One of the many joys of the Russian winter . . . time to bring out the BORSCHT!

I'd never eaten borscht before. Never thought about it. Wasn't even sure what it was.

Had a dim image of Ukranian Cossacks, drunk with vodka, wolfing it down without utensils, beet juice running down their beards like blood.

Then a co-worker gave me a recipe, just as I happened to be flush with beets. I have been getting a bunch a week from my CSA, and they've been piling up in my refrigerator. How many? Put it this way: if beets were the national currency, I'd be in the top 2 percent, complaining about beet tax.

So I checked out this recipe, and thought, I can make this. I bought some vodka and a woolly hat, put on the "Song of the Volga Boatmen," and went to work.

Borscht originates in Russia and has many northern European versions. According to this recipe's author, Bernard Clayton, the name comes from an old Russian word for a type of parsnip.

Variations may include cabbage, potatoes, meat or vegetarian, but almost always include beets. Some versions are served cold, I suppose for those balmy tundra summers.

Flavorings include garlic, vinegar, and often a swirl of sour cream. Clayton's version, below, is a hot and hearty beef stew with beets and other root vegetables.

I was pretty true to the recipe, although I really didn't get all the different random vegetable shapes - cube, julienne, and shreds. It sure is "krasívyj" (beautiful) but I'm sure you can just cut them all into uniform squares if you want, just like Heinz and Campbell.

Borscht

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter

1 pound lean stew beef, in 1/2 inch cubes

3 stalks of celery, trimmed and cut lengthwise into julienne strips about 1 1/2 ins. long

1/2 cup coarsely shredded carrots

1 turnip diced

1 large onion (sweet) peeled and finely chopped

1 pound fresh beets cut julienne, about 5 cups

2 cloves garlic minced

6 cups beef stock

1/3 cup tomato paste

1 tablespoon white vinegar

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Crème fraiche or sour cream for garnish

Preparation:

Wash beets and leaves well. Break off leaves; separate them from ribs. Cut leaves into fine strips and chop the stalks and ribs finely.

Peel beets and cut into julienne strips. Wash and cut other ingredients as noted. I did not use the stems and reserved the chopped leaves for garnish.

Sauté

Drop the butter into a medium saucepan or soup pot and heat to bubbling. Add the meat and cook over medium heat for a few minutes or until all the redness is gone and meat is somewhat tender.

Set aside the meat and re-add it during the boil/simmer step.

Smother

Add the celery, carrots, turnips, onions, beets, and garlic.

Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes or until the vegetables are started and sweating.

Add a little broth to keep the bottom of the pot from burning.

Boil/Simmer

Pour in the beef stock and add tomato paste, vinegar, and beef, plus the leaves and stalks if you choose to use them.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until veggies are fork tender, especially the beets, about 30 minutes over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally. I kept the pot covered for this and cooked it for 1 hour over low heat.

Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Final Step

Ladle soup into bowls, top with a dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream, and garnish with finely chopped beet leaves. Enjoy with hearty bread and butter.

Note this can easily be made vegetarian by adding cabbage and/or potatoes, using vegetable broth, and omitting the beef.

Thanks and a tip of the woolly Cossack cap to Carrie and Czar Nicholas for the recipe!

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker, P.C., a litigation firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment litigation.

He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine.

He can be reached at: nroumel@nachtlaw.com

Published: Thu, Oct 27, 2011

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