First Russian Salad, now borscht – you might be forgiven for thinking that The Daily Spud had packed up and moved several countries to the East. In fact, with the weather these days, you could be forgiven for thinking that the entire country had migrated somewhere east and north of its usual position. Not actually the case, though. I’m still firmly rooted in Irish soil and the country would still appear to be residing in its accustomed spot on Europe’s western fringes. It’s just that the snow and temperatures hereabouts make me feel like I’m in a Russian winter (perhaps I exaggerate slightly, but still, my extremities do have trouble thawing out these days).
So, borscht, then. Or should I say borsch? Katrina tells me that Russians and Ukrainians call the soup borsch, while Poles call it borscht, though she has no idea why. They can agree, I think, on the fact that it is a hearty soup involving beetroot and several other winter vegetables.
And while I might not be in Russia now, I came to have a vat of Ukrainian borsch(t) bubbling on my stove as a result of having been to Russia once upon a time. Through lucky happenstance, I found myself at a cookery lesson in a Moscow school cafeteria, where a charming lady instructed myself and a couple of others in the ways of borscht and traditional Russian salad. I had scribbled copious notes about the borscht at the time, but had never actually returned to the recipe. Until this week, that is. And was I ever glad that I did, for this is truly depths-of-winter fare. I think that I will probably be eating this for the foreseeable future, or at least until I have once again regained my proper internal temperature.
I find beetroot an imposing vegetable, both in terms of flavour and colour, and I tend to exercise care when I use it, so that it doesn’t overpower the rest of what’s on offer. This borscht is a beautiful blend, though. Beetroot yes, but lots of garlic and dill, not to mention spuds, cabbage, carrots, onions and tomatoes – it feels like a post-Christmas detox-in-a-bowl. And you don’t really need anything else to eat with it, except possibly some dark rye bread.
The recipe is more or less the one I was shown in Moscow. The original called for white cabbage but I used savoy cabbage, because that’s what I had and I prefer it anyway. I’ve specified waxy potatoes, because they’ll keep their shape and you’ll end up with beetroot-coloured chunks of potato as part of the mix. You can use floury potatoes instead – they’ll just tend to disintegrate more into the soup. Still good, though.
One thing I would suggest is that you do the bulk of the vegetable prep before you start cooking. There are a lot of vegetables and a lot of chopping and grating involved, and you’ll have things cooking in 2 different pans, so a bit of advance mise-en-place will make this more manageable.
Finally, for another version of this dish, Katrina thoughtfully describes a version adapted from one she learned from her Ukrainian mother here. I might try to incorporate some elements of her version in mine next time ’round.
- Makes around 6 servings (for those who are chilled to the bone or otherwise) & takes approx. 30 min to prep + 45 min to cook (plus, ideally, another 30 min to let the soup stand and allow flavours to meld together)
- 1.25l water
- 450g waxy potatoes, chopped into chunks about 2cm wide
- 6 whole black peppercorns
- 2 tsp salt, divided
- 0.5 small head savoy cabbage, about 300g, shredded
- 2 bay leaves
- oil for frying
- 1 large onion, about 200g, finely chopped
- 2 small beetroots, about 300g, peeled and grated
- about 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 medium carrot, about 100g, grated
- 2 large tomatoes, about 200g, finely chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 1 small bunch of dill, leaves and thin stems chopped – giving about 10 tblsp loosely packed, chopped dill
- 2 tsp sugar
- sour cream, 1-2 tblsp per person
- additional chopped dill, 1-2 tsp per person
You’ll also need:
- A large heavy saucepan and a large frying / sauté pan
- Bring about 1.25l of water to the boil in a large heavy saucepan. Add the potato chunks, peppercorns and about 1.5 tsp salt. Bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the chunks are just fork tender, about 10 minutes. Then add the shredded cabbage and bay leaves and simmer for about another 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place a large frying pan over a medium heat. When hot, add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and stir and fry for 3-4 minutes, until just starting to soften – don’t let them brown.
- Toss the grated beetroot with the lemon juice (the acid will help to keep the bright colour), then add the grated beetroot and grated carrot to the onions. Stir to mix, then cover and cook for about 10 minutes.
- Add the chopped tomato and about 0.5 tsp salt to the beetroot mix. Stir to combine, then cover and cook for about another 10 minutes.
- Now add the beetroot mix to the potatoes and cabbage, bring back to the boil, then simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Using a mortar and pestle or just the back of a spoon, lightly crush together the chopped garlic, chopped dill and a pinch of salt.
- Now add the sugar and the garlic / dill mix to the pot. Stir to mix and simmer for another 5 minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed.
- If you have time, leave to stand (covered and off the heat) for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavours to meld together. Gently reheat just before serving.
- To serve, in each bowl add a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of chopped dill and then a ladle-full of soup.
- The soup is flavourful as it is, though you could use chicken stock instead of water here if you like. Katrina’s version uses some chili, vodka and kidney beans, all of which sound like interesting additions to me.