Borscht, hailing from the Ukraine and widely served throughout Eastern Europe, is perfect for the dark days of winter. As with the stuffed cabbage that I made earlier in this series, I like the idea of cooking food from regions that experience winter the way we do. This was easy to make from local organic ingredients, which included beef responsibly raised on organic pastureland, carrots, beets and cabbage overwintered from our CSA harvest, tomato puree and parsley that I froze in the fall, and local onions and carrots. I added non-local but organic red wine vinegar.
This was the ultimate slow food. I started by making a great beef stock from roasted bones and back ribs on one weekend and the borscht on another weekend. For the stock, I browned the bones in the oven at 400 degrees for about an hour, turning them part way through and then cooked them in a pot of water with local carrots, onion, celery (I harvested it last fall and still had a few spindly stalks) and parsley stems. The mix never came to a boil and simmered for about 8 hours. After it cooled, I refrigerated it to let the fat coagulate on the surface. Removing the fat, I ended up with several quarts of clear and flavorful stock. By the way, the difference between stock and broth is that stock is made with bones and broth is made without.
I also roasted the beets in advance. Beets are sometimes cooked with the rest of the borscht ingredients, but I like adding them at the end so that they don’t overwhelm the color of everything else. I cooked the borscht very slowly because the meat was very lean, and I couldn’t count on the ingredients all being cooked within the same time. I like this technique, which I believe came from a recipe in the New York Times, because the beef is not browned first.
This is a one-pot meal. It can be garnished with sour cream and dill, but I rather liked the clear brothy version.
1 or 1¼ lb stew beef in ¾-inch cubes
2 c best quality beef stock, preferably homemade, for stew or 3 c for soup
I tsp salt (omit if using canned stock)
A few grinds of pepper
1 bay leaf
1 medium onion, diced (about ¾-1 c)
1-2 carrots, diced (about 1 c)
2 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and diced (about 1 – 1 ¼ c)
1 tbsp butter or oil
1 ½ c shredded green cabbage
¼ c chopped parsley
¾ c tomato puree (or sauce without seasonings other than garlic or onion)
¼ c red wine vinegar
4 medium beets, precooked, peeled, and diced
Optional: sour cream and dill or parsley
Place the beef cubes and stock in a saucepan and bring just to a boil, skimming the gray scum that floats to the surface. Turn the heat down and add the salt, pepper, bay leaf, onion, carrots and potatoes. Saute the cabbage and parsley in the butter or oil until lightly browned and add to the saucepan along with the tomato puree and vinegar. Return to a simmer over low heat and cook, partially covered, for about 1 hour. Do not let it boil. Add the beets to warm. Either serve immediately or refrigerate the borscht after it is cooled and remove any fat that has hardened on top before reheating. Garnish with additional parsley or dill and serve with sour cream, if desired.