper
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
Salt to taste

Heat oil in bottom of stock pot (don't bother washing it - that yummy beetiness is all going back in). Sauté onions, garlic, and carrots with dill seed, allspice, and black pepper until softened. Add cabbage and sauté a little more (approx 1-2 min). Pour in stock, add potatoes, bok choy, beet greens, and dill weed. Bring to a simmer. Peel and chop beets. Add to soup and bring back to a simmer. Add vinegar and salt to taste. Simmer, covered, 15-20 min more until potatoes are falling apart. Uncover, adjust seasonings, and remove from heat.

If time and appetite allow, let soup rest for an additional 15-20 minutes. It'll be even better the next day. Pairs nicely with a side of farmer's sausage, rye bread, and, of course, sour cream. Makes enough for several meals. Your freezer is your friend ;)

And there you have it: yet another borscht recipe for the masses. Feel free to adjust to suit your own tastes/fridge contents/family traditions. One of these days, I'll call up my grandma and see if I even came close. In the meantime, my freezer is stocked, and I managed to use up that bok choy before it went bad. Everyone wins.

Enjoy the soup season :)

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