What’s for Supper – Borscht

It has turned into quite a warm afternoon here in Cambridge and this Eastern European soup is more of a cold weather dish, really. The first time I tried Borscht was in a Russian restaurant  in Helsinki, back in the late 1980’s, on a bitterly cold evening in February. The snow covered scenery was more Russia than Scandinavia, and the food memory stands out as one of my top ten. Like most first comers to this beetroot and potato based soup, I expected it to be perhaps a tad bland, tasting mainly, I imagined, earthy. I was completely blown away by the rich, savoury, umami-redolent, deeply satisfying flavour. The contrast between the thick, rich, savoury and piping hot soup and a dollop of cool, soured Smetana and some chopped sweet pickled gherkins was sensational. I tend to use Crème Fraiche or sour cream, but you can of course exclude that bit entirely if you are Vegan. If you are a carnivore, then using beef stock for the soup helps to underpin the savoury richness, but given that all the ingredients are plant based, a good vegetable stock would be the most obvious choice.

The red pepper in my bowl is not a traditional ingredients in Borscht, but it’s the right colour, and its sweetness does the soup no harm. My tomatoes are on their last leg, so perfect for soup.

Peel, chop and/or slice the following 

1 onion

2 large potatoes 

A couple of celery stalks

3 garlic cloves,

4 beets

1/2 small red cabbage

A couple of tomatoes – mine shown here are about to reach the end of their shelf life so perfect for soup making.

A generous splash of one of my previously mentioned stove side favourites, Marsala wine

Good beef or vegetable stock

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve: Full fat Crème Fraiche, chopped sweet pickled gherkins

Heat a good lug of sunflower oil and a large knob of butter in a large saucepan.

Add all the prepared vegetables, a couple of good pinches of sea salt and a little black pepper. Sweat over a medium heat, while stirring occasionally. If you are a carnivore, using goose or duck fat instead of the oil and butter will add lovely depth.

The vegetables should be glossy from the cooking fat and should just have started to take on a little bit of colour: 5-10 minutes or so of cooking.

Add the Marsala and the stock.

Cover and leave to simmer for 25-30 minutes.

Some recipes for Borscht leave the soup as it is with the bits of vegetables but I much prefer blending it. Taste it, adjust the seasoning. I would expect to add a bit more salt and I might be tempted to add a little Balsamic vinegar or Pomegranate molasses – both utterly in-authentic but both do something very nice by introducing both acidity and sweetness at the same time.

To serve, pour very hot soup into bowls, add a good dollop of Crème Friache, and a little spoonful of chopped sweet pickled gherkins. I happened to have a stalk of rosemary in my fridge, but dill would be more in keeping with the origins of the soup.

Join me again tomorrow

As usual, no sooner have I finished one meal than I begin to think of the next. I have a very nice organic rump steak in my freezer. I could go classic French and make a Béarnaise sauce and serve the steak very rare, with a baked potato. Not your average Tuesday supper and the weather is meant to be warm, so maybe I will make steak Burritos instead. I have avocado that could do with using up so that’s probably what will be on the menu tomorrow…