Ryan Thomas is a university student who enjoys cooking recipes from a wide variety of culinary traditions.
My mother told me that she didn't like borscht, based on distant memories of a friend of hers who had prepared some in college. This seemed like quite a terrible shame since I was convinced that such a renowned soup had to have more culinary appeal than that. And so I resolved to set out and cook a version of it that she would like. In this, I was immensely fortunate to have Please to the Table, The Russian Cookbook, by Anya von Bremzen, which is a truly splendid Russian and former USSR cookbook that I heavily recommend.
This recipe is quite superb in my opinion. It combines rich, hearty beef with a thick melange of vegetables, the sweetness of beets, and a host of various flavorings and spices. Taste is something that it does not lack, and it is easy to adjust it to become more tart (with additional lemon juice) or more sweet (with sugar). But, personally, I like it just the way it is.
While it may look difficult to make because of the traditional process for producing beef stock, in my opinion, it is actually not very hard at all. The stock production process blends in well with preparing the beets, and overall, the recipe is surprisingly easy for a "classic" dish.
- 2 lb beef chuck
- 1/2 lb ham, preferably with a ham bone as well
- 2 quarts water
- 3 carrots
- 2 onions
- 1 leek white section of
- 1/4 teaspoon + additional ground black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon + additional servings dried dill
- 6 sprigs + additional servings of cilantro
- 2 beets
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, cut finely
- 3 cups of chopped cabbage
- 4 medium sized potatoes, peeled and diced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 5 dried prunes
- salt, as desired
- sugar, (optional, to sweeten it)
- sour cream, absolutely vital
- 4 pieces bacon, (optional but really good)
- 3 cloves garlic
- Firstly, prepare the stock. Combine together the 2 quarts water, the beef, and the ham, in a large stew pot. Heat over high heat, until the water boils. There will be foam that floats to the surface during this period, so skim that off. Then reduce heat to low, and add the small onion, with its skin removed and cut into sections, the white part of a leek, carrot cut into 4 sections, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/8 teaspoon dried dill, 2 bay leaves, and 6 cilantro/parsley sprigs. Cook for 1 and 1/2 hours over low heat, until the meat is tender.
- Wash and dry the 1 pounds of beets, and then wrap in aluminum foil. Bake in an oven at 375 degrees f for 1 and 1/4 hours. When taking out of the oven, allow to cool to a manageable temperature, and then stem and peel them, afterwards cutting into a fine julienne or dice.
- When the meat is tender, remove the solids from the stock. Strain the stock through a sieve into a clean large soup pot, preserve the meat (except for the bone part), and discard the remaining solids.
- In the new soup pot, bring the stock to a boil, then add 4 potatoes which have been diced into medium-sized pieces, and the can of plum tomatoes, which have also been diced into medium-sized pieces. Reduce heat, and simmer for some 10 minutes.
- Simultaneously, heat oil in a large skillet over high heat, then add the chopped onion, green pepper, and carrots. Sauté for 5 minutes, then add the 3 cups of chopped cabbage. Sauté 10 minutes additional. Then add all of these ingredients into the pot.
- Add the beets into the pot, and then add the juice of 1/2 lemon. Cut the meat into bite-sized pieces, and add both the ham and the beef into the stock. Stir the soup and simmer for 5 minutes more
- Add the 2 tablespoons tomato paste, the 5 dried prunes, season with pepper and salt, and additional lemon juice depending on if one wants a soup which is sweet or tart (if one wants a sweeter soup, one can also add in sugar). Simmer 5 minutes more.
- Remove the borscht from the heat, stir in 3 minced garlic cloves, 1 teaspoon dried dill, if desired, crumbled 4 pieces of bacon and additional cilantro sprigs. Let stand for 15 minutes prior to serving, if desired garnish with additional chopped fresh herbs, and serve with sour cream.
© 2017 Ryan Thomas