I came to make borscht in a rather roundabout way. I guess it started with a commercial for a plastic storage bag – and I don’t remember which one.
The lady put beets in the bag and then beat on them while she sang “Baby, bop the beets... Baby, bop the beats. Bashed borscht!!!” And then she held the bag upside down and gave it shake to show that the seal had held during the pummeling. It was your basic obnoxious commercial that one tends to remember above all others. As for example, the current motor oil commercial with the crazed Scots bellowing “that’s thinkin’ with your dipstick.... Jimmy...” as he gives people a painful whack with a.... dipstick...
Now, where was I. Oh yes.... I never took the next step and actually made borscht because it sort of sounded nasty to me and I am not that fond of the beetroot itself. After we started growing beets in the early days when we had a garden, we eventually discovered that the lowly beet is like the proverbial pig of country lore. Just about every part of the pig had some use, and very little was wasted. The saying went something like “they used everything but the oink....”
We found out that the beet greens are delicious cooked, the stems are delicious cooked -- rather like celery – and the beetroot? Well, I give the root a pass, but Richard likes cold cooked beet sliced in his salad, and there are various other ways it can be fixed that taste reasonably good.
And then about 10 years ago when we were out visiting my folks, one of our destinations was Acres of Books because I needed to replace Betty Crocker's Cookbook that I had been given as a wedding present. I had used the book to death; it had totally fallen apart. Dad and mom went with us because they wanted to take us out to lunch.
After we came out of the bookstore, we talked about where we were going to eat and then we noticed on the corner a small Russian deli and cafe. None of us knew a thing about Russian cuisine, and so we decided to be adventurous. The menu had lots of interesting things, including different kinds of smoked and cured meats – in fact, we bought some smoked trout to bring home. And borscht was on the menu. I had never had borscht, and never really wanted borscht, even though “bashed borscht” was there in the memory bank, but decided, oh, what the heck, let’s have borscht. So we ordered it. The soup was wonderful. It had never occurred to me that the beet could be made to taste so good.
Turns out the cookbook I picked up at the bookstore had a recipe for borscht. So did my More-with-Less Mennonite cookbook., which is the one I use...
Assuming you have already cooked the beets...
Do whatever you need to do with meat bones to arrive at 6 cups of broth (beef, mutton, chicken). Take meat off the bones and chop. Let the broth cool and skim the fat off. Or you can use bouillon cubes.
1 large onion, chopped
1 qt cabbage, coarsely chopped
5 cups potatoes, diced
1 cup tomato sauce or 2 cups cooked tomatoes
2 springs parsley
Put in a bag or tea strainer:
3 springs dill
1 dried red pepper
1 bay leaf.
Drop the spices into the soup, simmer until vegetables are tender.
Add 2 medium beets (or more) that have been cooked and chopped. If you used bones to make the broth, add any meat and let it simmer a few minutes longer.
Serve it with sour cream if you want...
In the meantime, when beets are in season at the Farmer’s Market, I make borscht....
Lots of borscht....
And now, ten years later, my used new cookbook is also starting to fall apart
Only now, there is no more Acres of Books to visit to see if I can get yet another replacement.