Today, we take on the classic Russian dish: borscht. This thick, deep-red soup features beets as the primary ingredient. I'll let Mama take it from here:
Before I share the recipe, a few notes. The quality of beets you use is very important. You want very fresh ones. The ones we used while I visited Anna in Madison were from Harmony Valley, and were really fresh, with the greens still on them. We also had light, young, crunchy cabbage, which really makes the difference.
For vegetarian borscht, I like to add beans. Kidney or white beans are fine, but former is tastier. Sometimes I also use baby lima beans frozen.
I usually boil the beets separately first, but these were so small that I just threw them in. The more beets the better, as it makes the borscht rich and concentrated. And I didn’t peel the beets, just washed them well, because a lot of pigment is in the skin. If you buy old ones in the store, you have to peel them.
Sometimes I sauté the onion first, but in this case, I just added it directly.
Borscht becomes even tastier after it stands in the fridge for a few days.
Finally, if it’s summer and you’d rather have a cold soup, you can make Cold Summer Borscht. You just boil the grated beets (grate with a food processor if you have one), with some salt, sugar, and a lemon squeezed into it. Boil, and then cool it until cold. Then add diced cucumber, hard boiled eggs, scallions, dill, and sour cream, salt to taste. It should be a few days old, so that it becomes concentrated, almost a sweet and sour soup. Very delicious when it’s hot outside.
Vegetarian Borscht (for cooler weather)
4-5 beets, unpeeled if very fresh
3 medium potatoes, diced and peeled
2-3 carrots, sliced
1.5 cups kidney beans, pre-cooked (or one can, drained)
1 onion, diced
1 bay leaf
2 tomatoes, chopped
1-2 Tbsp tomato paste or ketchup
1 bunch beet greens, if still attached, washed and roughly chopped
½ head small cabbage, thinly sliced
Dill, garlic, salt, lemon juice, sugar to taste
Sour cream/yogurt (optional)
- In a large soup pot, bring 2-3 quarts water to boil. Add whole beets and let cook about 10 minutes. Then, add potatoes and return to boil. When potatoes are about halfway cooked, add carrots and kidney beans.
- Once carrots have cooked a few minutes, add the diced onion and the bay leaf. Salt to taste. Lower heat to medium or medium-low.
- When the beets are easily pierced with a fork, but still a little hard, remove them from the soup pot, cut them into pieces (grating some, if you’d like a thicker soup), and sauté the cut, cooked beets in a little oil in a separate skillet, to develop the flavor.
- To the same sauté pan, add the tomatoes and tomato paste or ketchup and stir to combine. Then, add the beet greens and cabbage. Sauté about five minutes.
- Add the contents of the sauté pan to the soup pot, stirring to combine.
- Taste the borscht and add any of the following, as needed: dill (fresh chopped or dried), minced fresh garlic, salt, and/or fresh lemon juice.
- Just before finishing your borscht, add a half-teaspoon of sugar. Bring it once more to boil and then remove from heat.
- Serve with sour cream, yogurt, or however you like. Even tastier in the next few days!