I've never made Borscht before. Mostly because I'm not a huge fan of beets, so I rarely buy them. When a friend gave us a few though, I had to find something to do with them. Having been disappointed by my previous attempts at making Harvard beets (a sort of sweet-and-sour beet dish) I was in the mood for something else. The only recipe in my Nintendo DS Personal Trainer: Cooking program that included beets was Borscht, so I thought I'd give it a try. Then I modified it to make it easier to actually cook.
Borscht is a traditional Russian beef and vegetable soup with a bright red broth, courtesy of the beets. It's flavors are subtle, and it can take a couple of hours to make, but I was pleasantly surprised. It's surprisingly filling and my eight-year-old declared it to be delicious, finishing it to the last drop in her bowl.
The original recipe calls for beef shank. This is a tough, but inexpensive cut, containing a lot of connective tissue. It does have a rich and distinctive flavor when slow simmered, however. Still, other cuts could easily be used.
1 pound beef shank, cut into 1/2” pieces
1 beet, peeled and cut into 1/4” sticks
1 small potato (or 1/2 large one), peeled and cut into 1/4” sticks
1 medium yellow onion, cut in half and then into 1/4” slices
1/2 celery stalk (or 1 small one), cut lengthwise, and then into 1/4” thick diagonal slices
2 cabbage leaves, cut into 1/4” strips
1 medium tomato, cut in half and then into thin wedges
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
2 1/2 quarts water
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper (to taste)
2 tablespoons cooking oil
4 tablespoons sour cream
additional salt (as needed)
Cut the beef and vegetables, preparing them to easy add to the dish, later.
Bring the water to a boil in a large pan. Add bay leaf and beef and bring it back to a boil. Skim off any foam from the surface. Add a pinch of salt, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for at least 1 hour.
While the beef is simmering, heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the onion, celery, garlic and beet. Stir the vegetables to coat with the oil, add a pinch of salt, and saute until tender. Remove from heat and wait for the beef.
When the hour is complete, add the sauteed vegetables to the pan with the beef. Add the tomato, potato, cabbage, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Return to a boil, reduce to medium low, and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes become tender. Add additional salt, as needed, to tatste.
Transfer the soup into serving bowls and drop 1 tablespoon of sour cream into the center of each bowl. Sprinkle on coarsely ground pepper, to taste.
Stir the sour cream into the broth before eating. It makes all the difference.
Makes 4 hearty servings, or 6 normal ones.