Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Ukraine Borscht

     Borscht is a traditional Russian and Eastern European entrée that is made with winter cellar vegetables.  There are many different variations of borscht recipes.  Most borscht recipes feature any color of beets and cabbage.  Tomatoes or tomato paste is sometimes added.  Borscht can be made as a vegetarian entrée and it can also have meat or sausage added to the recipe.
     Borscht can be served like a stew or like a soup.  Vegetables can be coarsely chopped, shredded or pureed.  Borscht can be thin or thick.
     Sour cream is added to borscht as it cooks in some regions.  Sour cream will make the borscht look like a pink cream soup if red beets are in the recipe.  If  there is no sour cream in a borscht recipe, then sour cream is almost always served as an accompaniment.
     Potatoes are added to some recipes, but bread is usually served with borscht as a starch.  Some folks like to stir slices into the borscht at the table.
     When making borscht, many cooks assume that Russian cooking is always bland, so they only season the borscht with salt and pepper.  Russia is a big country with many cooking styles.  Cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, cumin, ginger or cloves are commonly used to flavor borscht.

     Today's borscht recipe needed a name, so it could be differentiated from other borscht recipes that I make.  I decided to call this a Ukraine Borscht, because I have seen photos of red borscht like this in Ukraine cooking journals.  Red beets and red cabbage give this borscht its deep red color.  Nearly any root cellar vegetables can be added, so my choice was celery root and turnip.  Pork broth also enriches the flavor.
     I once prepared today's borscht recipe at a country club for the annual meeting of American WWII prisoners that were held in Russia, till after the war was over.  Back in WWII, American pilots that were shot down chose to parachute inside Russia, rather than behind German lines.  It was far safer and cheaper for the Russians to hold the American flyers in soft prison camps till the war was over, rather than try smuggle the American pilots back across enemy lines.  The American POW's in Russia said they were treated pretty good and they became good friends with the Russians who held them till the war was over.
     When I cooked for the annual American ex POW's that were held in Russia, there were only seven of these veterans that were still alive.  One of the veterans who was interned as WWII Russian POW was President Gerald Ford's brother.  This made the WWII Russian POW meeting even more special.
    I figured that the American POW's had a sense of humor, so when the chef asked me what soup should be offered, I replied with one simple word.  "Borscht!"  The chef laughed while saying that he had never made borscht before, so he asked me to prepare it as a soup.
     I made today's Ukraine Borscht recipe for the Russian POW's, but I added the one ingredient that Americans away from home can only dream about, especially when stuck in a Russian internment camp.  Beef!  I used a light beef broth and added thin strips of beef to the Ukraine Borscht recipe.  The flavor of that borscht was tasty!
     I figured that since the first course of the banquet meal was soup, looking at the facial expressions of the ex POW's when a hot bowl of borscht was sat in front of them could be a funny sight to see.
     The POW's had a look of dread when they saw the Russian Borscht and the room was filled with silence.  Then they all started laughing!  Apparently the ex POW's had to eat borscht a few times a day, everyday, during the entire time they were being held as POW's in Russia.
     Once the ex POW's tasted the Beef Borscht, they all complimented the flavor!  One member of the group said "I wish the Russian cooks would have put beef in our borscht back when we were POW's.  This tastes much better than any borscht that we had back at the Russian prison camp!"  As far as borscht goes, that was a rather nice compliment!
     Ukraine Borscht:
     This recipe yields 2 hearty servings of borscht!   (About 4 1/2 cups.)
     This is a coarse rustic borscht version that is not pureed. 
     Step 1:  Heat a large sauce pot over medium heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.
     Add 2 cloves of minced garlic.
     Add 1 teaspoon of ginger paste.
     Add 1 chopped shallot.
     Briefly sauté for a few seconds, till the garlic and ginger becomes aromatic.
     Step 2:  Add 1/3 cup of julienne sliced carrot.
     Add 1/3 cup of julienne sliced turnip.
     Add 1 cup of thin golden beet strips.
     Add 1/3 cup of thin celery root strips.
     Add 1 1/3 cups of thin red beet strips.
     Add 2 cups of thin sliced red cabbage.
     Add 4 ounces of a peeled russet potato that is cut into 1/4" thick strips.
     Step 3:  Sauté and stir the vegetables till they just start to cook.
     Step 4:  Add 1/2 tablespoon of tomato paste.
     Stir the vegetables, till the tomato paste starts to caramelize.
     Step 5:  Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of cider vinegar.
     Add 1 tablespoon of sugar.
     Add enough light pork broth, so the vegetables are covered with 1" of broth.  (about 3 to 4 cups)
     Step 6:  Add 1 pinch of cinnamon.
     Add 1 pinch of allspice.
     Add 2 spice cloves.
     Add 1 pinch of marjoram.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of Hungarian Paprika.
     Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
     Stir the borscht.
     Step 7:  Raise the temperature to high heat.
     Bring the borscht to a boil.
     Step 8:  Reduce the temperature to medium low heat.
     Gently simmer the borscht, till the vegetables are tender, but not mushy.  Allow the broth to reduce till it barely covers the vegetables.
     *Do not stir the vegetables as the borscht simmers or the vegetables will break apart!
     Keep the borscht warm over very low heat.
     Ladle the borscht into a large soup bowl.
     Garnish the borscht with parsley sprigs.
     Garnish with a few thick slices of bread.
     Serve with a small bowl of sour cream on the side.
     A healthy bowl of Ukraine Borscht is appealing when the weather gets cold.  As everybody knows, the winter is cold in the Ukraine ... very cold!

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