Last September I was privileged and travelled to Russia for a 5 week stint that changed my views and perspective over her people food and culture.
In his own words,Winston Churchill described Russia as a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”.How correct was this!.First is the size of the country,It’s huge.Spanning 2 continents sharing her boarders with up to 14 countries,Russia is the largest country in the world,a small continent on its own.
With its shear size one can only imagine the diversity locked up and hidden between the boarders of this beautiful country.It was to me a melting pot of culture and diversity,same applies to its foods as it’s basically a collection of traditions and cuisines from all over Europe and some parts of Asia.
Traditional Russian foods are a reflection of the harsh climate the country endures and what’s available and in season.
I had an opportunity to have both traditional Russian foods that basically used to be peasant foods and Russian soviet foods that have influence from all over the world,I preferred the latter but one thing that stood out was their love for soups and bread.Rye bread to be specific.
The harsh Russian winter has had a major influence in most of its cuisine and their obsession with soup.I had over 7 varieties of soups,clear soups,hearty soups,hot soups or cold soups I had it all.But one stood out.Red Borscht.
I already had an obsession with Borscht even before I travelled to Russia and it’s while in Russia,Sochi to be precise i had my Borscht virginity broken and I have never looked back.
There is something about this soup that makes you want to have bowl after bowl until you feel sick and can’t have no more.Then yo go for one last one,yeah it’s that good.
This is made from fresh simple ingredients and thus tastes clean an is healthy for you.Borsch is sweet with a peculiar sour that hits all the flavor notes and that’s what makes it addictive.Beets are the hero in this soup and are mainly responsible for the red color of the dish.
Now hold on before you write-off this entire dish because of,we know..Beets.I also was never a fan of beets let alone cooked ones,but after trying out this soup your mind will be changed forever.
Beef borscht is an easy recipe to whip up,it might not be necessarily quick but like all other soups preparation is all you going to do as you let the soup cook itself on the stove.
Borscht actually was originally from Ukraine but found it’s way into many Russian households as a staple.
These is my version of this classic Russian soup with a few additions and tweaks and I promise you,this will be the best Borscht you will ever have.
Like every soup out there the foundation has always been good flavorsome stock.I started with a kilogram of beef on bone for my stock.the beef is going to be used in preparing the stock and then chopped up into the soup at a later stage.
Also going into our stock will be fresh aromatics and spices.Garlic,black peppercorns,Chilli flakes,bay leaves and coriander stalks.
While it’s not the same in the classic recipe,I started off by searing my meat.This will give the stock more depth and flavor as opposed to just boiling the beef in its raw redness.
The tomatoes are chopped up and everything including the beef is thrown into the stock pot.
I also added a tablespoon of tomato paste for extra richness,depth and color.
Traditional Borscht is not spicy at all and the flakes are totally optional.
Fill your stock pot with water and bring to a boil.Let this summer for 45 minutes to an hour until all the ingredients have cooked into the stock and the beef is fall off the bone tender.
As the stock is covered up and simmering,get going on your veggies.This is the right time to peel and chop up your potatoes.
The humble potato I must say is Superman almighty in Russian cuisine and you can hardly name a Russian food without the potato,even the infamous Russian Vodka has some potato in it!well some of them.
Traditionally only the white cabbage is used but I included red cabbage just because well,I can and it was superb.
Grate your beets and carrots and set them aside.
The potato is cubed into bite size chunks that can cook up quickly without breaking into the soup and thus thickening it into a porridge.
You can grate or chop your cabbage by hand.I went with the hand as it offers a variety of texture and crunch and I don’t want my cabbage disappearing into the soup.
When the beef is done take it out of the pot de bone it and chop them up into bite size pieces.
Also sieve the stock to remove any solids from the stock making process you should be left with a rich flavorful beef stock.
On a separate pan sauté your carrots and beets in a tablespoon of olive oil seasoning well with salt and pepper.
Sauté for about 10 minutes until the beets and carrots soften up and are fragrant.Squeeze in juice of half a lemon as you cook the beets,this will help in maintaining a red vibrant color and will also contribute to the sour notes we love from the soup.
Take back your stock onto the stove and bring to a boil.Season it with salt and throw in your potatoes and beef cubes.let the potatoes cook until just about fork tender.
Add in the sautéed beets and carrots into your beef and potato broth and cook for about 5-10 minutes.
Add in your shredded cabbages in last and cook until just about softened.I like mine crunchy so I went for 5 minutes as it will continue cooking even after the stove has been turned off in the soup.
Mix this well until everything is evenly combined in the soup.Have a final taste and season with salt and pepper.
Squeeze in juice of half a lemon and garnish with the coriander leaves.Give your soup a final stir and take it off the stove.
Serve hot with a dollop is sour cream or Greek yoghurt and enjoy warm hugs in a bowl.
The sour cream is optional but the soup just ain’t complete without the sour cream.
- 1kg beef in bone
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 whole garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon pepper flakes
- 4 tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 bunch coriander stalk
- 4 Beets
- 1/2 head white cabbage
- 1/2 head red cabbage
- 3 potatoes
- 4 carrots
- 1 lemon
- Sour cream
- Salt&pepper to taste
- Pan sear your beef in a pan until brown and sealed.
- Transfer the beef into a large stock pot deglaze the pan and pour in the juices.
- Add in the pepper corns,whole garlic,bay leaf,pepper flakes,tomatoes,tomato paste and coriander stalks.Fill it up with water and bring to a quick boil.let it simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour.
- Peel and cube the potatoes.Grate the carrots and beets while shredding the cabbage.
- After stock is done,take the meat out and chop it into bite size bits discarding of the bones.Strain the stock off all the solid grits.
- Bring the stock back to a boil and throw in the potatoes and chopped beef.Cook the potatoes until fork tender around 8-10 minutes.
- In a separate pan sauté the beets and carrots in a tablespoon of olive oil until tender and fragrant,around 10 minutes.Squeeze in half a lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
- Transfer the beets and carrots sauté into the stock when the potatoes are cooked.cook for about 6-7 minutes and when it’s back to a boil throw in the cabbages and cook for a further 5 minutes or until desired texture is achieved.
- Squeeze in half a lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.Garnish with the coriander leaves and serve hot with a dollop is sour cream.
And there your have a piece of mother Russia in a bowl.