Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer Harvest Solution: Borsch

I've had a request for a "tried and true" borsch recipe. This chunky soup which hails from Russia is quite adaptable, so there's little that can be said with absolute authority about borsch. The only thing that always holds true with borsch is that it contains vinegar, and usually cabbage. Americans tend to associate borsch with beets and the vivid color they impart to the soup. But in Russia this is considered an option, not a given. The soup can be served hot or cold, and may contain meat or be vegetarian. I see this versatility as an asset rather than a problem. Best of all, borsch as I like to make it helps to use up many vegetables that are coming in from the garden at more or less the same time.

I don't have a set in stone recipe for my borsch, since I tend to use what we have on hand. But since I was asked for one, I'll give it a shot, in my usual narrative fashion.

Kate's Borsch

cooking oil
2-3 onions, or onion equivalents (leeks will work), depending on size
1 large or 2 medium, very ripe tomatoes
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
a good fistful of carrots, say 5-6 medium or large ones, peeled and medium diced
a small head of cabbage, or part of a large one, cleaned and chopped small enough to fit on a soup spoon
3-4 medium beets, preferably already boiled or roasted (wrap in foil, 45 minutes @ 375 F), peeled and diced
1-2 cups leftover cooked beef or chicken, cubed (optional, and substitute as you wish)
4 cups of broth (beef/chicken), or water, with or without bouillon cubes
2 cups of water
1/3 cup of vinegar, preferably distilled white or apple cider vinegar

To garnish when serving: fresh dill (or parsley) and sour cream, both optional

Medium dice the onions and cook them in the oil in a large soup pot, over medium heat. Stir well and cover with the lid of the pot. While they simmer, take the tomatoes and cut them in half from stem to blossom end. Place the cut face of the tomato against the small holes of a cheese grater over a dinner plate and gently grate the fruit. The skin will protect your fingers pretty well from the grating holes, so get every last bit of flesh off the skin, working gently. The pulp will collect in the plate. Uncover the onions and stir them well again. They should be well softened, but without much color. Add the tomato pulp and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook for several minutes, stirring as needed, to let this liquid cook off. Add more oil if the sugars start to stick too much to the bottom of the pan. Compost the tomato skins. Add the bay leaves, and salt and pepper to taste.

You're ready to continue when the tomato pulp has mostly disappeared and the oil itself has taken on the color of the tomato. Look carefully at your dish thus far. This is an important step and contributes a lot of flavor to the soup, so don't skip it or change it. Really, this is the only authentic borsch trick in my arsenal.

Add the carrots and stir them around. After a few minutes, when they have warmed up, add a cup of the liquid and deglaze the pan of any sugary brown bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the remaining liquid and bring it to a good simmer. (I like to use a quart of meat broth and 2 cups of water to dilute it a bit. But vegetable broth or all water works too.) When it reaches a steady roll, reduce the heat and let it cook for about 3 minutes. Add the chopped cabbage and let it simmer for another 5 minutes. Now add the chopped and cooked beets and any leftover meat you want to include in the soup. Continue simmering for about 5 minutes. The beets will color the soup vivid deep pink.

Add the vinegar, stir well, and taste the soup. If the soup is too chunky for your preference, dilute it with more liquid. Adjust the seasonings of vinegar, salt, and pepper to your preference. Fish out the bay leaves if you can find them. Serve immediately or cool the soup very well to serve it chilled. Garnish with freshly chopped dill and sour cream if desired.

-Feel free to improvise with the ingredients in this soup. Celery isn't used much in Russia, but it's a fine addition to borsch. Ditto for peppers. Extra diced tomatoes can be added if you happen to have a lot of them. Potatoes are usually added in Russia, but I tend to make borsch earlier in the year than they are harvested. I had pretty disappointing results when I tried canning this soup. Fortunately, it freezes beautifully. We usually have several quarts of it on hand in the chest freezer. It's especially nice as a chilled dinner on sweltering summer evenings.


Anna said...

This looks like a great recipe, but I must disagree with your description of the dish. Borsch is a soup that always contains beets, and almost always cabbage. Cabbage soup without beets is called Schi. Vinegar is an interesting addtion I've never tried, I assume it's meant to keep the color of the beets nice and bright. My qualifications for the above are being born and partially (until age 11) raised in Russia.

Kate said...

Hi, Anna! Well, Russia's as big country, and I'm sure there's room for variation. My qualifications for my statements come from six months spent in Russia as an adult foodie, mostly in home stay situations where I participated in the meal preparation. My language skills were definitely good enough for comprehension, and this was mostly in Izhevsk. I specifically asked what made borsch borsch, and was told by a middle aged woman and others as well, that it was the vinegar ("vsegda s uksusam").

I was served a "zelyonii borsch" once that had no beets, just mushrooms, cabbage, potatoes, dill and vinegar. I'm familiar with schi too, and enjoyed that as well. Never asked what exactly made schi schi though.

Thanks for stopping by!

gardengrl said...

Thanks for the recipe...I fully intend on making this within the next few days. Thank you also for stating that it didnt can very well, but freezes beautifully. I have an almost empty(food wise anyhow) freezer that is in need of some hardy soup like meals for the coming winter months,(ugh...I hate thinking about winter in the middle of summer). Thank you again. This site is the most helpful, and enjoyable one I have ever found.Keep up the GREAT work.

Wendy said...

I love a good soup recipe, and this one sounds awesome! Thanks for sharing ;).

Kate said...

Gardengrl and Wendy, you're quite welcome. I hope you enjoy the soup if you make it yourselves.

gardengrl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gardengrl said...

I made this yesterday.....YUMMY...froze a big bunch of it, and still have plenty for tonights supper too.I even gave some to my very elderly neighbor. He almost cried, as he hails from Rothenburg Germany, and hasnt had any since the passing of his wife around 10 years ago. Guess this dish is popular there too.
You have been so helpful...now I need your help again. I have an over abundance of green peppers. Is the only way to preserve these by freezing...or do you know of another way. I would like to be able to use these in cold salads throughout the year, but in my experience, the only good use for them after freezing is in hot dishes, as they seem to get, for lack of a better word...squishy...and watery... PLEASE HELP!!!!

Kate said...

gardengrrl, I'm afraid I don't have much advice for you with regard to freezing peppers. Bell peppers bother my stomach, so we don't eat them. And the chili peppers I grow are either eaten fresh or dried and powdered for spice. I'm glad to hear you prepared the borsch and liked it. Very sweet of you to take some to your neighbor!

gardengrl said...

You mentioned drying and using the hot peppers for spice. I would love to try that...but I am not sure how. Do you just hang them like you would garlic? or is there a different process?

Kate said...

gardengrl, check out the link with Hank's name on it for his walkthrough. I haven't yet done this myself.

Anonymous said...

It is a Polish dish. No vinegar, never. Instead the special sour liquid as for baking bread is used.