Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Borscht for Books

Is there a nicer word than "borscht"? I don't think so. Consider mine in stark empurpled glory, ivory sour cream backlit by crimson broth. Superb!

I was going to post the recipe, and then it occurred to me that I have published a lot of recipes here, and no one has ever written and said "hey, I tried that thing, it was really good." So I'm trying something new - I am going to incentivize you to make this borscht. If you make this soup and send me a picture of yourself holding a bowl of it, I will donate five bucks to First Book in your name. I have to cap it at 50 people, which would already be way beyond my wildest dreams of this working anyway. Let's see if we can get to five participants, but I am willing to put some money where my mouth is for a good cause to see if anyone actually reads this stuff.

Without further ado, gather yourself:

4 big fresh beets, scrubbed and peeled
1 head of green cabbage, cored, washed and chopped into 1"-wide strips
4 medium tomatoes, quartered, and skinned
2-3 medium potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and chopped into 1/2" chunks
1 large onion, peeled and sliced very thin
1 pound of grass-fed free range beef, in large cubes (probably optional, but very tasty)
1 bunch fresh dill
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Sour salt to taste, about 2 teaspoons (if unavailable, juice a big lemon. won't be the same though)
Sugar to taste, but not much

1. Place all of the prepared vegetables in a large stock pot, and cover with 10 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a low simmer for forty-five minutes or so until the vegetables are fully cooked.

2. Remove the beets to a plate and allow to cool until you can handle them comfortably. Meanwhile, add the beef to the stockpot and continue to simmer. If you want you could brown it first, but I didn't and it seemed to be fine. So let's not.

3. When the beets are cool enough to handle, grate them finely (about 1/8" wide) with a cheese grater and add them back to the pot. Continue to simmer the soup until the meat is fully cooked and soft, at least an hour but realistically as long as you can stand not eating. An hour and a half might be better, see what works at your altitude.

4. Time to adjust your seasoning. Start with 1 teaspoon of sour salt and a healthy grind of black pepper, and add regular salt to taste. A little sugar will balance out the sourness, but be careful not to overdo it, this should be sour. Start with 1/2 a teaspoon. I seem to end up with about 2 heaping teaspoons of sour salt and a teaspoon of sugar, plus juice from 1 lemon, but it is very subjective.

5. You know, if you have some shallot salt, that's pretty tasty in there too. It's also terrific on popcorn.

6. The soup is finished at this point, so finely chop a bunch of dill and throw it in there. If you like, a squeeze of lemon at the end will brighten up the flavors nicely, and you can also zest the lemon and throw that in there is you're sort of fancy.

That's all there is to it! A chopped up parsnip or carrot would be fine additions, and some parsley would be good too. The tremendous thing is that this soup is equally delicious hot or cold, so have a bowl right out of the pot and then chill it overnight for a terrific summer lunch the next day. I like it with a little sour cream (especially when served cold), and if you did not grow up eating borscht here's the secret - put a lump of sour cream in the middle, and then get a little sour cream and a little borscht on your spoon and eat them together. ( Don't mix them all together unless that's your personal thing, it muddles the flavor).

So, think you can do this? My five dollars says you can, so get cooking.


Judy said...

Um...can we try a different recipe? Not a beet fan here...lol.

Jonathan said...

Tough to make this one without them, unfortunately. Wikipedia says non-beet variants exist, but I'm not convinced that's borscht.