Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Borsch - the Russian Beetroot Soup

I have found out that while living in California, I don't feel like cooking Russian dishes most of the time. The heavy, hearty winter dishes that used to warm us up on a snowy day are just to much for the mild local winter, and in the summer there are just too many tempting fruits and vegetables that ask for some other cooking style.

Although his week's farmers market didn't have anything new and exciting, it provided all the vegetables needed for this colorful Russian soup. The picture shows much more vegetables that I used for the soup. I just baked all the beets and used one for the soup and the rest for a salad. The purple "heirloom" carrots were a dissapointment: after you peel them, they are the same regular carrot color inside!
Traditionally borsch is made with beef stock, better yet a stock made of beef and ham bones. I just discovered that I'm out of the beef/ham stock after I started cooking, so this time it's made with chicken stock. I garnished it with fried bacon bits to make up for that ham flavor. If making fresh beef stock, slice the boiled meat off the soup bones and add to the soup.
Vegetarian versions are not very common, but are not completely out of the question. Use vegetable broth, or infuse dried porcini mushrooms in hot water for 30 minutes, then strain the liquid through a paper towel and use both the liquid and the 'shrooms in the soup.

Like many other Eastern-European soups, it's much thicker than most Western soups, so it can be served as a one-dish dinner.
My grandma used to slice all the vegetables with a sharp knife, and the results were always even and perfect size. My mom cuts a corner and uses a coarse grater - fast, but the texture is not the same. I use a combination of a Japanese Benriner slicer and a Kevlar glove (a must for the idiot cat who would otherwise cut herself with anything even less sharp than Benriner).

(3-4 servings)
2 1/2 cups beef of chicken stock
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large or 2 small beets, plus (optional) greens from 2-3 beets
1/2 small head of white cabbage, thinly sliced
1 mediom yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, cleaned and sliced into thin sticks
1 sweet green pepper, seeded, cored, and thinly sliced
2 medium ripe red tomatoes, peeled and cubed (it's OK to seed them, butI leave the seeds in)
2-3 garlic cloves
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
salt, pepper to taste

for serving:

3 tbsp crème fraîche or sour cream
minced dill and/or parsley
3 slices of bacon, fried, dried on paper towels, and crumbled (optional)

Cut the root end and the leaves off the beetroot, leaving 1/2 inch on, to keep the juice in.
Heat the oven to 400F, place the beet in a baking dish with a little water, cover with aluminum foil and bake until fork-tender, 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size. Let cool, peel and set aside.

Bring the stock to a simmer in a 3-qt. soup pot.

Heat the oil in a skillet. Sautee the onions and carrots until just beginning to turn golden. Add to the stock, bring back to a slow simmer. Add the cabbage, cook for about 10 minutes, then add the sweet pepper and sliced beet greens. Bring back to simmer, add the tomatoes, cook until the tomatoes are very soft. Slice the baked beet root, toss with the vinegar to preserve the color, add to the soup. Mince the garlic with some salt, then pound to a paste in a mortar. Take the soup off the heat, add the garlic paste, cover and let stand for a few minutes.

Served garnished with sour cream, minced herbs, and (optional) bacon crumbs.

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