Friday, August 7, 2009
Generally speaking, soups are a major staple in the Russian diet. They were inexpensive to make, full of nutrients and kept the people warm through the long, cold winters. Borscht...is to Russian culture as hamburgers and fries are to American culture. It's a dish that is so quintessential Russian that when I tell people I'm Russian, they say, "So did you eat a lot of Borscht when you were growing up?" and unfortunately my answer is, "No."
*Now technically I am not from Russia, I am from the republic of Moldova, a country next to Romania. And even more technically, my maternal grandparents were both born in Romania, so I guess that makes me half Romanian. But no one really has heard of Moldova and since they were once all part of the USSR, I just keep it simple and tell them that I am Russian.*
In fact, growing up I hated the stuff! Its bright purple color scared me and its ingredients were never my cup of tea. I hated beets and cabbage as a child and considering those are the 2 main ingredients, I was not going near it!
My fiance is Ukrainian. Now if there is one part of the former USSR that can make borscht it's the Ukrainians. My fiance's father makes the BEST borscht. When we first started dating,his parents were shocked that I never ate at their house. I was not a fan of anyone else's Russian cooking other than my mother's, so I did not eat anyone else's Russian cooking. Now please do not judge me, that is the one issue I struggled with my whole life! Sue me! Everyone has them!
One day his father made borscht and as usual, offered it to me. I scrunched up my nose and politely declined. My fiance looked at me and quietly said, "It's rude to never eat at my house! You are insulting my family!" After this guilt trip, how could I not try it, after all I was planning on becoming the perfect daughter in law; and perfect daughter in laws do not scrunch up their noses at perfectly good food.
So I asked for a small, teeny portion of borscht. In my fiance's family, that means enough to feed me for a week! I sat there, traumatized, looking at this steaming bowl of purple liquid. I started my usual ritual: I peered over it and smelled it, then I stared at it a bit more, envisioning how it would feel and taste in my mouth; until my fiance finally broke down and said, "Just eat it! Here put some sour cream in it and EAT IT! It's just borscht!"
"Ohhh" I thought, "Sour cream sounds like a good idea, it will dilute the flavor I'm sure!" I took a nice big spoonful and placed it in my mouth. I did not want to taste it, I just wanted to chew, swallow, breathe and repeat until the entire bowl was clean. But then...an amazing thing happened...something I never thought could have happened...I accidentally forgot to hold my breath while chewing and I tasted it! And OH MY GOSH...it was AMAZING! I started eating it so fast that both my fiance and his dad looked at me with wide open eyes. His dad turned to me and said, "Well, how did you like that?" To that my only response was, "Can I have some more?!?" Lesson learned: Do not be afraid to try things that you are unfamiliar with.
Now I can promise you that if you like beets you will LOVE this soup. It is very filling and satisfying. I luckily made this the week that I got sick with bronchitis and it truly was the one thing that I could keep down. It's very nutritious and with this recipe, very low fat.
Please do not be like me and have a closed mind about this dish. Most Americans who try a good homemade borscht beg for the recipe. So here it is ladies and gentleman, my fiance's father's borscht!
Real Ukrainian Borscht
3 Beef Shanks
1 Small Head of Cabbage, Shredded
2 Large Beets, Shredded
5 Carrots, Shredded
1 Large Onion, Shredded
3/4 Cup Tomato Puree
1 Lemon, Juiced
2 Tablespoons of Sugar
6 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
3 Large Potatoes, Peeled and Cut into Chunks
*I place the cabbage, beets, carrots and onions through my food processor with the shredder attachment. It makes this dish a LOT easier.*
1. Remove all the meet from the shanks and cut into large pieces.
2. Place meat into a large pot and cover with cold water 3/4 of the way up.
3. Bring the liquid to a simmer and skim the top to remove all the scum.
*Do not let this liquid boil. If it boils then the scum will break up and it will be very difficult to clean the soup.*
4. Once no more scum is coming out of the meat, add in the cabbage and potatoes. Let this cook over med-low heat for about 15 minutes, just giving it time to soften.
5. Add in all the other ingredients and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer on low for about 30-35 minutes or until proper flavor develops. The soup should be just a bit tart and a bit sweet.
6. Let the soup rest before serving with a nice dollop of sour cream. Typically, the soup tastes even better the next day!