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Sunday, 22 January 2012

Borscht - A Hearty Beets Soup from the Ukraine

On the same note of new cuisine and family...
Blessed is a food enthusiast who is surrounded by other foodies. Here is the thing, when you are someone with lots of love for food, when you revel and are enthused by the mention of food, and when you like to stir up food conversations, you have got to be surrounded with people who share the same interests. That is how you thrive... Blessed I am for the foodies in my life, who eat and talk food with me, and who cook and delight my taste buds, not to forget who always provide a chance to push the boundaries.

Bashar, my husband's cousin, is one of the people whose food company I always enjoy. The man can paint the walls red when it comes to cooking. When he hosts a meal, you know you are in for some serious food. A couple of months ago, we had gathered up at theirs, and having lived in Russia for quite some years, on his menu was a Borscht. Borscht (pronounced Borsh) is a beetroot soup that originates from the (previously known as) Soviet Union, which had swept over Eastern Europe, moving on to central Europe then to America via the Eastern European immigrants. Each city had adopted the concept of Borscht, creating its own version of the hearty delicious deep red soup. I had tried beetroot soup before, but never was it good enough to recall. It never made it to my repertoire! However, when I tried Bashar's soup I immediately placed it in the revisit compartment. It was sour-sweetly delicious, with depth and heart to it, which at first hits your nose with a sweet aroma of earth, then fills your mouth with the savoury sweet tones of root vegetables... by all means a satisfying experience that I would want repeats of. I asked him for a container to take home for pictures for a blog post. Sadly the soup never made it to my pictures! Someone had it at home, and until now I am not sure whether its my hubbs or the nanny as none would admit to it!

Never mind the non-photo incident, and moving on, a couple of weeks after that gathering, I had gone for a quick visit back home. When my mum, knew I was coming, she arranged for a surprise cooking session for me! She wakes me up at 7: 30 am one morning, and says "wake up I have a surprise for you!". "It's 7:30 mum!!" I said barely awake... She insisted I wake up and that I will be happy I did. So rushing out of bed, and washing up, while she kept on calling me over to the kitchen, you can say I was a little less than excited and on the verge of upset to put it mildly! But boy, was I in for a treat!!

She had met a Ukrainian Lady  - in Jordan - who makes these amazing Russian pastries made out of fresh phyllo dough! Knowing I was visiting, mum had arranged for the lady to come over to ours to teach me how to make these fine and delicate pastries! You can say that, I was fully awake and ready once I knew it meant learning how to make fresh phyllo! How sweet are mums? I was super excited to actually learn how to make fresh phyllo dough, because I had tried making it before and, well you can say, it was a relative of phyllo but not exactly a close one!! I will dedicate a post for that session and tell you all about how it went. As for this post... Knowing she is Ukrainian, I had to ask her about Borscht, and the sweet lady gave me a run down of the history and regional differences! And it goes as follows:

Borscht, is a soup of Ukranian origin, which became very famous all over Eastern and central Europe. In this soup, beetroot is the star of the show. Beets are a primary vegetable used in those areas during the cold months of winter. The story of Borscht began, when people would keep trimmings of root vegetables - mainly beets - in a large pot, that when full they would cook in beef broth and serve as soup. It was therefore known to be a poor man's soup, at first, but then moved up in rank to make it into a star soup in every city. Different cities created different versions of this soup, however the original Ukranian preparation uses beats as a base, and add starchy root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots, together with chopped celery, tomatoes and mushrooms; all cooked in beef broth. The Russian borscht is made out of beets, cabbages and potatoes, the Polish version includes tomatoes and tomato paste, while the Romanian Borscht is based on the use of fermented wheat. Whichever version you choose to make, a key component of all Borscht soups is acidity, usually coming from the use of red wine vinegar or the use of lemon. Another staple ingredient is a dollop of sour cream on top.

Borscht is served in 2 variations...
  • Hot Borscht - the more famous version. Served as a hearty soup that can be served as a main, especially when bacon or meat are used in making it. But usually served as an appetiser with a side of dark bread such as pumpernickel. 
  • Cold Borscht (Chlondik) - famous in Belarusian, Polish and Ukrainian cuisines, and is a relative of Gazpacho, or the Hungarian Cold Tomato Soup...etc. Once the Borscht is cooked, it is cooled, then mixed with sour cream or yoghurt, which turns it into a pinkish hue. Chopped hard booiled eggs are then mixed into it and it is finally garnished with dill or parsley. This version makes for a unique cold soup or shooter aperitif for a cocktail party

Ukrainian Borscht 
Serves 4 Appetiser portions
You Need

2 tbsp Olive Oil
1 cup Onion, finely chopped
1 liter Beef Broth (for vegetarian version you can use vegetable broth instead)
1 medium potato, peeled and cubed
3 large beetroots, peeled and cubed or sliced
1 cup diced peeled carrots
1 cup diced celery stalks
2 cups fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1 cup chopped portobello mushrooms
1 tbsp red wine vinegar, or juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt & Black pepper to taste
4 tbsp Sour cream or low fat yoghurt
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
fresh dill springs

Place oil and chopped onions in a Medium pot over high heat. Saute the onions until translucent but not browned. Add the broth, seasoning and cubed potatoes, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer, covered for 4 minutes then add the diced carrots and continue simmering until the vegetables are are tender (about 10 minutes).

Add the rest of the vegetables together with the vinegar and bring back to a boil, reduce heat to medium until all the vegetables are cooked through, potatoes are very soft and the liquid is a rich dark red colour. Serve hot with a dollop of prepared sour cream or yoghurt on top, then garnish with fresh finely chopped parsley and springs of dill. Best Served with dark bread on the side.

For the Prepared sour cream or yoghurt
Mix sour cream or yoghurt with a tbsp of finely chopped fresh parsley. Season with black pepper. Use to garnish top of soup.

Did you know
Beets have been first classified by Aristotle, and were described to have grown in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and that the Greeks used to offer them to the Sun God Apollo as they were believed to be magical vegetables with healing properties?  The ancient times knew what modern science had come to prove: 

Beetroot is one of nature's most amazing productions. Its rich red colour, makes it a great ingredient to use to add colour to your plates and make them more appealing to the eye. Beets are naturally sweet, which makes them fabulous for both savoury and sweet concoctions. They offer earthy tones, and are naturally hearty with a suggestion of warmth. They belong to the superfoods category as they are full of anti oxidants that tremendously aid your liver and prevent liver disease, as well as being a natural fighter against the fomation of cancer cells or mutations of healthy cells. Beets are proven to help reduce the risk of contracting colone and digestive tract cancer. Most importantly beets are a rich source of folate, which prevents umbrio deformations and is therefore great food to consume while pregnant... So make sure to eat beets, especially now, that they are in season.
Thank you for dropping by, hope you have enjoyed this post, come back soon for more :)