I have to say that when buying fresh beetroot, there are usually only two things that come to mind for me – firstly, the fantastic raw beetroot and horseradish salad from the best Polish restaurant in Rio de Janeiro, A Polonesa (OK, so there is only one Polish eaterie in the whole of Rio) and secondly, but no less mouth-watering, that hearty soup known as borscht.
Let’s hope that by posting this recipe for borscht, I don’t kick start a foodie flame war. Borscht is something I have been making on and off since well before the Berlin Wall came down and our Eastern European friends have turned it into a deep political debate about who invented it and what it should consist of. Even the spelling of borscht (anyone remember the London branches of Borscht ‘n’ Cheers in the 80s?) now seems to have changed to ‘borshch’. James Meek’s excellent Guardian article ‘The story of borshch‘ goes into much detail about the origins of this soup.
I noticed in the article that some of the original recipes Meek quotes use alternative ingredients. One of the things I won’t dispense with however is beetroot.
But I will dispense with potato this time. Why? Well, because I don’t have any at home, but I also like to cook with ingredients that I do have and for recipes to evolve over time. I’ve never cooked borscht without potato before, but sometimes the potato gives me bad acid when combined with onion.
So today I’m making it by substituting broad beans for potato starch. Authentic in some parts of Ukraine apparently, along with a sprig or two of tarragon. Normally I would bump up the flavour of my non-meat stock with a quite a few fresh bay leaves, but I have some tarragon lying around and that should combine nicely with a touch of white wine vinegar to bring out the sharpness needed in the soup.
So here is borscht for 2008…
Ingredients: (for vegetarians)
- 2 medium sized carrots
- 1 medium sized onion
- 3 or 4 medium sized beetroot (fresh is best but pre-cooked is OK, although if in vinegar leave out the vinegar in the recipe)
- 2 cups broad beans (frozen are fine)
- 3 or 4 fresh bay leaves
- sprig of tarragon
- 3 or 4 large cabbage leaves (or any other greens)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp of white wine vinegar
- salt and white pepper to taste
- fresh chopped parsley
- sour cream or yoghurt to dribble on after serving
What to do next:
Finely chop the garlic, onion and carrots. Fry in oil until softened and add to pot. Cover with enough water to cover all the ingredients (non vegetarians can use any meat stock), add bay leaves and tarragon and bring to boil. Then add the broad beans.
Prepare fresh beetroot by peeling it (use rubber gloves on a washable surface!) and chop roughly to add to the soup. Add the tablespoon of white wine vinegar and simmer for 5-10 mins until beetroot is tender.
Then scoop out bay leaves and tarragon and blend into a creamy consistency. If it’s too thick, add a little hot water.
Add salt and pepper to taste, dribble on sour cream or natural yoghurt, and sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley.
Food should never be taken too seriously and it’s worth experimenting with different vegetables to get a mix that you like. More importantly, as this is food created by using ingredients to hand, use what you have left over in your larder and fridge. In short, improvise!