Monday, January 14, 2008

"Nothing Beets Borscht - Jane's Russian Cookbook" - Ukrainian Borscht

Date I made this recipe: January 13, 2008

Nothing Beets Borscht – Jane’s Russian Cookbook by Jane Blanksteen
Published by: Antheneum
© 1974
Recipe: (what else?!) Ukrainian Borscht – p. 32-34

Last year at about this time, I pulled this cookbook off the shelf, looked for the requisite borscht recipe and got scared off when I read that this called for one pound each of beets, cabbage and potatoes. I had this picture in my mind’s eye of me as a modern-day Cinderella, off in a corner, peeling all these vegetables for hours on end, not to mention me dragging all those pounds into my kitchen.

But I eventually decided pounds be damned – I’ll make the recipe!

And so off I went to the grocery store where this amazing invention called a scale saved my life. Because you see, people, six small to medium-sized beets weighted well over a pound. Two medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes weighed well over a pound. A bag of coleslaw mix (I cheated but it worked) weighed a pound. Silly, silly me! (I was never good at math.) I also freaked out when I saw it made 10-12 servings as I had visions of bowls and bowls of soup being eaten week after week, month after month until I never wanted to see a beet again. And again I was wrong because when I serve up soup, I do it in a decent-sized bowl and not some restaurant’s warped idea of a soup bowl. (Let me just rant for a minute on take-out soup cups and bowls. Are they kidding? To me, that’s a ladle full of soup—perhaps not even that. I am not advocating for larger portions, but I am saying that if you are serving yourself a cup of chicken noodle soup you can all but forget the noodles and instead enjoy the broth because that’s about all you get).

So speaking of broth, I made the broth the night before in between events since it needs to cook for 3 hours. I put the soup on right before I went to an acupuncture appointment then stirred it a little during the Packer playoff game v. Seattle and took the whole thing off the stove right before a friend came over to pick me up for a St. Paul Chamber Orchestra concert. I totally live by multi-tasking and yes, thank you for pointing out the most unique sequence of events—acupuncture followed by football followed by soothing chamber music. Which of these do not go together?!

Just as an aside, I had no choice but to schedule the acupuncture appointment for the same time as the Packer kick-off. Now, a true fan would have bagged the appointment and gone for the game, but my back has felt so much better with acupuncture that I couldn’t miss it. But of course, the appointment was backed up and there I was, lying on my stomach with these tiny needles in me, unable to move, trying to channel all my positive energy to my team while at the same time mentally imploring my wonderful Chinese doctor to hurry the hell up, already! Once done, I flew home, blew in the door, checked with my husband on the score, stirred the soup and then sat my behind down to watch the game. When my friend came to pick me up, I had removed the meat bones and vegetables from the broth and stored the whole lot of it in the refrigerator. This is what halftime is for! (Although I didn’t have time to take the meat off the bones as I can only do so much and am not superhuman in the same way that Brett Favre is). (By the way, the Packers won).

So, if time allows I recommend doing the broth one day ahead and then assembling the soup the next day but if not, I think you’ll be fine. But be warned—you will need 2 quarts plus 2 cups of broth to make the dish and I came up short by about 4 cups so I added low-sodium chicken broth to round it out. I suppose I could have used water but that’s so….boring…and so broth it was. And it tasted fine.

As to the veggies, and just so you know, beets will temporarily stain everything you use to shred/dice them so be prepared to rinse things off immediately, hands included. Prior to washing, my hands looked like I had developed some weird rash…and this is why I waited until after the concert (i.e. the next day) to shred them seeing as how I didn’t want people looking at me in horror. Instead of shredding them, you can chop them instead, saving your hands from staining; I did chop a few of the pieces that were too small to shred and wished I had done that from the beginning.

After slicing and dicing and stirring and cooking, this soup was ready to roll and people, it was so darned purty and looked so healthy that I almost hated to eat it. I’m glad I got over that. Prior to making this dish, I always thought of borscht as being heavy and hearty but this soup, really a meal in and of itself, had bright bits of carrots and tomatoes mixed in with the beets that it just screamed “Vitamins!” And besides that, it just tasted darn good. The author recommends a little sour cream and dill but I opted for a bit of creamy horseradish to kick it up a notch. At the end of the day, I have to agree with the author—Nothing Beets Borscht!

