Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"The Cookbook of the United Nations" - Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic Borsch (for the Olympics)

Date I made this recipe:  February 22, 2014 (for the Olympics)

The Cookbook of the United Nations – 350 recipes from the 126 member nations of the UN by Barbara Kraus

Published by:  Simon and Schuster/New York

© 1970

Purchased from Etsy BountifulBooks

Recipe:  Borsch – p. 98 (from the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic)

And so we bid farewell to Sochi (Russia), host of the XXII (22nd) Winter Olympics games and I have to tell you, it's not a moment too soon.  Given that the US, and particularly the Midwest, has been sucked into the Polar Vortex this year, it has been especially egregious to see the Winter Olympics being held at a summer resort in Russia. Worse, while our temperatures sank toward -20, their temperatures soared into the 60's, causing many skiers to practically strip down to bathing suits while on the slopes or the cross country runs.  I suppose the fact that it was a "balmy" -45 in Siberia should have cheered me, but nah.  I pouted.

So I pouted and harrumphed and because of that, I wasn't really interested in watching the balmy winter games while huddled in front of my TV set freezing to death.  And then, and I just have to put it out there, there are the events themselves.  The word "snooze" comes to mind.  I know, I know—all the athletes train and train and train but honestly folks...curling?  Really?  Curling is an Olympic sport?  Not only do I not get that event, but I do not consider it at all competitive.  For me (and hubby, too), it's akin to billiards or bocce and that means it is about as exciting as watching paint dry.  Now—if the Olympic committee allowed cocktailing while curling (catchy, right?) I might just get behind the event—might.  But probably not.

Other events elicited the same snooze effect:  luge (a silly sport), skeleton (a silly but scary sport), bobsledding, snowboarding and on and on.  Maybe it was just my foul winter-weather mood but probably not:  I'm really a summer sport gal and so swimming and track float my boat more than icy games. 

And then there's skating.  I learned to ice skate when I was five and for years, I wanted to be a competitive skater.  Unfortunately for me (or maybe fortuitously), although my small town had an ice rink, we did not have the opportunity for lessons so I taught myself what I could and that was that.  No emulating my hero, Peggy Fleming, no Dorothy Hamill (camel) hairdo, no gold medal,  no podium for me.  Bupkis. 

Still, for years, I watched skating on TV and at the Olympics until I got to the point where it too, annoyed me.  Instead of all this graceful skating, we had Yoga on Ice, with youngsters bending themselves into near pretzels, we had the ice version of The Flying Wallendas (trapeze artists) as male pair skaters threw their 2-pound partners across the ice at warp speed and then we had the individual competitions where grace, beauty and most importantly, skating to the music went by the wayside, replaced by yoga, more yoga and jump after jump after jump (jive and wail).  My musical brain cannot come to grips with this disconnect.  To me, skaters spend more time prepping for the jumps and twists and twirls than they do actually skating to the music.  Every time the music cues practically scream "Now!" they're still prepping to execute their triple flip/salchow/twist/jump...whatever.  Drives me crazy.

And speaking of twirls, can we talk for a moment about the Ice Dancing "twizzles?"  Say what?  Granted, I am not up on my ice dancing but this requirement that they include "twizzles" makes me snort.  But that said—given that ice dancers are the only ice skaters who actually perform a program to the music, I give them mad props and may just start tuning in to ice dancing competitions.

 Once the joke event of the Olympics (just like synchronized swimming in the Summer Olympics), ice dancing has now been elevated on the Verme-Event-O-Meter to "not half bad."  In fact, the 2014 United States gold medalist team of Davis and White made it all seem so easy that I wanted to break out my ice skates and test my memory of all the dance moves I learned.  But I think the operative word "break" is the likely result of that delusion and so best to just leave that event to the experts.  (That said, I can do a seriously decent back toe loop.  Just saying.) 

By the way, it may amuse you to no end that I took Ice Skating 101 for a PE credit while in college.  It was a last-minute addition (and my final PE credit) but I still missed the first day of class.  But no worries for me—the instructor told me skating forwards was the goal of the first class and session two, my session, was all about learning to skate backwards.  Did I know how to skate backwards, she enquired?  Yes, just a little bit. ;) In fact, I ended up assisting her with that session so there you go.  (I also taught several people how to skate while at college and to this day have no idea how one of my roommates, Julie, managed to skate over her thumb.) And by the time we got to ice dancing routines, I was practically a gold medal contender. 

Okay, and now back to mother Russia and this cookbook.  This edition, published in 1970, contains recipes from the 126 member nations of the United Nations.  Fifty one member nations ("member states") founded the UN back in 1945 and today, there are 193.  And as you can imagine, several nations have undergone quite the overhaul since the founding and since this book was published, notably our Olympic host nation, Russia.

So, follow along with me if you can:  Until 1991, Russia and the Ukraine, "home" of today's borscht recipe, were part of the former USSR, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  According to this cookbook and UN records however, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (capital:  Kiev) was a separate nation and member state from the USSR (capital:  Moscow).  Recipes from each member state are included but I decided the Borsch recipe from the Ukraine best exemplified "Russian" food.  (I am sure I am missing some important steps in the whole "Back in the USSR" story but such is life.)

What I love about this cookbook is that it serves up recipes and acts as a history/geography primer all rolled into one as each country gets a one-paragraph write-up.  And let me just tell you how handy that is if you are a fan (like I am) of the TV show, Jeopardy!  (Because I really stink when it comes to geography.) 

Some countries in this book, like Russia, have, of course, gone through major turmoil and in fact, things in the Ukraine ("home of our borsch recipe) right now are absolutely explosive as the citizens try to topple their current president (who by all accounts, has fled the country).   I didn't put two and two together when I selected this recipe and am sorry to hear of all this.  The UN, of course, is urging a peaceful resolution of these conflicts.

Other countries, even though they are part of the UN, are not "enjoying" peaceful relations with the US right now:  Afghanistan; Iran; Syria to name a few.  Not on the list in 1970:  Korea (neither north nor south) and Vietnam.  The exclusion of Vietnam makes sense if you remember that the US was engaged in a long-term battle with Vietnam that ended in 1975 with the fall of Saigon.  And then there's countries that no longer exist such as Dahomey (now called Benin.  It's located in Africa.  I had no idea.) or the former Czechelslovakia which divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  My mom's family lives in what is now Slovakia.

And so let's turn our attention at last to this neutral dish – borsch.  What I loved about this recipe is the combination of ingredients:  sugar and lemon juice and flour and sour cream.  Sounds like a cake, right?  Fortunately, all these flavors blended well with the vegetables used (cabbage, celery, onions, carrots and beets) resulting in a truly "spring"-like dish.  I had several servings.  You should, too. Nostrovia!

Ukrainian Soveit Socialist Republic  Borsch (Spring Beet Soup) – yield: 8-10 servings

1 teaspoon salt

¼ medium cabbage, finely chopped (Ann's Note:  I used red cabbage)

1 medium carrot, cubed

1 teaspoon chopped parsley

2 cups diced celery

1 medium onion, grated

4 cups water

1 pound young beets, peeled and grated

1 clove garlic, minced

4 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup sour cream


Black pepper

Add salt and vegetables, except beets, to water.  Simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables are just tender.  Add grated beets and cooked 10 to 15 minutes.  Add the garlic and lemon juice to sugar; add to soup.  Blend flour with sour cream, add to soup, and bring t a boil.  Adjust seasoning.  Serve hot.

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