I have had this idea for a while to write a series of posts about my native culture. I sort of naturally started doing this and introduced you to such very Russian phenomena as banya (here) and traditional Russian platok (here and here). I thought it could be fun to do one Russian cultural phenomena for each letter of an alphabet, and borscht would be my pick for B, as it is one of the most famous and delicious soups in world cuisine. Then I received a request from a friend to give her a recipe, and as I stayed at her house, I cooked borscht to share with her, and decided to photograph the process and finally write a recipe for my blog. When Shawna posted her yummy Italian soup, I saw that it is just the right time to finally begin realizing my idea about the "Russian ABC" series, which will not be in alphabetical order though, as I don't want it to become something forceful and too "thinky" - I enjoy the natural pace of life, and a spontaneous approach to my blogging is a must for me.
From left to right: Mama, Dedushka (Granddad), Babushka (Grandma), myself with my favorite doll, Uncle Seryozha, Aunt Lida, Uncle Kolya, Papa (Dad). I am guessing 1977-78. Angara River, Siberia.
This is my "Russian" part of the family - on my Dad's side. I told you about my Siberian ("Asian") side of the family in this post. Dad's family relocated from Central Russia to Siberia when he was 11 and spoke their own Northern dialect. My "Russian" grandma has never relearned her pronunciation and has never considered Siberia as Russia, not even after dozens of years living there. :)
My daughter Anya with my old doll Lena (same as on photo above with me), and her new doll from Russia which she named Snezhinka (Снежинка - Snowflake). Tacoma, USA, 2012.
You met my old doll in this post.
I can't, unfortunately, tell you that what I am about to share with you is a century old recipe passed on my by my babushka (grandma) which was passed on her by her babushka. Grandma cooked borscht while living in Ukraine for a few short years, and I remember I was really surprised how tasty it was. It has a bit of personal history with me. I had a weak health as a kid, and my mama believed in natural remedies as much or even more as medical doctors advice. One of Mom's finds was that beet juice pressed out of this raw root vegetable was good for me. She did not even have a juice maker and used grater and cheese clothe to hand press juices from carrots and beets for me, such a hero she is, my mama. But as a kid, I found the taste of beets completely repulsive, I am so sorry to say, and actually threw up once, after which I never was forced to drink it again. Although, as a result, for many years, I did not eat beets (Beate, you can relate to this, right?). Until one day I tried babushka's borscht. It was like little magic in a bowl. As beautiful as it is cozy and tasty! My Mom is a wonderful woman, talented teacher and writer, but not much of a cook, and I don't remember her ever cooking borscht. So as I grew up, I was on my own in the quest to find The Perfect, The Right, The Only One recipe of this magic soup. I tried many! I experimented a lot! I made it with sour cabbage (квашеная капуста, similar to sour kraut, only with no vinegar added, made by a natural fermentation process by just adding salt to cabbage). I tried it with vinegar. I tried it with tomato paste. I tried adding all sorts of things. I also asked every person I met how they make their version of borscht. Especially Ukrainians (they are famous for it). Until I came up with this recipe which is as simple as it is absolutely delicious. I do not claim that it is the old traditional Russian/Ukrainian borscht, oh no. There are probably hundreds of ways to cook it. People add beans, peas, eggplant, mushrooms, sausages... you name it! Originally, it was made from a fermented drink, beet kvas (свекольный квас) made out of beetroot, which is why some cooks are going for extra sourness in borscht. This recipe is just the way I make borscht, and what I enjoy about it is the combination of soft root vegetables with crisp juicy green ones (that is why they are added right in the end), the sweetness and sourness of it, though in a delicate way, and the fact that it is very satisfying yet fresh. We eat it year round, and I am yet to find a person who did not appreciate my borscht when they tried it. I am very modest, I know. Let's just say it's a Russian thing. :)
Just so you know, we do not pronounce "t" in the name of this soup (there is also no "t" when we write this word in Russian). I suspect that "t" came from Russian Jews who immigrated to European, most probably German part of the world. I have no evidence, of course, it's just my pure linguistic instinct. We pronounce it [borsh], with soft [sh] sound. I am sure your Russian friends will appreciate when you show off your correct way of saying борщ!
Oh, and one more thing. You know I grew up in Russia, right? I have never ever heard about cold borscht when I lived there. I am sure there are regions of Russia where they eat cold borscht, but I haven't heard about it until I came to the US and found out that it is the most commonly known kind of "borscht" out here. Hmm... We have other cold soups (some of them using beetroot like kholodnik or svekolnik, amazingly tasty), but we do not call them "borscht", as they are completely different summertime dishes.
Now, finally, on to the recipe.
You will need:
about a 4 qt cooking pan,
a deep frying pan,
and a sharp knife.
- meat if you are a meat lover (I use pork or chicken, but many people prefer a combination of pork and beef) - about 1 pound. (If you want a vegetarian soup, just skip meat - or you can add mushrooms (wild variety is always the best, most flavorful). Russians cook their soups without meat too, we call it постный борщ (Lent borscht).)
