And now? BORSCHT.
I have no interesting stories of beet-related trauma. I don’t believe my lips even touched a beet until June this last year, in Rome of all places. My boyfriend’s brother took us to Trastevere for apéritif and at a little bar with a buffet table full of various salads, breads, and other such appetizer food, I tried some beets that were pickled and in a sort of mayonnaise dressing. They were quite delicious. My boyfriend was particularly taken, though. We returned home on a Saturday, and after fighting sleep long enough to avoid jet lag, we crashed in the early evening and woke up early enough on Sunday to hit the local farmer’s market where, among our first purchases, was a handful of fresh beets.
For weeks I only did two things with the beets: (1) roasted the roots in olive oil, peeled and sliced them, and marinaded them in red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper; and (2) sauteed the beet root tops in olive oil, salt, and pepper (simple is best). I wasn’t as keen on the roasted beets as my boyfriend was, though, so after a while I began trolling for new recipes.
Because I’ve become quite obsessive about food, I talk about it a lot. I talk about it at home. I talk about it at work. And so I of course talked to one of my coworkers about it, and she happened to have studied abroad in St. Petersburg back in her undergraduate days, and so borscht came up and stuck in my head on my “to cook” list.
She passed along to me her basics for borscht (having never tasted it myself) and on a Sunday when I had ample time to spare (because borscht takes a good deal of preparation and time to make) I went to work. And though I am quite the proponent of just using a knife in prep, in this case, I luckily had found a mandolin slicer at the Goodwill earlier that week, and a little soap and water later, it helped make the job of slice and grating a trio of massive beets that much easier
This recipe yields a lot of borscht (enough for yourself and a small Ukranian family, I would say), or at least more borscht than a household of 2 humans and 2 cats needs (though I froze some and we ate the rest within a few days), so make sure you have some space in the freezer, or else half the recipe before you make it.
Ukranian Red Borscht
* 1/2 lb. cubed beef stew meat
* 3 medium beets, peeled and shredded
* 3 carrots, peeled and shredded
* 3 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cubed
* 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
* 1 medium onion, chopped
* 1 bay leaf
* 4 cups beef broth
* 1/2 medium head cabbage, cored and shredded
* 2 cups diced tomatoes, drained
* 3 cloves garlic, minced
* 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or to taste
* salt and pepper to taste
* 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
* 1/2 teaspoon fresh (or freeze-dried) dill weed
* 1 teaspoon white sugar, or to taste
* Sour cream and fresh parsley to top
- Season stew meat with salt and pepper and brown in a pan for 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and add to a large stock pot.
- Fill a large pot halfway with the 4 cups of beef broth and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Add the beets and boil for about 15 minutes, covered. Add the carrots and potatoes, and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Add the cabbage, and the diced tomatoes. Keep boiling away at medium heat.
- Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until tender. Transfer to the pot. Add red wine vinegar and other herbs and seasonings to taste. Add the raw garlic to the soup, cover and turn off the heat. Let stand for 5 minutes.
- Ladle into serving bowls, and garnish with sour cream and fresh parsley.
NOTE: You can puree some of the soup if you don’t want it as chunky. I did puree some of it, though after I had thrown everything into the pot, so I had to remove everything that was not a beet or cabbage first. I did it mostly out of necessity, though, as I was fast running out of space in my soup pot.