Thursday, February 27, 2014

Making Borsch

    I've had a desire to make borsch for the last week or so.  It is one of my favorite soups. I'm not a big fan of either cooked beets or cooked cabbage. I generally prefer my beets pickled and my cabbage in cole slaw or made into sauerkraut.   For some reason I love them when they are combined into borsch. I first tried borsch at a class picnic when I was studying Russian at the Presidio of Monterey in 1975.  Our instructors, all native born Russians, made borsch and piroshkys, certainly not your normal American picnic fare.  It was love at first taste.  I've been a borsch fan ever since.

     Many years later, after the fall of communism, I made two trips to Russia as an FBI Special Agent. The purpose of the trips was to conduct training for the Russian state police, known as the MVD. Those initials stand for Ministry of Internal Affairs, but that is not very descriptive for most Americans.  The MVD is actually the equivalent of all of the local, state, and federal police agencies rolled into one mammoth bureaucracy.  One trip was to Krasnodar, located in the southern portion of Russian near the Black Sea.  The second trip was to Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad.  Both trips involved entering and leaving Russia through Moscow, checking in with the U.S. Embassy, then flying on a Russian airline to our ultimate destination.  Those trips gave me a great opportunity to experience a much broader sampling of Russian cuisine.  I enjoyed the food so much that I made a point of visiting a bookstore in Moscow to purchase a few cookbooks. I even found one written in English.

    I looked through my Russian cookbook, cleverly named "Russian Cooking", to see what it had to offer in the way of borsch recipes. It had two options, Simple Borsch and Summer Borsch with Beet Tops.  Since I didn't have beet tops available (It is officially winter after all) I chose the Simple Borsch recipe.  I didn't follow the recipe exactly (I often don't follow recipes closely). First of all, I didn't want to make a second trip to the grocery store to pick up the additional ingredients. Secondly, Russians don't always make their borsch exactly the same. It tends to vary somewhat depending on the availability of different ingredients.  Beets and cabbage are probably the only ingredients necessary to qualify the soup as borsch and the recipe offers sauerkraut as an acceptable substitute for fresh cabbage. The recipe I used is as follows:

         Simple Borsch

2-3 beets
9 ounces of shredded white cabbage or sauerkraut ( I used red cabbage)
1 parsley root (I omitted this)
1 onion
1 Tbsp of tomato puree or three tomatoes
2 carrots (I omitted this)
2 Tbsp lard (I omitted this)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
2 cloves garlic
parsley, dill, and salt to taste ( I only used the salt but I did use some pepper as well)
2 liters of meat stock ( I just used some chicken bouillon cubes)
1 Tbsp wheat flour and
1 Tbsp butter for a roux ( I omitted both the wheat and the butter)

     Chop the cabbage and add it to the stock previously strained and brought to a boil. Saute the beets and cut them into thin strips, along with the rest of the vegetables. Add the sautéed vegetables, along with the tomato puree, sugar, and vinegar to the stock and simmer until cooked. Mix the garlic with the large and add to the stock 5-7 minutes before the end. When the borsch is nearly done, thicken the stock with the roux.  Serve with sour cream and herbs.
I love the color of borsch

Borsch is usually served with a big dollop of sour cream

   In spite of all of my omissions my borsch turned out very well. Like many soups, the recipe is very forgiving. I love the color. Borsch is actually quite pretty as soup go. I thought it tasted as good as any borsch I had eaten in Russia or in a restaurant in the U.S.  It didn't seem to miss the lard, the parsley root, carrots, or the thickening roux. It even passed the ultimate test. Linda liked it.

No comments:

Post a Comment