Friday, July 23, 2010


Borscht.  That name alone seems to strike fear in the hearts of American eaters, and conjure up visions of stocky Russian Babushka ladies or cold war terror.  Or at least school cafeteria terror, because sadly, this is the only way many Americans have been exposed to beets. Cold. Pickled. Beets. Plopped on your tray next to your hamburger helper or mystery meat. You hated beets then, and if you were served them the same way, you’d hate ‘em now. And I wouldn’t blame you. Pickled beets are about as exciting as a mouth full of sand. And just as tasty.

But please, I implore you, don’t let those school cafeteria beets or the Klingon sounding name jade you against trying this wonderful soup. You’ll be glad you did.
As you can see, Borscht is just a good veggie soup that features beets and fresh dill as its signature flavors.
I first discovered Borscht on a trip to Moscow for a hockey tournament. I wasn’t playing hockey, mind you...I’m a native Texan, and hockey is still a mystery to me. I was just there to video tape the games. In my spare time, I discovered I liked several things about Moscow. Cheap pilsner beer, vodka, pretty Russian girls with names like Svetlana, and Borscht.

It was a cold, frigid February, and the Moscva river was frozen over, and it felt like your breath would freeze in front of you. The first taste of Borscht in a Moscow restaurant was a warm, savory delight. I ordered a bowl any time we were dining out, and thankfully, it was always ever present. As soon as I got back home, I set about reverse engineering this wonderful soup, and after a few trials, I think I nailed it.


2 to 3 potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1/2 inch cubes
3 to 4 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large onion, diced
4 to 5 cloves garlic, crushed
4 large beets, peeled and shredded
42 oz (3 cans) beef broth
42 oz (3 cans) chicken broth
28 oz (2 cans) water
3 Roma tomatoes, peeled and diced
Dill, fresh and dried
Salt and Pepper

Red wine vinegar (optional)
Balsamic vinegar (optional)

Pride of Prague Spice (optional)
Sour Cream (optional)

Cube the potatoes and slice the carrots and place in a large stock pot. Add the beef and chicken broth, and then use one of the cans to measure in two cans of water. Dice your onion and add. Crush Garlic and add.

Next cut the tops off of and peel the beets.  Admire their ruby red color and how they resemble the tops of a Russian cathedral.  You could at this point dice them, but I have found if you have a shredder attachment on a food processor, it is best to run them through it. Not only to you extract more of the beet’s flavor and color, but it is just that much easier. (I’ve shredded ‘em with a hand grater, and it ain’t all that much fun)
Shredding beets the fun and fast way.  Below is the results:
When added to the soup pot, you can immediately see the bright red color start to infuse the liquid.
While this starts to simmer, peel and dice the Roma tomatoes and add them to the soup. Quick tip. A good way to make peeling the tomatoes easy is to start a small pan of water boiling. Add the tomatoes for about a minute, and then plunge them into ice water. Let sit for a minute, and then the peels will practically slip right off.

Bring the soup to a boil, and add some dried dill. Probably about a teaspoon if you are measuring. Reduce and let simmer for 20-30 minutes. At this point, add the sugar. I usually add about a tablespoon, then taste. The soup should taste savory, but with a hint of sweetness. I believe the beets we get here just aren’t as sweet as those grown in Russia, hence the addition of the table sugar. If you’re not picking up the sweetness, add a little more. Add a dash of salt, pepper and paprika. Just a dash...these flavors should not dominate. Also, I have a little spice blend called Pride of Prague spice...sort of my secret ingredient for this soup, I guess. Just add a dash if you have it, but if not, no worries, it’s not a major flavor component.  Also, if a little more tangy flavor is desired, I add a dash of red wine vinegar and/or a dash of balsamic vinegar, but those ingredients are not particularly traditional--just my little variation.

Let the soup simmer for ten minutes more, adding a little fresh dill at this point. Taste and make any spice adjustments as necessary. Serve it in a shallow bowl with a lip so that you can sprinkle some fresh dill around the edge. This looks pretty and provides extra dill for the diner to sweep into the soup as needed.
Also, Borscht is usually served with a dollop of sour cream in the middle. It really tastes best with the sour cream blended in, but I like to serve it with just the dollop in the middle, so the diner can enjoy the soup both ways. It turns a bright pink when you blend the sour cream in, making it look even weirder than it already does. But ah, the taste!  So Good!

Note, you’ll find many recipes that call for cabbage in Borscht. I didn’t see it this way in Moscow, so perhaps this is more of the Ukrainian way to do it. Not sure, but I tried it with cabbage once, and didn’t care for it nearly as much. It had an unpleasant ‘boiled cabbage’ flavor to it, so I chose to omit this ingredient, as did all the Russian chefs at the restaurants where we dined.

Well, hope you enjoy, and I’d love to hear what you think of this dish, if you try it out.

Until next time,

Na zdorovia


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