Recently I had a little get together to celebrate the fact that my body, mind and spirit have grown and lived on for 25 years!
It went a little something like this:
Thursday night until Saturday morning: food poisoning. We ate out at a place I will one day throw stones at: Five Guys Burgers. I didn’t even eat a burger because I don’t eat meat, but something fishy (gag) was going on there. Both Jay and I were fully out of commission, crawling to the toilets (thank the Lord we had two, because I hate throwing up in buckets), practically weeping with nausea, throwing up little sips of water, throwing up if we moved our lips an inch. It was terrible. So terrible in fact, I can’t find another moment in my 25 year history that compares. And I have eaten a lot of nasty things, including mushrooms, typhoid (aka poop) laced panipuri and falafel with friends (aka fat black flies).
So, on Sunday, I attempted to cook two huge pots of borscht, perogies and Russian black bread (dark rye bread spotted with caraway and fennel seeds.) I had help chopping from my mum and auntie, as the thought of tackling a pile of dirty beets and cabbage heads had me nearly nauseous. Again. I have a fear of beet roots, you know. The scraggly gray-white hairs, thick and clingy. They grab dirt and slime and hold the sludge in, until your fingers squish through the forest of roots during a dig at the grocery store. Gives me the shivers, and many times has turned my appreciation for the ruby heart of the beet, into sour disapproval.
But! You can do it! You can tackle beets and cook borscht. It is not an all day activity, and will not stink up your house (unless you have a bad, greasy recipe). If you’re not cooking for large numbers, borscht is really easy. In fact even if you are cooking for many people, it’s a great soup. It is the heartiest, reddest and oldest soup you can eat. Fun fact: summer resorts in upstate New York, through the 1920’s-1960’s were referred to as the Borscht Belt or Jewish Alps, due to the high number of Jewish families that inhabited the many cottages.
Here is my recipe for Vegetarian Borscht, inspired by Moosewood.
- 2 1/2 cups peeled, cubed beets
- 1 large white potato, cubed
- 2 small carrots, chopped
- 4 cups organic vegetable broth and 1 cup (or more) of water
- 1 1/2 cups chopped onion (white and red)
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 1 tsp caraway seeds
- 2-3 tbsp. butter
- 3-4 cups chopped white cabbage
- Cracked black pepper and salt
- 2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp. brown sugar
- 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns
- 1/2 tsp dried dill
- 1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
- Coarse salt and pepper to taste
Some of the vegetables are estimates. I just tossed things in. Some people are not comfortable doing that, so I made some things up.
2) Meanwhile, melt the butter and add chopped onions, caraway seeds, and salt. Toss in the celery about halfway through. Once the onions are soft and translucent, remove from heat and set aside in a bowl.
3) In the same pan, melt 2-3 tbsp. butter and add the chopped cabbage. Crack lots of black pepper and some salt over the cabbage. Stir until soft and buttery. At this point you may take on a whole new appreciation for cabbage.
4) Add cabbage to the beet and potato mixture. Add the onion mixture as well. Stir well.
5) In the pot, add the bay leaf, dried dill, cider vinegar, sugar and crushed tomatoes. Cook covered for 10 minutes. Add the fresh dill. Cook for another 10 minutes on low. You can stew and simmer borscht for quite some time. It won’t get overly soggy, but do keep an eye on it.
Season, taste, add some more lashings of fresh dill, and top with a dollop of full fat yogurt. Serve!
The reason I added sugar was because it cuts the bitterness of the bay leaf, caraway and some of the vegetables. I normally don’t like adding sugar to savory things, but in this case, borscht really needs it. You can substitute honey if you like, but not with agave or maple syrup.