When I was in Russia I ate a LOT of soup - every evening my landlady would serve up a meal of soup, main dish, salad, dessert and homemade fruit juice (often with pieces of fruit at the bottom). Can I just say now that I have never eaten that much in one sitting in my life and it took me about a month to get used to filling my stomach with that much food! So every day I had soup - chicken soup, vegetable soup, cabbage soup and the all famous borscht.
I have no idea where the t at the end of the word comes from because it certainly doesn't exist in the Russian word - I guess it just helps us say it more accurately. I remember one of my teachers telling me that although borscht is known as the traditional dish of Russia, it actually originated elsewhere in the Eastern European countries and Russia's national soup is actually Shi or cabbage soup (equally as delicious I might add!)
I've been meaning to have a go at cooking some borscht ever since returning from Russia 3 years ago but only got around to it quite recently when my parents brought us some beetroot they had grown in their garden. We searched out a recipe for it and decided to make a few variations to suit our needs and then away we went. We were originally going to have it as a chunky soup but when we became too hungry to wait for it to fully cook we blended it up to make it cook quicker (blushes). We then adding the obligatory dollop of sour cream and sprigs of dill and ate it all up - yum.
On a side note - dill reminds me so much of Russia. It felt like the only herb my landlay ever used - and I don't mean in small quantities either... I remember eating a sandwich made of bread, ham and a whole branch of dill. I kid you not! Just the smell of the herb transports me back there.
Anyway without further ado here is our Borscht recipe, a variation on the recipe found in Best-Ever Cook's Collection - Vegetarian by Roz Denny.
Serves 6 (or 3 if you have a very hungry boyfriend!)
1 onion, chopped
1 large or 2 small raw beetroot, peeled and chopped
1 large cooking apple, chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
115g/4oz mushrooms, chopped
1 tbsp butter
30ml/2 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
2 litres/3 1/2 pints/8 cups of stock
5ml/1 tsp cumin seeds
pinch dried thyme
1 large bay leaf
fresh lemon juice
salt and ground black pepper
few sprigs of fresh dill, to garnish
Alterations made to original recipe:
- The recipe called for 1/2 red pepper but we chose to use the full one instead of wasting half
- It also suggested using 2 tbsp of butter but knowing how greasy borscht can be I chose to halve this quantity and it still turned out rather greasy so if you don't like greasy soup use less butter. Borshct is nt borscht without a bit of grease though so don't cut it out entirely unless you really have to.
- We used a combination of vegetable and chicken stocks - 2 1/2 pints of vegetable and 1 pint of chicken. You can keep it completely vegetarian if you like (we only cook vegetarian because we find it difficult to digest meat so we don't mind using chicken stock - organic of course!) The recipe suggest you can use water instead of stock but I think that would be far too bland to be considered real borscht.
- As stated above we chose to keep it almost completely meat-free. However true borscht often has offcuts of meat in it so please do feel free to add leftover scraps to the dish!
- The recipe suggests using 150ml/1/4 pint/2/3 cup of soured cream but I don't like to put quantities on it. We just bought a tub and added what we liked. I found a good heaped teaspoon was enough for me but T added at least 2 teaspoons to his own. It is all a matter of taste.
The cooking process
- Put the butter, oil and 45ml/3tbsp of stock into a large saucepan and add the chopped vegetables. Cover the pot and cook gently for about 15 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally
- Stir in the cumin seeds and cook for a minute before adding the remaining stock, dried thyme, lemon juice and seasoning.
- Bring to the boil, then cover the pan and turn down to a gentle simmer. Cook for about 30 minutes. If you want your soup to be chunky then you need to leave the soup to cook for several more minutes until all of the vegetables are tender. We didn't do this but I would guess it would take another 10 minutes.
- Strain the vegetables and reserve the liquid. Blend the vegetables with a blender until they are smooth and creamy.
- Return the vegetables to the pan, stir in the reserved stock and reheat.
- Check the seasoning and then serve the borscht. We served ours with hot toasted bread rolls that we had stuck under the grill before blending the vegetables.
- Swirl in the soured cream and garnish with a few sprigs of fresh dill.