Until recently, the borscht recipes I’ve found in American cookbooks have been forgettable, one-dimensional soups. But the couple of times I have been fortunate enough to have borscht made by someone’s Russian grandmother it has been an entirely different experience–delicious and hearty. For a long time I was stumped on how to re-create the memorable Russian borscht I’d had because main ingredient, beets, turns everything magenta and its just hard to see what else is in there.
Enter my weakness for old cookbooks. I was browsing through a 1961 New York Times cookbook by Craig Claiborne when I found a couple borscht recipes–one Ukranian and one Russian. They were similar and accompanied by the note “the only ingredient that is constant in borscht is beets”.
Here is my recipe, adapted from the New York Times cookbook. You could easily remove the meat for a satisfying vegetarian dish. One more note about this stew, more than any other dish I’ve had, this one is better the next day. Its good the day its made but memorable the next.
Borscht Serves 6-8.
In a pot combine the following and start them simmering while you prepare the rest of the ingredients:
1/2 lb. beef, cut into small pieces
1 qt. stock of any kind
1 1/2 c. cooked beans
2 bay leaves
Chop up and start cooking over medium heat in a large pan:
1 large onion
1 fennel bulb, cored (optional)
While the onion and fennel are cooking, use a box grater or food processor with the shredder attachment to shred the following:
2 c. beets
1 c. carrots
1 1/4 c. turnips
Add these to the onions and fennel, along with:
1 1/4 c. cabbage, thinly sliced
1 1/2 T. tomato paste
Saute the vegetables, stirring occasionally, until aromatic. Add the vegetables to the beef, along with:
1/4 c. cider vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
Simmer until the beef is tender, 1 – 1 1/2 hours.
Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with fresh dill and sour cream if you have it.