- 1 medium size beetroot shredded
- 3-4 large carrots shredded (there should be a bigger volume of carrots then beet when you shred the veggies; both vegetables give sweetness and great color to your borscht)
- 3-4 medium sized potatoes cubed (medium sized cubes, not too small, not too big - just enough to fit nicely in your spoon and eventually your mouth :)
- 3-4 medium to large size tomatoes cubed
- 1/2 small head of cabbage finely shredded
- 1 bell pepper finely cut
- 1 biggish onion sliced
- vegetable oil (I use canola oil) - a few spoons for sauteing vegetables
- salt (about 1 table spoon), black pepper, bay leaf, bouquet garni, sugar to taste (you may also add a bit red hot pepper or garlic if you like)
- green onion, parsley, dill and sour cream to garnish
I would guess the whole time is about 1 hour to 1 h 30 min, it depends whether you start with a ready stock (or you make a "speedy stock" - I talk about it below), or you include making a "proper" homemade stock into your time of preparation.
I will also tell you that many Russians don't care for "light" cuisine and leave as much fat as they can in their dishes. It is not always so, but in general country cuisine (and borscht is definitely a country style dish) is fatty - our ancestors had the whole day of working in fields, so they needed a lot of energy! So feel free to remove any extra fat from meat, sour cream, vegetable oil as you please, but remember that it will affect the taste too.
1. PREPARING THE STOCK
Soups begin with a good stock, right? I never use a store bought stock. It's pretty easy to make to your own taste, and it freezes well too. If you make it to freeze, then don't salt it - you will add salt later, when you actually cook soup. If you use bones (ribs etc), then fry it on a dry skillet over a hot temperature before adding to your cooking pan with water. If you use a boneless meat, then cube it and just bring it to a boil. Make sure you leave enough room for other ingredients in your borscht, for example if you use 4 qt pan, then fill only half of it with water, as vegetables will happily take the rest of the space. Russians usually add a bay leaf to a stock, it gives away a very nice smell and flavor. You may also add some of your favorite aromatic vegetables like celery, the whole onion (with a peel), carrot. Just wash them and add to the stock. You will remove them as soon as your stock is ready, so no need to cut them. I also love adding a bouquet garni to my stock which is again very easy to make out of your favorite herbs. Boil your stock for 1 hour or so. (I often just boil the cubed meat for a short while (about 30 min) with bay leaf, black pepper and salt - speedy stock!) You can freeze a portion of it (I use air tight containers for that) - so you have it ready for the next soup! It will stay in a freezer for a month or even longer.
2. SAUTEING ROOT VEGETABLES AND TOMATOES
While the stock is cooking, prepare vegetables. I use a simple old fashioned grater, large openings, for shredding carrots and beet. I hear that "real cooks" only use a knife, and that's all wonderful, but I like the convenience, and I know that my borscht is as good as theirs or even better. :) I do slice onion, cabbage and bell peppers with a sharp knife. Potatoes and tomatoes need to be cubed. Add vegetables to a frying pan as the previously added ones get softer. Here is my sequence:
- fry onions in a small amount of vegetable oil over medium heat until golden color
- add shredded carrots
- add shredded beetroot
- add cubed tomatoes
- 1-2 tea spoons of sugar (it compliments tomatoes)
Add more oil if the original amount is not enough. I use non-stick pans and medium heat. Do not fry till it's mushy - just let vegetables get softer, that's all. They will pick up again in the cooking pan!
3. BOILING POTATOES
As your stock is ready, add cubed potatoes to it. I love using young potatoes with delicate skins. I just wash them thoroughly and leave the skin on - I love that it adds to a texture (and there is the whole load of vitamins in the skins too). I noticed that in Ukraine (which may seem like pretty much the same as Russia to Western people, but to us, it is a whole different culture, climate, language and of course traditions and preferences), it is very common to add beans to borscht. If you wish to do it, then just add one can of baked beans (less potatoes then). Bring to a boil. Your borscht is still clear at this point, so I did not include a photograph of it - everybody can imagine boiling cubed potatoes. :)
4. ADDING SAUTEED VEGGIES
Now add your sauteed veggie mix to your stock. Admire the bright color of your future borscht. Bring to a boil again.
5. ADDING GREEN VEGGIES
The last, but not the least. Add finely shredded cabbage, finely cut bell pepper, and part of the greens (green onion, parsley and dill), reserving some for garnishing a bowl. Cover the cooking pan and turn off the stove. Let it sit for 15 minutes or so. I know, it is hard! But borscht has this amazing quality to become better after a while. So actually, it will be even tastier the next day. And the day after the next day. And the day after that. If there is anything left of course!
This is the most important step of all. Pour borscht in your favorite bowl. With lots of love and smiles. Anticipate. Garnish with dill or parsley, or both. Add a spoon of sour cream. Mix. Have it with a slice of good old fashioned bread (dark variety is my fave), in a company of your beloved people. Mmmmm! Food has never tasted so good yet!
A tip! Borscht freezes very well, so I sometimes fill an airtight container with some of the borscht I make and keep it in a freezer for about a couple of weeks for that rainy day when there is no time or energy to cook.
I hope I did not forget anything important. Let me know how it went if you decide to make borscht. I think I'll go and cook one now! ;)
Приятного аппетита! Bon Appetit!
My Mannik (Russian semolina cake) recipe is HERE.
My Mannik (Russian semolina cake) recipe is HERE.