Borscht (Beet Soup)
“Richard made borscht on the weekend. It looked like there was a massacre in the kitchen.”
That vivid — and accurate — description from a former newsroom colleague returns to me every year when I haul in a load of beets from the garden and settle into a day of chopping, roasting, simmering, stirring, pureeing and preserving.
Borscht is a soup of many variations, from how it is spelled (borsch, borsht, bortsch and borshch) to how it is made. It can be mostly beets or mostly cabbage. It might be thick and chunky, or thin and clear. Meat? Some do, some don’t. Beef, chicken or vegetable stock? Up to you.
Two things are constant: its sweet-tangy flavour — and the labour involved in making it.
On my best days, the kitchen ends up looking like the scene of a crime. On a borscht-making day, the kitchen is stained red, I am hot and flustered and I have a big knife in my hands. Kathy’s massacre analogy is a bit too close for comfort.
The best way to minimize the chaos is to minimize the number of borscht-making days per year. In other words, when I make it, I make a LOT. The cooking day is sheer hell but at the end of it, I have so many pretty jars of purple soup in the freezer to enjoy later.
It is a sweet, sweet thing when “later” arrives in March, on a day that is minus 16 degrees but feels like minus 29.
As for the kitchen castoff aspect of today’s recipe, I can’t rightly call a jar of borscht unearthed from the freezer a castoff. I prefer to call it a damn stroke of genius.
Anyone who would like to challenge me on its inclusion in this #100daysofcooking project, please feel free to let me know.
I’ll be the one over here, cleverly steering clear of a murderous rage.
Kitchen “Castoff” Used
A jar of borscht, made September 2016
This is how we did it
Just like the many spellings of borscht, this recipe has been sourced from so many places that I can’t identify them. I am just awfully pleased to have it all finally typed out in one place. When I make this, I usually double the recipe.
- 3 – 4 medium beets
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 stalk celery, diced
- 1 cup chopped cabbage
- 2 medium potatoes, diced
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- 2 tsp bay leaves
- 1 tsp caraway seeds
- 1 – 2 tbsp fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried)
- 6 – 8 cups stock (beef, chicken or vegetable)
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 4 tbsp apple cider or red wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp horseradish
- salt and pepper to taste
- Optional toppings: sour cream or plain (full-fat) yogurt, bacon crumbles
Heat oven to 375 degrees and roast the beets. You can put them in the oven whole (scrub the skins, prick with a fork and toss with olive oil) for about an hour, or you can peel and dice them first, toss with salt, pepper and olive oil and roast for about 35 – 40 minutes. If you roast them whole, you will need to remove the skins and dice them once they are cooked.
In a really big pot, heat about 1 tbsp butter or olive oil then saute onions, carrots and celery until tender. Add the garlic at the end, cook for about a minute more. Stir in thyme, bay leaves and caraway seeds.
To the pot, add the cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes and cooked beets. Pour in the stock and then stir in the tomato paste; it should cover all the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for at least 30 minutes. (I have, on occasion, turned off the stove after this then waited until later in the day to finish.)
When the soup is done, stir in the vinegar, lemon juice, horseradish, salt and pepper. I normally add a little, then taste and adjust. You can always add more.
The soup is quite chunky at this point. The potato will continue to break down and add some thickness, but I prefer to puree (in batches) about half to three-quarters of the soup. This gives it a good thick base with some bite-size chunks in it for texture.
I use mason jars and tupperware to portion the soup out into amounts appropriate for a single-person lunches or dinner for two. It freezes well.
When serving, top each bowl with a few crumbles of bacon, a spoonful of sour cream or plain, full-fat yogurt, and chopped fresh dill.
Curious about my “Kitchen Castoffs” concept? Here’s the explainer describing my 100-day project.
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