Scott and I recently became acquainted with a wonderful young Russian couple, Evgeny and Anastasia. Evgeny, being a civil engineer back in Russia, has been advising us on our plans for a wood burning oven. Last Saturday morning, Anastasia came over to teach me how to make borscht. When she gave me the grocery list earlier in the week, I was confused. Being Lithuanian, I ate my share of borscht as a child. My grandmother made it fairly regularly along with pirogues and potato kugele (yes, I come by these hips naturally). Beef, potatoes and tomato paste were on her list along with other things I didn't remember in my childhood borscht. When I questioned her, Anastasia told me that there is ANOTHER soup in Russia simply known as Beet Soup that is what I was describing. Maybe that will be a different cooking lesson!
This soup is the perfect vehicle for all the wonderful vegetables available in the winter...beets, carrots, cabbage, onions, potatoes. On the grocery list it simply said Beef, so I thawed some of our grass fed ground beef. When Anastasia saw it she asked if I had a chunk of beef..."maybe with a bone?". The closest I had thawed was a chunk of buffalo without a bone. She said that would do. A week earlier when waxing poetic about Anastasia's terrific borscht, Evgeny said that it could be made with any meat, but beef was the best. Anastasia seconded this opinion and said that in "cheap" restaurants in Russia they make it with chicken, but that they might as well leave the meat out, it was so terrible. So buffalo it was. We started off by browning the buffalo meat in a bit of olive oil in a large soup pot. We then added a gallon of water and simmered the buffalo while we prepped the veggies. The beets were peeled and cut in large matchsticks, the carrots sliced in rounds and the onions diced. These were all sauteed in olive oil in a skillet. Look at those beautiful beet greens! Anastasia said they sometimes add the greens to the soup, but these went back in the fridge to be sauteed with garlic and added to white beans later in the week.
Anastasia added a few Tablespoons apple cider vinegar to the beets, carrots and onions. The kitchen filled with an incredible smell. I almost abandoned the idea of soup at this point just so I could have a bowl of these veggies! Garlic cloves were diced and added to the beet/carrot/onion mixture and it was kept over medium heat until just tender. Anastasia then diced the cabbage and added it to the beef pot.
I fished the beef chunks out of the pot and cut them in smaller, more manageable pieces then sent them back to the soup pot. At this point we realized the soup pot was a bit too small! We made ALOT of soup! After mixing in a can of tomato paste to the soup pot, the beet mixture was added.
We cut the potatoes in large chunks, added them to the soup and upped the heat a bit until it was barely simmering. Anastasia sent me to the garden to gather some fresh oregano while she seasoned the soup liberally with salt, pepper, paprika and chipotle, which I'm sure isn't what they use in Russia, but I didn't have cayenne. As we talked and cleaned up the kitchen, the soup bubbled away on the stove. It wasn't long before the potatoes were tender.
I sliced some green onions and got some homemade yogurt out of the fridge. Sour cream is the traditional topping, but I always sub yogurt for it in recipes and it always works great. It was perfect for this soup.
Scott and I finished off the leftovers for lunch today and it was just as tasty as Saturday. I think I will be making this soup often this winter and into the spring. Here is the recipe:
2 pounds beef (short ribs would be excellent here)
3 Tablespoons olive oil
4 large beets, peeled and diced
5 medium carrots, peeled and sliced in rounds
1 large or 2 medium onions, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic
1/2 pound of cabbage, diced (more if desired)
1 pound potatoes (about 4 small), peeled and cut in large dice
1-12 ounce can tomato paste
2-3 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1-5 inch sprig fresh oregano, leaves chopped (or 2 teaspoon dried)
2-3 Tablespoons kosher salt (if using regular salt, use less)
2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4-1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder or ground cayenne
2 teaspoon good paprika
Plain yogurt or sour cream (for topping)
2 green onions, green part sliced (for topping)
In large soup pot, brown beef in 1 Tablespoon olive oil over medium high heat until browned on all sides. Add 1 gallon water and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, add 2 Tablespoons olive oil to a large skillet and saute beets, carrots and onions until barely tender. Add vinegar and garlic and saute 5 minutes more. Add tomato paste and cabbage to beef and stir well to mix. Add beet/carrot/onion mixture to beef and cabbage and stir to mix. Add potatoes and let soup simmer for 15 minutes. Add oregano, salt, pepper, basil, paprika and chipotle or cayenne and stir to mix. Let soup simmer an additional 10 minutes. Taste soup and adjust seasonings as needed. Taste a piece of potato to check for doneness. Top with plain yogurt or sour cream and chopped green onions.