Friday, January 7, 2011

Welcoming Warmth


I have the bad habit of mentioning foods and recipes as if they were common knowledge, never elaborating on them. Perhaps they are common knowledge, but then again they might not be. If any one of you has been left hanging, I do apologise, but you really should call me on it. I've alluded to borscht nearly every time I wrote about beets, but I have yet to post a recipe. I don't know if you really need another soup/ beet/ borscht recipe, as they are quite plentiful when one goes looking for them, but an extra recipe never killed anyone. Furthermore, if you live in Northern climes, you can neither have too many beet  nor soup recipes to carry you through the long winter.


Borscht is a typically Eastern European soup, made with beets and served with sour cream. Wherein ends any commonality: there are as many recipes for borscht as there are Eastern European grandmothers; some are thick and soupy; others, thin and watery; it's sometimes smooth and creamy, or chunky with chewy bits. Russian borscht is made with a flavourful beef stock, and slivers of meat floating in the soup are greatly appreciated. Polish borscht is always vegetarian, and typically served on Christmas Eve. Naturally, my preference is for the Polish version...


Beetroot is one of my favourite vegetables. It is available year-round in all its incarnations, from baby minis in early summer to leafy roots later in the season, and the reliable keeper the rest of the year. Its colour, so beautiful and gay, can only cheer one up on the greyest of days. Although I find their flavour rather mild and pleasing, beets have the bewildering ability to mask other vegetal notes: I often blend a whole bunch of chard in my borscht, but am always hard pressed to distinguish its hateful taste (I try, and try, and try, but I still cannot like chard... I will eat it, but I doubt I will ever pine for it.) Which makes borscht the ideal soup to make when you are saddled with a fridge-full of left-overs and no clue as to what to make of them.


Beets are so vibrantly beautiful, I really cannot understand people who do not like them. What's not to love? They're magenta; they turn everything they touch a violent shade of pink; they're sweet enough that most kids will gobble them up, but not so much as to be cloying; they're as delightful raw as they are cooked;  and they are ridiculously inexpensive! Really. I try to buy all my root vegetables from the market, directly from the farmer, because otherwise I'd feel too guilty forking over piddling amounts of cash for a ten-pound stash of roots. They're that cheap!


So on to the recipe. Like most soup recipes, the following is merely a guideline. The recipe has been reduced to its simplest form, you can add or subtract any ingredients (except for the beets! Though you can use any colour you like), and play around with the spices. The quantities are purely subjective, and depend completely on what you happen to have on hand or find at the market/grocery.  Even the process of making the soup rests with your own mood or instincts: you can go for classic rusticity, and grate all the ingredients -your borscht will be a heady broth with tender morsels of yummy goodness; you can rough chop everything, and blend the soup smooth - the result will be manna from heaven, and you will be able to serve it up fancy, or go  all tv-dinner, and sip it from a cup. Or you can go for the middle-ground, and make a rural-chic borscht by cutting all your vegetables into perfect cubes -the finale will look rustic, yet will show off how handy you are with a knife. Personally, I like to blend my soups -though I often leave a few chunky bits- because I'm a sucker for curling up with a good book and a 'cuppa'. However, when I lived in Japan, there were rumours going around that chewing your food was good for the brain; and recently, studies have shown that taking the time to chew and to savour your food is very good for the waistline. So it's all up to you. I provide you with the recipe, and you have free reign to do whatever you wish with it.


Borscht
This bare-bones recipe yields enough to generously feed 4. Your final result will depend on how many left-overs you add to the recipe!

3 medium-sized beets, any colour (about 1 kg/ 2lbs)
2 medium onion
1 large carrot
3 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1 tsp cumin, caraway or coriander seeds
1 tsp dried thyme
Vegetable oil and/or butter
Water or stock (vegetable, beef, or chicken)
salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream and chopped green onions for garnish

Peel and process the vegetables as you like. Set aside.
In a large soup pot, heat the oil and butter over medium high heat. Add the onions and garlic.
Sauté until the onions begin to go translucent, add the beets, carrots, and spices.
Season with a generous pinch of salt.
Cook until all the vegetables are almost tender. (If you have left-over veggies to pass, add them now.)
Add enough liquid to cover the vegetables by about 5cm/ 2". Bring up to the boil.
Reduce heat so that the soup will simmer. Leave to cook for at least 10 minutes, or until all the vegetables are fork tender.
Check the seasoning: add more salt, if needed, and pepper.
Blend the soup at this point, if you like.


Borscht is traditionally served with a dollop of sour cream, but you can substitute with crème fraîche (also known as crème épaisse, or cultured thick cream); plain yoghurt (or go really lush, and use Greek yoghurt!); or even drizzle regular cream over the soup. Served with lots of crusty bread, this soup makes a satisfying meal. You can even add thin slivers of left-over roast, like the Russians are prone to do. I promise, no one will rise from the dinner table feeling hungry!



Bon app'!



En français



2 comments:

  1. <3 Beetroots and <3 borscht! This looks like a great recipe and I look forward to trying it when it gets cold here again. :D

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  2. Jess! Borscht is lovely chilled in the summer, too! It needn't be strictly for winter. If you have access to new summer beets, you can make a beautiful borscht, and use the leaf (chard actually) as a garnish.
    I hope you are nowhere near the floods in Oz... What a tragedy, all that soil washed away.

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