The Mighty Borscht

Borscht

Bold and beautiful borscht

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).

Snow Scene

Cold, yes, Siberia, no

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.

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Borscht

Borscht with Russian Dolls

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.

The Summary:

  • 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)
You’ll need:
  • 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
To serve:
  • 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 / saut√© pan
The Steps:
  • 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 Variations:
  • 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.
R☆51

Monthly Mingle Badge Jan 2010

Given the preponderance of wintery vegetables in this soup, I thought it only right and proper that I submit it to the latest Monthly Mingle, which is all about the wondrous things that can be created using winter fruits and vegetables.

Comments
  • I need more beetroot in my life. Something that bright has just got to be good for you.

  • Never had a clue what borscht really was made of until today. It has a lot of really great flavors in there, especially the dill. What a surprise! Stay warm. :)

  • I never liked borscht growing up because my mom would make a pot that we would have to eat for the first course every day for like a week. While it may have been pretty good on a first day, by about a third day we were pretty tired of it :) But now that it is a rare treat at my mom’s house, I do enjoy it. She makes a real Ukrainian country version – with pork!

    Do you know that I actually own a classic russian cuisine cookbook – the state-issued (I believe there was only one) cookbook during the Soviet era (there were editions every so many years, and I have two – one from the 80s in Russian and the other one at my parents’ house is from the 50s in Ukrainian). Let me know if you want me to translate any recipes for you :)

  • Happy New Year! What a vivid way to ring it – a burst of color amongst all that wintry white. I tasted borscht for the first time recently and was pleasantly surprised over its sweet flavor; for some reason, I thought it might be sour (like sauerkraut). I’m happy to be set right!

  • So that’s how you spell it. When I saw the title of the post it reminded me of this British comedy called The Mighty Boosh. hahaha…

    I saw this one once in a cultural event. I totally bypassed it because I thought it looked odd. Now I know, so I won’t have to fear it when I come across it. I’ll definitely have to give this a try.

  • Oh WOW, look at the colour of that, and I LOVE the pic with all the mamushkas! Yum, yum, and you’re right, it’s positively Baltic in Dublin. Still, gives us all an excuse for hot chocolate and marshmallows, guilt-free. Yipeee!

    Must give this Borscht a go.

  • I can honestly say that I have not had borscht before, although it does look delicious!
    I hope you thaw out soon!

  • Since I’m in the heart of the Russian part of SF, I get exposed to a lot of Borscht, not that I consider myself an expert or anything, but it is tasty, stick to your ribs food. What a way to start of the New Year with all that color and flavor. I have to say, when I look at the picture with the nesting dolls surrounding the soup – great idea by the way – it looks to be a bit of a standoff to see who jumps into that yummy bowl first.

  • Love love love the Matroyshka dolls and the way you took the photo……….WOW. I’ve never tried Borscht….one to the list.

  • Interesting dish. Never heard of it before until now. :) Love your pics.

  • This looks beautiful and I love that picture! However, the beets would take some getting used to. I do need to try it though and would defintely be open.

  • I’ve heard about borsht…but never really considered making it myself until now. The colors are astounding, and you take terrific pictures!

  • My parents are children of Russian immigrants so why oh why did I grow up being force fed jarred Borscht? I hated it! All the flavors you add to yours actually make it sound wonderfully delicious and a hearty winter meal. Great job!

  • Sarah, Maison Cupcake: oh it’s good for you alright – and I think the colour does help to brighten the winter up, if nothing else!

    Duo Dishes: yep, borscht is not just about beetroot and the dill just seems to be a really typical Eastern European flavouring – it turns up in everything :)

    Natasha: I guess if I had to eat borscht for days on end, I’d get not to like it either :) And I don’t think I knew that you had those Soviet-era cookbooks – thanks for the offer to translate recipes, that’s really kind of you. If I go much further down this Eastern European route, I might take you up on that!

    Tangled Noodle: yes, there’s a definite sweetness alright – I always used to think that there was beetroot and nothing more in borscht but I was happy to be set right about that too!

    jenn: there’s no need to fear borscht, at least not this mighty version anyway :)

    aoife mc: thanks and, yes, as there has been absolutely no let up in the Arctic conditions, it is indeed license to enjoy hot chocolate and marshmallows at will!

