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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Anne’s Ukrainian Borscht with Meat

Anne’s Ukrainian Borscht with Meat

 Anne Milton
February, 2010
In the interest of full disclosure, I'm not Ukranian—not one bit.  
My father's Russian Jewish family came over here bringing a recipe for meaty 'winter' borscht—a deep maroon, sweet-and-sour stew thick with prunes, tomatoes and cabbage—it's delicious, and maybe I'll post the recipe someday.  When I joined Boston Organics a couple years ago, I began getting relatively exotic things like celery root and parsnips along with my beets in the wintertime.  I originally found Ukranian Borscht described in a book called Cooking in the Litchfield Hills—a find-raiser for the Pratt Nature Center in New Milford, CT—so I don't know who provided the recipe.  Because the Pratt Center recipe contained many different root veggies, I started fiddling with it, adapting it to my taste and to the contents of my Boston Organics box.  Eventually, a new variant was born.  The borscht unquestionably shares DNA with the original recipe, but I have to call it mine as well, since the proportions, much of the method, and all the notes are my own.  If any actual Ukranians would like to weigh in on this subject, I'd be intrigued to hear from them!

1 1/2 to 2 lbs. beef flank steak or short ribs
, untrimmed (total meat weight excluding bone about 1 lb.)
1 1/2 quarts water

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 medium carrot, scraped

1 medium celery root, peeled, 1/4 cut out for broth, remaining cut in 1/2-inch cubes

1 whole small onion, peeled, stuck with 2 cloves

4 whole allspice berries, roughly crushed
1-2 medium-large, or 3-4 small red or golden beets, without tops (don't use more, or it will overwhelm the soup.)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tablespoon tomato paste

2 large garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 tablespoon butter

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

1 medium parsnip, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 medium rutabaga or 2 purple-top turnips, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup chopped cabbage (optional; use more or less to taste)

1 small potato—unpeeled, if you prefer—cut in 1/2-inch cubes (optional: use depending on quantity of other vegetables)
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried dill, or 1-2 teaspoons fresh, minced
1 teaspoon crushed dried parsley, or 2-3 teaspoons fresh, minced

3/4-1 cup sour cream or drained yogurt

Borscht Stock with Congealed Fat on Top

  1.  In a 3 or 4-quart pot, bring meat and water to boil over high heat. Reduce to simmer and skim off foam. When foam stops rising, add salt, carrot, 1/4 celery root, whole onion and allspice; simmer gently, covered, for 2 hours, or until meat flakes easily and/or falls of the bone. When meat is very tender, remove from broth and drain.  Strip off bones, remove visible fat and gristle, and cut meat into cubes.  Place in tall, narrow bowl; strain broth and pour over meat.  Let cool, then chill thoroughly so fat solidifies on top.
  2. While broth is cooking, preheat oven to 400°F.  Scrub beets, place in small, tightly-covered, ovenproof dish, and bake for an hour, or until just tender.  (You may also cook beets, tightly covered and with a splash of water, in microwave.)  Poke with fork to check for doneness.  Let cool thoroughly, then peel beets and shred on coarse side of grater.
  3. Lift off and discard fat from top of broth.  In clean pot, bring meat and broth to a simmer, stir in pepper, tomato paste and garlic, cover, and cook over low heat while preparing vegetables.
  4. In medium saucepan, warm butter, and sauté onion over low heat until limp and slightly aromatic: about 3 minutes. Add cubed celery root, parsnips, turnips and potato.  Sauté 5 minutes, or until you can begin to smell the root vegetables cooking.  (This is a low-heat process: vegetables should not brown.)
  5. Add vegetables to broth.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer 5-10 minutes, or until vegetables are just becoming tender.
  6. Add shredded beets and cabbage, if using, and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes, or until everything is tender.
  7. Just before serving, while soup is simmering gently, stir in lemon juice and herbs, tasting carefully to balance flavors; at this point you may also add salt if needed.
  8. Beets Steamed in Microwave
  9. Serve borscht piping hot, in flat bowls topped with about 2 Tablespoons of sour cream or yogurt per serving.  You may also garnish with some of the fresh herbs, if using.
Makes a large pot of hearty soup: serves at least 6

  I find this recipe works best as a two-day process: make the broth and cook the beets one day, then let everything chill and you’re ready to go on to the next steps the following day.  Sometimes I do all the prep—chop and cube vegetables, cook, peel and shred beets, etc.—in advance, while the broth is cooking; I submerge the cubed potato and celery root in water to prevent them from darkening, and leave everything in the refrigerator.  Then, the next day or whenever I'm ready, I can skim the broth and finish the soup in less than an hour.  (This is great if you need hearty soup at the end of a long, tiring day.)
What makes this soup wonderful is the delicate balance of its flavors: rich meat (but not too rich, hence the skimming) plays off against the gentle sweetness of root vegetables, contrasted with a little acid from the lemon juice, plus the piquancy of tomato paste and mellowed garlic. None of these flavors should overwhelm the whole; hence, it’s important to measure ingredients, and/or to taste the soup when adding strong flavors like lemon juice so you don’t go overboard.  Don’t dollop in extra tomato paste, impulsively double the quantity of herbs, or—God forbid—use six cloves of garlic and add it all at the last moment.  If you do, you’ll have a different soup: it may be good, but it won’t be Ukranian borscht.

Sauteing Borscht Vegetables
On the other hand, don’t take all this too seriously: borscht is, after all, peasant food, which means you use what you have on hand.  If you can’t find celery root, use more turnip; if you don’t have any allspice berries, substitute some nutmeg; if there isn’t any cabbage left, or you’ve somehow run out of tomato paste, so what?  A good rule of thumb is, don’t rush out and buy something fancy, if what you have in the kitchen will do as well.

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1 comment:

  1. It's a beautiful color, a rich history, and a hearty
    soup for a cold winter's day. How can we not try it!


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