Eastern Europe, diverse as it is, has a hundred variations for every dish it offers. Borsch, my favourite, for example.
During my time in Moscow, I did not find a single menu that failed to tempt me with Борщ, the notorious stew most non-Slavs do not quite understand. Борщ- those four letters which translate into B-o-r-sch, with no t at the end.
In other countries, the spelling and pronunciation changes, such as Polish barszcz. In America, it is commonly pronounced “borshed” and recalls memories of pickled beet jelly served in lower grade school, or hot pink over-processed puree. Everyone cringes and scrunches their noses and gags.
But let me set the record straight though. Are you with me?
A few years ago, my Russian friend’s mother shared her borsch recipe with me and I was thrilled. I have used it several times now and enjoy experimenting by adding in turnips, parsnips, fresh dill, white pepper, tomato paste, paprika, and red wine; all of which I have seen in other authentic borsch recipes.
First, I start with a pound of organic beef tips, add a quart of purified water and let it sit on medium heat while I cut up an onion, 2-3 large potatoes, 3 carrots, and a stalk of celery. In this stage, we have a typical beef stew.
Next I chop a head of cabbage, 4-5 large beets, and mince 3 garlic cloves. I always saute the vegetables in grapeseed oil before adding them to the beef broth, which adds a ton of flavour. It’s best to peel the beets- I do it with a knife, but I do not peel potatoes for borsch. The chopping part takes around 20 minutes and then I add enough water to cover it all, turn the heat up, and let it all boil until the beef falls apart easily and the potatoes are tender. Beets, when cooked, have a similar texture and taste to potatoes.
Soon it will start to look like this:
Do not make the grave mistake of serving borsch without a dollop of sour cream, and always add it on top of warm borsch after it is served, instead of mixing in with the other ingredients while cooking. This would cause the cream to curdle and the pretty pink and orange swirls will become clotted.
***Today I made another vat of borsch and decided to go all out Slavo-Balkan feast complete with toasted black bread, avjar, chocolate babka, red wine, a shot of vodka, and mint tea, accompanied by this Beat. I have made borsch without meat a couple times and find it just as delicious.
За здоровье (to your health!)