Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Borscht: An Eastern European Tradition

“Tomorrow, I’m going to learn about Eastern European food.”

Before I made Borscht a few days ago, I knew (or thought I knew) very little about it. My sum knowledge was:
  • Its Russian
  • Beets are involved
  • On the show Rugrats, Tommy Pickles’ grandma made it

Upon further research, I have learned that the term “Borscht” is just about as general as the term “Chowder.”  I revised my knowledge:
  • Its actually Ukrainian, but variations are popular throughout Eastern Europe
  • Beets are usually involved, but not always

There is no one way to make borscht.  The Ukrainian version of beets cooked in meat broth is what many people associate with borscht.  However, recipes have been passed down through families from generation to generation, with everyone changing it to suit their tastes and resources.   Some add other veggies and extra meat.  Some serve it with sour cream. Or yogurt. Or radishes. Or mushrooms. They add tomatoes, or replace the beets altogether. The possibilities are endless, and I’m sure everyone thinks their version is the best. That's the beautiful thing about traditional food.

The only rule: borscht is red.
I chose this recipe for several reasons.  First, it was cheap.  There aren’t any whacky cuts of meat or a long list of ingredients.  Second, it was fast.  On this particular day, I didn’t want to simmer a cow leg all afternoon.  In fact, since I cooked it for Sarah, I didn’t want to use any cow parts at all. She doesn’t eat cows.  Last but certainly not least, it is light and healthy.  Beets and cabbage are full of nutrients!

Can nutrients be absorbed through skin? If so, I'm set.
The results were fantastic, and I think borscht will replace simple roast beets as go-to dish for any beets I get in my CSA box next year.

Bonus tip:  Beet juice can be removed from hands, baby faces,  and other surfaces with an acid (like vinegar or lemon juice) plus salt.

George is 1/16 Russian and he approved.
Beet and Cabbage Borscht

½ head red cabbage
3 medium raw beets, peeled and quarters
4 tablespoons butter
½ medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, fineley chopped
6 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth for vegetarian version)
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup roughly chopped fresh dill
about 1 ½ teaspoons red wine vinegar
Sour cream or yogurt
Use a blender or food processor to grate the beets.  Shred the cabbage using a food processor, or chop the cabbage.  (I tried using a blender to shred the cabbage and was woefully unsuccessful.)

Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium heat.  Add the onion and saute until soft.  Add the garlic and cook for one minute.  Add the cabbage and beets, turn up the heat to medium high, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the broth and 1 teaspoon salt, bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.  Add the dill, vinegar, and remaining salt.  Taste, and add more vinegar if the soup is too sweet.

Serve with sour cream.

Recipe Source: Slightly adapted from Cook This Now, by Melissa Clark

Borscht info sources:
Meek, James. “The story of borshch.The Guardian, 14 March 2008.
“The Food Timeline: Soup.”
Wikipedia article on Borscht

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