Let’s pick up where we left and resume talking about the Star of Ukrainian Cooking, borsch.
It is one of my favorite soups, not because I invented it or have particular attachment to Ukrainian kitchen, but because every time I make it it feels like a tribute to my beloved grandma: she taught me how. After years of practice I can finally say without false modesty that I cook it well -although not as well as her, in my memory. I’m not ashamed of it: she was a champion.
As with any great classic dish you will find endless variations on a theme: “the meat for stock should only be out of a pork shoulder” – “no, a 1/3 of each of beef, pork and ham” – “no, only based on bone with marrow” – “no meet at all!”-, etc etc etc.
It’s all fine and good – within reason. What’s reasonable? What products are likely for Ukrainian countryside. Pork is reasonable, mutton – no. Purely vegetarian is reasonable, as long as vegetables are cabbage, potatoes and beets – and not avocados or yams.
A disclaimer: I’m giving you the recipe as it evolved in my Jewish family; which means: no pork and no “salo” (fatty bacon), and we don’t add vinegar or lemon juice.
Yield: 10 bowls.
Take 1lb meaty beef bones (some – short ribs, some with marrow); salt and 3-4 peppercorns; stock vegetables: carrot, onion, stalk or two of celery, couple bay leaves, a parsnip if you wish – for large pot holding about 3 quarts of water.
Cover carefully washed bones and meat with cold water, bring to a boil on high flame, periodically skimming foam until clear, add veggies, bit of salt and let simmer on low for about 45min.
Remove meat and marrow bones aside, pour stock through a sieve to another pot (same size or even a bit bigger), leave on the stove simmering.
Prep vegetables: 1 large or 2 midsize beets (select the kind with intense purple-burgundy flesh – scratch the skin when you buy); 3 midsize or 2 large carrots, half-a-head of cabbage (diameter – size of your open palm), 3-4 midsize potatoes (not too starchy), 2 small yellow onions. 16oz can of unsalted cubed red tomatoes (or a lb of overripe plum tomatoes, diced. Better with their skin blanched and removed), 1 green bell pepper, bitter and firm. Salt, black pepper, 2 tablespoons quality tomato paste (I have genuinely Italian one), another bay leaf or two, sunflower or canola oil (if you don’t like the taste or smell of sunflower oil).
Put a thick-walled iron pan on mid-flame, add oil. Make sure it is not too hot by the time you need to use it (no “smoking”!). Shred vegetables on large-hole side of vegetable shredder, in following order:
a) beets. add to the pan, saute (no lid!) until their juice is half-evaporated, transfer to the simmering stock in the pot.
b) dice onions, put in the hot oil in the pan. while they are getting translucent, shred
c) carrots. add to the pan with onions. when both are golden and a bit crunchy, transfer them, too, into the pot with stock and beets. Your task is to time yourself so the beets in the pot are still bright burgundy-red, not dull boiled-brownish color.
Leave the “color” vegetables simmer while you cut peeled potatoes into small cubes and transfer to pot, then it’s turn of the thinly-shredded cabbage. On the photo I changed the steps a bit – put cabbage and potatoes into the pot while carrots were still on the pan, because carrots were newly grown, but cabbage and potatoes – winter leftovers; they need a bit more time in the pot. Until you gain some experience to judge cooking times, try to use all veggies of same harvest “age”.
The previous stage takes about 1/2hr. By now you have all your vegetables in the pot and simmering under lid.
Take another pan (or quickly wash the 1st), put on a low flame, thinly slice second onion and fry on heated oil. When translucent, add cubed tomatoes and bit of salt and 1/2 tsp. sugar, ground pepper, bay leaves. Reduce until 1/2 of sauce left in the pan, add tomato paste, mix well and bring to a slow boil. Takes approx. 12-15min.
Add sliced bell pepper to borsch, leave to simmer for ~ 5min, transfer tomato sauce from the pan and bring soup to a slow boil (another 5-7min).
Apportion bowls with teaspoon of sour cream, pinch of chopped dill and 1/3 of smashed garlic clove. Add pieces of cooked meat (remember, you put it aside?) , give marrow bone to the gourmand in your family who loves to eat marrow on a first slice of dark rye bread – and ladle your hot, red, aromatic borsch to the bowls.