    Sarah: I’m working on keeping warm, though the temperatures outside are not doing me any favours on that one…

    OysterCulture: lucky I made a huge pot of the stuff, enough to feed the entire set of mamushkas :D

    Kitchen Butterfly: Thanks! And it’s certainly a good time of year to try borscht…

    Cooking Ninja: Thank you :) It is an interesting dish and one that makes quite an impression!

    Lori: I know what you mean about the beets – as I said in the post, I’m a little wary of cooking with them myself sometimes, though I did grow up loving pickled beetroot, so I’m always happy to find ways of incorporating them.

    sophia: Why thank you! I hope you like the results if you decide to give it a go.

    Jamie: Thanks – I’ve never had jarred borscht and, based on your description, I guess I hope I never do!

  • wow! so great to see such a response to a humble plate of borsch – well done Spud:)

    I really like your slimmed down, vegetarian version – as you say, my favourite version is also with no meat (but quite a bit of chilli, clearly not very Russian;)), but it is true that a ‘real’ Ukrainian version is made with lots of meat, often the stock is based on beef bones too – very nourishing and substantial.

    @Natasha – yes, lots of memories of eating borsch days on end, but I rarely got bored of it, especially because it officially gets tastier the longer it ‘stews’ in a pot.

  • The Beloved was in the then-Soviet Union during the summer of 1987 for a crazy immersion program. He subsisted on borsch(t) and vodka. As a result, he is sadly not a fan of the Beet. Alas.

    I think that it sounds good in theory, and it looks good on paper, so I can’t imagine it could be anything but good in Real Life. Plus, it’s a lovely color. I’ve gotten him to the point where he’ll eat small, sweet roasted beets in salads, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to talk him into borsch(t), even though the horror occurred over 20 years ago.

    Yours looks lovely, and I love the pic w/the Russian nesting dolls–I would like the wee-est, tiny guy over there on the end, please:)

  • I have waited three days and you have had borscht all this time? Why was I not notified?? I LOVE this stuff. GREG

  • I made a batch of beef borscht this fall but it wasn’t a hit. I have to give this variation a try since I’m getting overloaded with potatoes from my winter farm share.

  • This has been an insane Winter! I live across the pond in North Florida…Yes, Florida and we have been waking to temperature below 20 degrees F, Floridians do not do well in consistently below freezing temps. We don’t know how to behave, it’s nuts.
    I need to take the umbrellas out of our cocktails and get a pot of borscht going so we can warm up in this chilly weather.

    Stay warm.

  • Katrina: thanks – and I’d imagine that, with Ukrainian winters being what they are, the extra nourishment from the meats and beef stock is a welcome, if not necessary, addition!

    Jenni: Ah, some food experiences can live a long time in the memory! Does The Beloved have the same issues with vodka? :)

    sippitysup: oops, clearly there was a breakdown in communication, I’ll try not to let it happen again, sir!

    Maggie: do try it and see what you think

    Velva: I know, it’s been insane here too! While we don’t exactly have cocktail umbrella weather here at the best of times, we sure ain’t used to temps that are consistently below freezing. Do stay warm yourself and hope the borscht helps :)

  • By far the best part of Borscht is the amazing colour. Closely followed by my other favourite feature: the freshness of the dill in the midst of all the winter root veg. Yum.

  • A few years ago I went to Poland for a class project and had borscht for the first time. The version I ordered came with ravioli in it. Odd, yes, but definitely delicious. I really enjoyed it.

    Shortly after returning to the states, I tried the jarred stuff and even homemade from a Russian neighbor and I liked neither. I guess they didn’t live up to the Polish kind. I, however, should try your version and see what I think. Yours has a lot more ingredients than expected, which is good!

  • Sarah: yes the colour is indeed wonderful and I couldn’t agree more about the dill, yum!

    Grilled Shane: I would very be interested to see what you think if you try this. I suspect that there are very many different versions of borscht out there, with some definitely better than others!

  • [...] a little hope to cope with the ice cold winters of Ireland with this wonderful Ukranian soup called Borscht, which she learned from a cookery lesson in Moscow school [...]

  • Borscht is my brother’s absolute favorite soup. I’m just developing a taste for beets but perhaps I could make this recipe for him! I know he would love it.

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