The last few years have been good to beets. They have been showing up everywhere – cakes and hummus, tart Tatins and vegetable chips and of course salads, most often paired with goats cheese. So when a local bookclub asked me to make Borscht as part of a Russian dinner for their Dostoyevski evening, it seemed rather quaint. I did a bit of research and in the end based my recipe on Barbara Kafta’s “Red Russian Soup” in her marvellous cookbook “Soup – A way of life. After my usual bit of tinkering, the end result was a very tasty, chunky soup – quite charming (if a soup can be charming) in its “old-fashioness”.
Borscht is a balance of sweet and sour. The sugary beets offset by the final addition of red wine vinegar. Be careful though, beets can vary in sweetness, so taste before you add the final sugar, vinegar and salt, and adjust the quantities until you feel you have the right combination.
I won’t tell you this is a fast recipe to assemble, but it is easy and it makes a lot.
Serves 10 or more, freezes very well
- Beef broth base
- 2 1/2 lbs (1.2 kgs) beef short ribs (plat de côtes)
- 1 stick of celery
- 1 leek
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 4 bay leaves
- 10 peppercorns
- 10 cups of water
- 2 lbs (900 g) raw beets,
- 4 cups (1 liter) lightly caused canned tomatoes with their juices
- 4 large carrots, peeled and cut
- 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 medium red cabbage, core remover and shredded (about 8 cups; 900 g)
- 4 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- Finishing touches
- 1 cup (250 ml ) red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup (or less) sugar**
- 2 bunches dill fronds
- 3 tablespoons sea salt
- black pepper
- Put all the ingredients for the beef broth in a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer gently, skimming occasionally for 2 hours or until the meat is fork tender.
- Remove the short ribs and reserve the broth. Debone and trim off any fat, and cut the meat into 1/2 inch cubes, set aside. Strain the broth from the solids. Measure out the broth and add enough cold water to equal 7 cups (1.75 liters). Wash the cooking pot, then return the broth to the pot.
- While the beef is cooking, place the trimmed, but unpeeled beets into a medium stockpot and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until beets can be easily pierced with a fork. Remove the beets when done and reserve the cooking liquid. Strain the cooking liquid through a coffee filter or cheese cloth. Measure the liquid and reserve 5 cups, adding water if necessary to make up the correct amount.
- Remove the skin from the beets and cut into small cubes. Add the tomatoes, carrots, onion, cabbage, garlic and bay leaf to the reserved beef cooking broth. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the carrots are almost tender, about 20 minutes.
- Stir in the beets and continue to simmer 20 minutes. Stir in the reserved beet liquid.
- Now taste the soup, then, in increments, add the sugar, vinegar, salt and fresh pepper until you are satisfied with the balance of sweet and sour flavors.
- Remove from heat and allow the flavours to blend for at least an hour and preferably overnight.
- Reheat the soup. Float 1 tablespoon of sour cream on top and sprinkle with fresh dill.