Ukrainian Borscht – 10 to 12 servings
Stock Ingredients
3 pounds ham hock
1 bay leaf
1 onion, peeled and studded with 5 cloves
1 carrot, peeled
1 celery stalk
Salt and pepper
3 quarts water (note: you may need to add more)

Borscht Ingredients
1 medium onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 slices bacon or some butter or shortening
2 small or one large carrot, peeled and sliced into small disks
1 peeled, diced turnip or parsnip (note, I used both)
1 cup peeled, chopped tomatoes or 2 small ones (can be canned)
Salt, pepper
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (plus more to finish the dish)
1 pound beets, making 2 ½ cups when peeled and grated (note—with that mess I had going on, there was no way I was going to measure! Just throw the beets into the soup already!)
1 pound white cabbage, shredded (Note, as mentioned above, an already-prepared cole slaw mix worked just as well)
1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced
2 quarts plus 2 cups of stock
1 pound kolbasa sausage or any cooked sausage if you like (but not raw or it will fall apart when you add it to the soup; if you want to use raw sausage, broil it first).

To make the stock
Put all the stock ingredients in a large soup pot and bring liquid to a boil. Turn off the heat and skim off the scum on the surface of the soup. The scum is that foamy, muddy stuff reminiscent of the foam you are likely to find at a polluted beach. (Note to author: this is descriptive—but not necessarily what one wants to read when making food, no?) Now partially cover the pot and let the soup simmer for 3 hours.

After the three hours are up, let the soup cool. When it is cool enough not to scald your fingers, remove the vegetables and bay leaf and the ham hock. Throw out the vegetables and bay leaf but save the ham hock and remove all the meat from the bones and shred it with your fingers. Throw out the bones.

Put the shredded meat in the pot. Refrigerate the stock and, before you are about to use it, skim the fat off the top. It will be a solid white layer covering the stock.

To make the borscht
Prepare all ingredients as directed. Saute the onion and garlic with 2 slices of bacon or just butter until they are limp and white (not browned). Add the carrots, turnip/parsnip, tomatoes, salt, pepper and vinegar and continue to sauté. Add 2 cups of the stock to the frying pan with the vegetables. Next, add the beats then cover the pan and simmer for 45 minutes.

In the meantime, bring 2 quarts of stock to a boil, then add the shredded cabbage and diced potatoes and simmer for 15 minutes. (Note, I went about a half hour in order for the potatoes to be done.) Once the cabbage and potatoes are done, add the beet mixture then simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes to combine flavors. (I went longer on this because my husband was finishing up a task and I think the soup benefited from extra cooking time in that the vegetables were softer, less crisp due to longer cooking).

Season the entire mixture to taste with salt, pepper and a splash more vinegar.

If you desire, cut the sausage into small, round slices, and simmer for 15 minutes partially covered.

N.B. I was just cleaning up my desk area when I came across a post it note that reminded me to talk about a recipe I didn't make--Fresh Ham Cooked in Hay and Beer (p. 67). That's right, people, in hay is for horses. Besides the obvious "ew" factor, where on earth would one score fresh, usable hay these days? Anybody? Anybody? If you know, please tell me, 'cause I'm thinking that somehow, my local supermarkets just wouldn't carry it...I'm just saying....

And to fans of Trading Spaces, do we not all remember the homeowner's horror (and our own) when "designer" (ahem) Hildy Santo Tomas put hay on the walls? [Insert visible shudder here.] I bet the owners didn't take more than a nanosecond after the reveal to rip that hay off the walls. Too bad it was all spattered with paint or it might have been usable in this dish!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for the recipe! My broth is simmering now. :) Just thought I'd comment to let you know that for your "Ham in Hay and Beer" you can buy alfalfa at most pet stores! Just so you know!