Kitchen Sink Borsch
First and foremost, I hope you and your family are well and able to cope in these uncertain times of La Corona.
While on a recent “stocking up” grocery run, I picked up a nice plump red beet that was calling to me from the produce shelves. The beet is mostly what makes the borsch a borsch, as opposed to another kind of soup.
Because it may not be possible to obtain certain ingredients at the moment, I’m calling this version Kitchen Sink Borsch, as you could really put whatever you have into a big pot and boil it. This is much like the French pot au feu – a soup containing all the vegetable, meat and bone remnants from the week, stewed continuously during the week, so as to not waste a single ingredient or leftover: #nowaste !
A little side note: I concentrated on Russian Studies at my university and studied Russian in the US, Russia, German, and France, and lived in Kazakhstan for two years. But it wasn’t until I visited a friend in Ukraine while living in Moscow around 2012 that I learned from her lovely mother – a doctor treating and following Chernobyl victims – how to cook Ukrainian borsch. Notice I have not spelled it with a “t” at the end (not sure why this is usually done in English?), because the Cyrillic word borsch – борщ – ends with a kind of “w” looking letter with a tail, making the sound “shch,” as in “fresh cheese.” If a Russian-style soup has potato and cabbage, and no beet, my understanding is that it is usually called “schi.” – щи. (Both words in Russian end in this same letter, but in English, you would not want to put a “t” on the end of the cabbage soup name…!)
The ingredients below go into the traditional borsch, and I may have missed a few, but you will get the general idea. I used what we had in the refrigerator at this particular point in time. I used ground beef because that is what we had, but you can use steak or chuck “stew” beef. Chuck cuts from the front quarters of the animal require longer cooking times because they tend to be tougher. Why? From my butcher apprenticeship I learned that since herbivores spend their time bending down eating grass, much of their weight is on the forequarters, building stronger muscles in the front, while loin and steak come from more tender parts of the animal.) That is why stew meat is called stew meat – it needs more time to stew. Chopped small enough, though, you may be able to get away with a shorter cooking time. You can substitute some of the water with bone broth, especially if you do not have a marrow bone. Like butter, lard, tallow and duck fat, I try to keep a few marrow bones in my freezer for uses like this. People joke about how creative the Russians and Ukrainians are with using dill in a dish. I had none available, so I used fresh chopped green onion, but dill really makes your borsch the real deal.
2 tablespoons olive oil (or butter)
½ red onion, chopped
½ white onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1.5 to 2 pounds ground or chopped beef (80-85% lean, grassfed if possible)
¼ red cabbage, chopped
1 medium carrot, diced
1 large beet, diced
14.5 ounce (115 g) diced tomatoes
6 to 7 cups water (or combination of water and broth)
1 large bay leaf
6 small potatoes, chopped (about 1/2 pound)
1 beef marrow bone
Salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream (called Smetana in Russian), for garnish
Dill or parsley, and/or green onion, chopped, for garnish
Heat the olive oil or butter and salt in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat, add the salt, and sauté the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent. Add the meat and brown it, stirring frequently. Add the carrot and stir for a few more minutes. Then add the cabbage, beet, tomatoes, potatoes, marrow bone, bay leaf and water.
Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to medium. Cook until the potatoes are soft, at least 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with sour cream, dill, parsley, and/or green onion. To your health — Na zdorovie!