By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook
Could borscht be the best soup ever?
My earliest memories are of a restaurant version somewhere: treacly sweet and garishly red. No thank you. The soup we made in our food appreciation classes last week, in contrast, groaned with all sorts of vegetables and a depth of flavor that only hinted at beets.
I'm convinced that the borscht we're most familiar with--that shockingly red beet puree--sprang from the imagination of a restaurant chef. I found nothing of the sort in my primary source--Please to the Table--an award-winning collection of recipes and food lore from the former Soviet Union. In fact, the author's first version of borscht--a traditional Ukranian soup--starts with pork or ham.
We made the vegetarian version (except for the chicken stock). Sure, it was red. But it was also so much more. The kids were crazy for it, asking for second and third helpings. How many other ways do you know to get children to salivate over cabbage, carrots, green pepper, celery, tomatoes--and, yes, beets.
Normally my recipes describe ingredients as part of the narrative. But there are so many in this soup, I will list them first. In fact, the most difficult part of this soup may be shopping for the ingredients. Maybe the best plan is to make a large batch and freeze some for later.
You'll need the following:
6 Tbs butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1/2 large green pepper, cored and cut into small dice
1/2 small cabbage, shredded then coarsely chopped
1 medium beet, peeled and grated
1 rib celery, cut into small dice
1/2 tart apple (such as Granny Smith), peeled and cut into small dice
2 medium boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into small dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
2 quarts chicken stock
bouquet garni, consisting of 1 bay leaf and 8 pepper corns tied in cheesecloth
1 tsp sweet paprika
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp sugar or more to taste
juice from 1/2 lemon
chopped fresh dill for garnish
Melt the butter in a heavy soup pot over moderately high heat and add the onion, carrot and green pepper. Cook until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes, then add the cabbage, beet and celery. Cook a few minutes more, stirring frequently, then add the apple, potatoes and garlic. Stir in the tomato paste and mix well, then add the chicken stock and the bouquet garni.
Bring the pot to a boil, then lower the heat and cook 25 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through and the soup is quite aromatic. Remove the bouquet garni and stir in the paprika, salt, pepper, sugar and lemon juice.
Ladle the soup into large bowls (this soup does not need to be piping hot) and garnish with chopped dill. Serve with a sour cream on the side. Kids are not wildly enthusiastic about sour cream. But what do they know. In my opinion, borscht is best with a big dollop of sour cream in it.