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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Borscht. Not as thought.

As some of you may know, I'm smack dab in the middle of Finals week. I just finished my Garde Manger practical final and written exam, and now it is onto my Classical European cuisine class, where I have drawn "Eastern European" as my Final. So what does this mean for your Wannabe Gourmande? It means that on Wednesday I must prepare:

  1. A pot of Borscht
  2. Beef Stroganoff
  3. Spaetzle
  4. A mystery vegetable, which I will only find the identity of the day of the exam, prepared in an Eastern European fashion of cooking

How fun for me, right? And it's fun for you, because you get to learn while I'm learning. Also I figured out that the best way for me to study is to write and re-write it down. But what's the point of writing if nobody else is going to read it?

According to Wikipedia.com, Borscht is defined as a soup of Ukranian origin, that is made of beets as its main ingredient. According to UrbanDictionary.com...well, let's not go there. The point is that borscht is kind of this iconic dish that we think of when we hear "Russian cuisine" that we have little to know real knowledge about. It has just always been the first thing I think of when I think of what Russians eat... That, or wolf milk. (I have no idea if Russians drink wolf milk. It just seems funny enough to be true.)

I remember the first time I even heard the word 'borscht' was when I was, like, six or seven and watching that episode of "Rugrats" where Chucky got sprayed by a skunk and the only thing that worked was bathing in Borscht. Gross, but effective, apparently.

Never thought Russian food could be tasty, did you, you anti-Marxist jerk?
Borscht can be served hot or cold. The hot variety is the kind that we prepared in class last week(pictured here). It is almost always made of beet broth(beets boiled in chicken stock, in our case) and had a bunch of starchy veggies like potatoes. Traditionally it's garnished with sour cream, which is kind of weird to me, but whatever.

The cold variety is, apparently, a big staple in many culinary traditions, including Ukranian, Latvian, Polish and Lithuanian cuisines. (I have to say that this doesn't phase me much, considering I don't even know where Lithuania is.)

The preparation for the cold stuff involves mostly young beets being cooked together with their leaves(when available) and, when cooled, they are stirred up with sour cream, yogurt, or soured milk, depending on the region. A garnish happens with more sour cream and some dill, and some more raw, chopped veggies like cucumbers are added, along with some chopped, hard-boiled egg. So kind of like an Eastern European gazpacho, in a way? Only instead of being emulsified with olive oil, you use dairy. And there's no bread. Kinda.

What was I talking about again?

Anyway, Borscht is awesome. I found lots of fun recipes via Bing.com(best search engine EVAR), and it just so happens that Epicurious.com has a great selection of recipes for this tasty dish. Here's the recipe for the Borscht we prepared in class:

  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 oz bacon, 1/4" dice
  • 4 oz onion, diced
  • 1 crushed, minced garlic clove
  • 1/2 cup celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup carrots, diced
  • 2 cups beets, peeled and diced
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes, canned
  • 4 cups chicken or beef stock
  • 1 cup green cabbage, shredded
  • 1/2 cup potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 sprigs parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Sour cream and Dill for garnish
  1. Melt butter over medium heat and render the bacon; do not brown.
  2. Add the onions and cook 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes until both are translucent. Add the celery and carrots, and cook another 3 minutes.
  3. Stir in th ebeets, red wine vinegar, sugar, tomatoes, 1 tsp of salt and a dash of pepper. Add 1 cup of the stock and simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes.
  4. Add the remaining stock, cabbage and potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, submerge the parsley and bay leaf and simmer, partially covered, til the potatoes and cabbage are tender, but still retain their shape.
  5. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a touch of dill on top as a garnish.
Have fun with it. And serve with a Russian accent.


  1. my family background is 'Russian' - ala lithuania and hungary - but KOSHER. So, anything made by my family never mixed daily with meat and certain contained no bacon.

    where are those recipes?? oh for some of my mom's kishka, which casing took her 1/2 a day to prepare before stuffing!

    1. Hello, friend!

      This can be done just as well without bacon. If you do want a smoky flavor, however - here's what I suggest:

      Get a BIG iron pot with a lid and turn the heat on high. Toast juniper berries, allspice berries, and dried cherrywood until they are smoking hot. Add raw, unpeeled beets, and cover them with the lid. Cook in a 375 degree oven for 60 minutes. Turn off the heat and let sit in the oven for another 60 minutes. Peel the beets and do the recipe as usual without the bacon! I hope this helps!