Russian borscht. The bold red color, the rich taste, and the cornucopia of nutritious vegetable ingredients are rivaled by no other dish. The gorgeous red color comes from beet roots and it is traditionally served with a dallop of creme fraiche (or sour cream). Although it may look or sound intimidating, Russian borscht is one of the simplest soups to make. But I assure you – the final result will leave everyone impressed.
Traditionally, this was a frugal soup made by peasants in rural Russia — the idea was to include all the common vegetables into one pot and feed, sometimes literally, an army. It was alternatively made with a beef-based broth, presumably for special occasions or red meat was abundant. The recipe I am sharing with you today is the vegetarian version and the one I make quite regularly at home. It is one of the dishes that I grew up on and one that was prepared on a regular basis during my childhood by both of my grandmothers and my own mom. Despite an all-vegetable cast, it makes for a hearty soup that even my kids love (probably because of the color). The ingredient list includes the most popular root vegetables and vegetables used in Russian cooking: onions, carrots, potatoes, beets, and cabbage.
It is a well-accepted fact in the Russian culture that borscht tastes infinitely better on the second day after preparation. In fact, it is not uncommon in Russian homes to call up a friend and say “come over tomorrow, I made borscht today.” Some even argue that the best day to eat borscht is on the third day after preparation. With regard to the temperature, red borscht is usually served hot, but on a hot summer day, no Russian would bat an eyelash if it were presented in chilled form with a side of black rye bread (also known as Borodinsky bread). In traditional Russian culture, soup is always a first course and only intended to be the opening act to a multi-course meal. However, I like to keep things simple and make the borscht the star of a lunch or dinner and serve it with simple sides like bread and butter or multi-grain crackers, and optional fresh garlic and dill to sprinkle on top.
3 quarts of water (or broth of choice and use more than 3 quarts if you want a less dense soup)
3 large carrots, diced
3 medium sized beets, cubed
3 medium potatoes, cubed
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 of a medium head of cabbage, shredded
1 can tomatoes (6 ounces)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
peppercorns, bay leaf, salt (to taste)
creme fraiche (or sour cream) (to taste)
Step 1: In a large stock pot over medium heat, melt the butter and add the onion, carrots. Saute until they are slightly soft (about 5 minutes).
Step 2: Stir in the cabbage and beets and continue to saute, stirring and tossing occasionally (about 10-15 minutes).
Step 3: Stir in the potatoes, canned tomatoes, and garlic. Then add the water, herbs and seasoning. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cover and simmer until all the vegetables are perfectly soft (a good test: if the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork, then its time to turn the soup off).
Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche (or sour cream).
As they say at the Russian table, “Na Zdaroviye!” (It means, “to your health!”).