Published on November 2nd, 2015 | by TLV News0
Some Food Stories from a Curious Observer: Part 6: All About Borscht
Borscht—red beets and cabbage soup—is either a winner or a failure here in the US.
Some people say it reminds them of pepto-bismol and refuse to taste a drop. Some people get hooked on it and become my best friends in a dismal hope to ever enjoy it again.
I cooked it for my Native American friends from Georgia, and we ate it after a Sweat Lodge Ceremony (hello, Sunshine and Joe!). The leftovers survived exactly a year in their freezer and they heated it up after the sacred Sundance week and told me on the phone later how it still tasted good and that they talked about me. Therefore, my humble Russian dish became a part of Native American rituals, though for a split second!
I cook borscht for sick friends and it seems to help them to get well soon. Beets’ benefits are numerous—rich in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, this simple vegetable can make you healthier and happier in no time! When I feel homesick, I cook it for myself—it smells like home and makes me feel better. Or worse. Whatever.
There are families in Russia who cook a big pot of borscht once a week, keep it in a fridge and eat it as the first dish every day for lunch. They claim that it only gets better with time and that they do not feel like themselves without a steaming bowl of that dark red sacred vegetable soup.
When I was a kid, it was not my favorite dish. I was desperately pushing away too soft, overcooked cabbage and onions, fishing for cubes of potatoes and slurping the broth, causing my frustrated Grandma to call me “lil piglet.”
When I started cooking my first meals as a 21-year-old brand new wife, I found a recipe for borscht in one of those fat little wall hanging calendars we had, where you could find recipes, jokes, poetry, short scientists’ biographies, and what not. That recipe I have followed all my life long.
Here it is for your pleasure.
If you have time, you can sauté carrots and onions separately in a skillet with a tablespoon of sunflower or canola oil, and then mix it up with the rest of the ingredients, boiled in the water.
If you don’t have time or you are just lazy (like I am), you easily can mix everything together at once and boil for a half an hour-the result would be almost the same.
One or two red beets (2–3 inches in diameter), one big baking size potato, one carrot, half a head of cabbage, one onion, a few single garlic cloves, a pound (or half a pound) of beef (or chicken breast), some dill weed, salt, pepper, maybe some bacon for the flavor, and three or four tablespoons of vinegar.
Cut potato, beets, cabbage and beef in cubes. Shred carrot and cut onion as thin as possible.
Caramelize carrot and onions in a tablespoon of sunflower oil until brown. Mix it all together with two quarts of water, let it boil on high, turn down to low and simmer for a half an hour. I don’t let it to be cooked longer than that—I like my vegetables chewy, almost crispy.
Sometimes I replace cabbage with the emerald green beet leaves, if they sell them intact, which they often do. You just have to wash off the grit and dirt really well.
Chop garlic and dill weed and add to your soup right before turning off the heat. Add salt and pepper by taste, add three teaspoons of vinegar, turn off. Vinegar turns the pale red color into intense ruby red—very pretty!
Serve with a teaspoon of sour cream, mixed in, and toasted rye bread on a side. Enjoy.