07 July 2008

Aina's Beetless Borscht

This is partly just for my reference, but I get a fair number of hits from people looking for borscht recipes, so I thought I'd post it here. I went over to my friend Aina's the other day and found her making borscht for her brothers. "If it's borscht, shouldn't it have beets in it?" I asked. "It can, but it doesn't have to," she replied. To Aina and to many Russians, borscht means 'cabbage soup,' not necessarily 'beet soup', as Americans tend to think.

This is all quite approximate. Russians aren't nearly as recipe-obsessed as Americans are; for example, I remember one of my classes laughing out loud at the fact that our recipes tell us to preheat our ovens, and my Russian girl friends often have to hide their skepticism of my ability to cook, since I appear to require instructions that are, to them, far too specific. Anyway, for soup, amounts don't really matter as long as you don't oversalt it.

Start by peeling and slicing three or four potatoes (Aina cuts them in half lengthwise, and then slices each half widthwise into centimeter-thick slices) and shredding a whole head of cabbage. Take a tablespoon or so of dried mint (she does this for her Turkmen father; mint is apparently prominent in Turkmen cuisine) and use your hands to mix it and some salt to taste into the shredded cabbage.

Put the cabbage and potatoes to boil in a 5-liter pot with broth for at least 15 minutes. Aina used meat broth, but no meat. I'm pretty sure any kind of broth would do. I didn't see how much she had in there, but it was enough so that the broth and the cabbage mixture combined almost filled the pot.

Meanwhile, grate a carrot with the large holes of a grater and chop an onion; put them in a pan with some vegetable oil over medium-low heat and get to work chopping three or four tomatoes. Add those to the pan, along with a spoonful of tomato paste for color; bring the pan contents (now quite liquid because of the tomatoes) to a boil while chopping some garlic to taste. Add everything to the soup pot. Now chop some fresh parsley and dill (maybe about half a cup chopped) and add that, along with some more salt. Let everything simmer for a minute or two more, and your borscht is done. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or mayonnaise in each bowl.

P.S. It seemed weird to me that Russians eat soup in the summer, but with some bread and a salad of chopped tomatoes/cucumbers/parsley/dill (ubiquitous in Russia from May to October) it made a nice, fairly light dinner. And it's quick, if you've got the broth on hand already.


Mike S said...

Interesting - in my family borsch without beets is schi (щи == cabbage soup). I've also heard burachki (бурачки) used.

Leslie said...

Yeah, I meant to ask her what the difference is between borscht and shchi, but I forgot. It seems like in Russian cooking in general terminology varies a lot from family to family (although shchi is definitely the term I learned, too... I've also of heard zeleny borshch, though, and I don't know how that's different from shchi either).

Either way, it's tasty. :)

Anonymous said...

Gramp, the ultimate soup lover, would have enjoyed this soup. He was always a fan of cabbage. And yes, he liked eating soup year-round, too!


Anna-Martha said...

Hi Leslie!

My Krasnodar family always made zeleny borshch. Actually I dont think they ever made regular borshch. My understanding was that while schi is cabbage soup and svekolnik (didnt you post a recipe for this once?) is beet soup, borshch is like vegetable soup, and it can have different mixtures of vegetables. My family's was mostly potatoes, and parsley and dill and other green things in meat broth. Which sounds like schi. But I think it had less cabbage and more herbs and potatoes.

Ah, the world of Russian soup

Leslie said...

Anya, privet!!! I think you're right about the beet soup vs. vegetable soup distinction. At least, it sounds right to me.

A borscht/svekolnik recipe from Mike S (who commented above) is in the comments to the original borscht post... I've actually still never had svekolnik. I should make it. Our local supermarket sells pre-boiled beets in their deli section, very convenient! (But what is Russia coming to? Pretty soon everything is going to be convenient... wait, no, that will never happen.)

To me, the funniest thing is that "borscht" and "soup" are not the same in Russian. Like, borscht is not a subtype of soup:

Me: "Ooh, are you making soup?"
Aina: "No, borscht."

I guess it's sort of like soup vs. stew for us, except I think there's a much bigger difference between soup and stew than soup and borscht.

How are things on your farm?!? It is apricot season here. The sidewalks are literally littered with apricots, there are so many apricot trees in the city. Amazing. I love the Russian South!

Anna-Martha said...

OMG, APRICOTS!!!! We Have SOOOOOOO many apricots!!!!!! SOOOOOOOOOOOO many. Dried apricots, apricot fruit leather, apricot popsicles, apricot ice cubes. Today was apricot juice and Im sitting here with sploshes of apricot ALL over me, head to toe. Plus, I've been translating for the microlending nonprofit Kiva.org, and I just translated a description of a woman's apricot nut business. She buys the pits, breaks them open to extract the nut, and sells the nuts. They are apparently closely related to almonds, expect they have a certain chemical that can kill you if you eat too many in a short amount of time. So watch out. Im glad I now have an apricot-ic connection to southern russia.

Oh geez, Im still laughing from the Russian convenience bit, and that borscht isn't a soup, and the apricots. Oh so many.


Anonymous said...

Apricot pits contain amygdalin, a compound that includes cyanide. Imported apricot products have actually been pulled from the shelves because of the cyanide hazard. See http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9F0CE2D71630F935A15750C0A965958260


Anonymous said...

What is the proper spelling -- shchi or schi? I know these are the "English" translations for the Russian Щи . I just wanted to know which was the correct way as I am teaching my daughters about Russia and we made a version of Щи found on the internet but I want them to write the name correctly. Thanks Спасибо

Leslie said...

Щ represents a sound we don't have in English - the closest sound we have is "sh" like in "she." The official Library of Congress transliteration for this letter is shch; sch is just a simpler-looking way of writing it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Leslie. One of my girls is not happy that I taught her the improper way of schi LOL But, though I spelled it wrong, they liked the soup!