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Borsch

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Autumn is here, and that means making borsch again. As is often the case with iconic ethnic dishes, no recipe is definitive. Every Russian family believes their borsch is the only right borsch, and broaching the subject on Russian cooking message boards can lead to some spectacular showdowns. Truth is, the recipe varies — depending on the region, the season and personal preferences.

However, there are certain basics that define a true Russian borsch. To begin with, the term refers to a category, not a specific dish. Any soup made from a fresh leafy vegetable is a borsch. Without qualifiers, however, the word describes a specific kind of borsch that has three main ingredients: cabbage, tomatoes, and beets. Other ingredients, as I’ve said, vary greatly — although whatever the variation, the ingredient list is typically long.

Most Russians are Orthodox, and historically, the observance of Lent was of paramount importance. This means that, while borsch typically contains meat, vegetarian versions are not unheard of. Kidney beans and/or mushrooms are typically added to Lenten borsch to enhance its flavor.

So here is my family’s recipe. A couple of things: do not add any sour cream during the cooking. Sour cream is added to individual bowls only at the table. Also, use the palest green cabbage you can find, the kind whose color actually tends more towards white or yellowish. Truly green cabbage leaves are too bitter and have to be salted and drained before cooking. More

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Svekolnik (Cold Beet Soup)

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This is a Russian summer favorite, perfect for lunch on a hot afternoon.

6 medium-sized beets
1 lemon, halved
1 large yellow potato, diced
1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
1 hardboiled egg yolk
2 tbsp pickled shredded horseradish
3 pickling cucumbers, peeled, quartered lengthwise and sliced
1/2 cup minced scallions
1/3 cup minced dill weed
3/4 lb bologna, diced (optional)
10 cups water
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream (optional)

– Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

– Clean and trim the beets. Take one of the beets, drizzle with vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt, wrap in aluminum foil and roast until tender, about 1 hour. Cool, peel and dice.

– Peel and shred the remaining five beets.

— Bring water to a boil, add a pinch of salt and the shredded beets. Squeeze juice from one lemon half. Cover, reduce heat and let simmer for 1 hour. Take off heat, let cool, and then chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight. Strain before serving and discard the shredded beets.

— Combine the egg yolk with a pinch of Kosher salt, the horseradish and the juice of the remaining half of the lemon. Mash until smooth and stir into the soup. Adjust the seasonings

— Add diced potatoes, diced beet, chopped egg and diced bologna (if using) to the soup and serve.

— Serve the cucumbers, scallions, dill and sour cream separately.