Saturday, June 1, 2013

Privyet! Bonjour!

That's hello, in Russian and French. Yesterday's lunch reminded me of something I learned in a history class many years ago, that is, how Tsar Peter the Great became enamored of French culture, which led him to institute sweeping cultural changes that upset many Russians, like the traditionalists who refused to cut their beards when the Tsar ordered it and so had to pay large fines or taxes.
      Our lunch was both French and Russian, simple and delicious, and I doubt if it would have upset anyone. It was also my first try at borscht, something I've eaten and loved in restaurants but never quite got around to making myself. The recipe I used is from the Russian Cooking volume of the old Time-Life Foods of the World collection of books, with just a couple of adaptations. I served it in big cappuccino mugs with the traditional dollop of sour cream.

Making the borscht was actually easier than I expected, though I broke the process into two stages. On the first day I made the stock, which included cooking the meat, and then a couple of days later I put the soup together.

For the stock:
1 1/2 pounds brisket or other boneless beef (I used a chuck roast)
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, thickly sliced
the leafy top few inches of a head of celery, thickly sliced
a handful of parsley, maybe 6 sprigs
1 bay leaf
salt to taste (I used about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
soup bones if you have them (I didn't)

Put everything in a big pot with 4 quarts of water, bring to a boil, skim off any scum and foam that may rise to the top. Partially cover the pot, reduce the heat, and simmer 1 to 1 1/2 hours till the beef is tender but not falling apart. Remove the meat and when it's cool enough cut into 1-inch cubes. Continue to simmer the stock a couple more hours, then strain it into a large bowl and discard the veggies and bones. You'll use 2 quarts of the stock for the borscht, and if you're not making it right away, put the meat into a container and pour enough stock in to cover the meat and refrigerate, along with the rest of the stock. If you have extra stock, there are always uses for it: as the liquid in cooking rice or other grains, in another soup, etc.

For the actual borscht:
1 T. butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds beets, peeled and julienned (I peeled them over the sink to avoid mess and stains)
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 quarts beef stock
1/2 pound white cabbage, quartered, cored, and coarsely shredded
1 1/2 pounds boiled beef from stock, cut into 1" cubes
4 sprigs of parsley
1 bay leaf
Sour cream

In a 6- to 8-quart pot, melt the butter over moderate heat. Add the onions and, stirring frequently, cook 3 to 5 minutes, till they are soft but not brown. Stir in the beets, then add the wine vinegar, sugar, tomatoes, 1 tsp salt, a few grindings of black pepper, and a couple of cups of stock. Cover the pan and simmer 50 minutes.
    Pour in the remaining stock and the cabbage, bay leaf, and parsley. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for another 45 minutes to an hour. Remove the parsley and bay leaf and serve accompanied by sour cream to be added at the diner's discretion.

There are various kinds of borscht. This is Borshch Moskovskii, i.e., Moscow style, but the cookbook also includes Borshch Ukraïnski, Ukrainian style, which is more complicated in terms of ingredients, as it includes potatoes, celery root, parsley root, and a parsnip. (If you like parsnips, check out my recipe for parsnip soup; it's easy and delicious! There's cold borscht as well, which I'm sure will be wonderful in summer; I'm looking forward to trying it too.  And be sure to use the beet greens for another meal! They're tasty and so good for us.

The French part of lunch was much, much simpler. I'd seen pictures of the French way of serving radishes, thinly sliced and arranged on slices of good bread and butter - that image is why I always plant the D'Avignon or French breakfast radishes in my garden, though again, I'd never gotten around to actually trying it. But I had these gorgeous, big, but not too spicy-hot radishes from the farmer's market, too pretty, really, to just get lost in a salad,
and a nice crusty baguette that I sliced on the diagonal to get wider slices, and this is what accompanied the soup:
What looks like pepper on a couple of the slices is actually Hawaiian black salt; it really does have a taste all its own.
        Even if you don't have the time or inclination to tackle the borscht (though it spends most of its time simmering unattended and isn't really all that labor-intensive), do consider this simple little radish-and-bread-and-butter accompaniment to a meal. It's a lovely, fresh-tasting, crunchy combination.


  1. Funny, I just read a recipe similar to that a couple of days ago. Only they sprinkled feta cheese over it. Think it was a Greek recipe.

  2. I meant the radish recipe!

  3. Vicki, it sounds wonderful. and an interesting combination of foods. The borscht that our family (going back about 3 generations) is used to is the cold kind, and I've never had it with meat in it. (That's probably because in kosher home, borscht can be used with either milk Or meat meals)

    Hugs, Fran :)

    1. Fran, I would love to try your cold, non-meat borscht. I've decided that's the next kind I want to make - sounds wonderful for summer! - so I'm looking for a tried and true recipe, if you want to share :-)

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