Thursday, March 8, 2012

Borscht (Hearty Beet Soup)

Borscht

There is something so comforting to me about a big pot full of goodness bubbling away on the stove. It had been snowy and cold out this past week, so I had been craving comfort food. Comfort food doesn't have to be heavy. Let me introduce you to my new favorite soup, borscht. Sure, it's main component is the humble beet. Sure, it's accompanied by not-so-exciting cabbage, russet potato, onion and carrot. But let me tell you, magic happens when the caraway seeds, fresh dill, vinegar and lemon hit the ruby red broth. Serve this super healthy soup with a dollop of Greek yogurt, some more dill and hearty whole wheat beer bread and prepare to have your soul restored.

This soup is so chock full of good for you ingredients that it's hard to know where to start. Beets for have been shown to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and detoxification support. And that's just for starters. Beets, frequently consumed either pickled or in borscht contain powerful nutrient compounds that help protect against heart disease, birth defects and certain cancers, especially colon cancer. source

Borscht

Borscht is a traditional Russian soup and the people are certainly proud of it. When I told my friend Becca that I wanted to make borscht, she immediately took to Facebook asking her Russian friends to send her their best recipe. Becca spent a few years in Moscow and knows what's up. When she forwarded me a good looking recipe, my heart melted. It was very obviously translated to English by a man named Sergey, who was consulting his wife, Alla, which was translated again by a man named David (a relative who knew better English?) for more clarification. It touched me that they bothered to send such careful, detailed and thoughtful instructions of their countries beloved dish.

Traditional Borscht, it seems, doesn't have that zip from vinegar added in at the end, or caraway seeds, but since it's my favorite part, I went ahead and deviated from Sergey and Alla's recipe a little. They also make homemade broth for the soup from bone-in beef or veal ribs, but I substituted chicken stock (beef or vegetable works too) to save time, and also because bone-in ribs are hard to come by in my town, unless it's July. Other than that, I stuck pretty close to their recipe. One thing to note is that borscht tastes better the second day, so if you can make it in advance you are better off. An except from Sergey's instructions:

Of course you can eat it immediately but the taste wouldn't be as delicious as should be. Borsh is the best at the 2nd and 3rd day. On the 4th day it is still normal, on the fifth day the taste is worse. Not too bad you still can eat it but the quality is moderate. I'd like to say on the first day it is B, on the 2nd and 3rd day A, on the 4-5 days C.

Don't be shy to ask details which I probably missed.

Borsh is also VERY good with mushrooms but this is another story.

Yours,

Sergey

We ate ours the same day, but I let it sit after it had already cooked, covered on the stove, for three hours before re-heating and eating. It allows the flavors to marry more deeply and I figured it was better than nothing. It was still insanely delicious.

Remember how I said Russians were proud of their dish? David concluded the message with this:

We are very proud to present this borsch directly from Moscow from our friend Sergey and his wife Alla

This is the recipe I used for Whole Wheat Beer Bread which I served along side and was the perfect accompaniment. I did have to add a few tablespoons of water to get the dough to come together though, but that's no big deal. I can tell, there is lots of beer bread is in my future.

Since you will be dealing with beets, your hands will get red, but I suggest you just get in there and start peeling and chopping like you would a potato. Your hands will look like this when done:

Borscht Hands

But never fear, It'll fade quite significantly after a few hours. And be completely gone by the end of the night.

Borscht

serves 6

8 medium size beets (give or take), peeled and chopped small or grated

1 large russet potato, un-peeled and chopped small

1 large yellow onion, chopped small

2 tablespoons olive oil (which I suppose is not Russian, but it's what I had)

8 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup shredded carrot (or two carrots, shredded)

1 cup water (more if needed when cooking)

3 tablespoons tomato paste

3 cups shredded green cabbage (you can use coleslaw mix to save time-I didn't)

small pinch caraway seeds (optional)

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 heaping tablespoons fresh dill, plus more for serving

Salt and pepper

-Non-Fat plain Greek yogurt, for serving

Start the soup at least 4 hours and up to two days before serving it. Saute the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, beets, carrot and tomato paste and saute for another minute. Season generously with salt (about a teaspoon). Add the chicken stock, water and caraway seeds if using, and bring up to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes and beets are tender (they don't have to be completely soft). Add the cabbage and simmer for another 15 minutes adding more water if needed. Take the pot off the heat and add the red wine vinegar, lemon juice, and dill, and season with more salt and pepper.

If serving the same day, let the finished borscht sit covered on your stove top for three hours before gently re-heating and serving at dinner time. If serving the following day, cool the borscht slightly and then store covered in the refrigerator before serving.

Serve borscht with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt or sour cream and extra dill.

The amount of beets, potato, carrots and onion you use can be altered to your own preferences. I like it heavy on the beets. This soup is not earthy at all. This would be great to serve to someone who thinks they don't like beets.


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