Borscht with Beef, From Russia with Love

If there’s one place in the world that I could say is on my proverbial ‘bucket list’, that’s Russia, that land that was once prohibited to Westerners, the land shrouded in mystery and spy stories, the land of an intensely resilient people who have survived hardships most of us cannot even imagine, and the land of snowy Siberia.

The mere thought of standing in the famous Red Square in Moscow and seeing St. Basil’s Cathedral with its colourful onion-top domes and Byzantine architecture and being feet away from the Kremlin, I know will one day make me giddy with glee. I will have to pinch myself to believe what my eyes will be seeing.

I’ve been close to Russia twice. Once, physically when I visited Finland and Tallinn in Estonia. I could’ve stepped over the border … but it wasn’t meant to be back then. And the second time was at the ‘Houghton Revisted‘ art exhibition in Norfolk. Seventy pieces from Catherine the Great’s art collection at the Hermitage returned home for the summer in 2013. Sir Robert Walpole, Great Britain’s first prime minister had been the owner, but due to the family fortune being gambled away by one of his grandsons, the family was obliged to sell off a lot of its art. And Catherine the Great was at the right place at the right time with enough money to take advantage of the Walpole’s misfortune.

Russia has always held a romantic place in my heart. I’ve read countless stories about the Romanov family, I’ve read some of Tolstoy’s works, I’ve fallen in love with the tale of Anastasia, I’ve fantasised about the white nights of St. Petersburg, and have been mesmerised by Dr. Zhivago.

I think I fell in love with Russia when I was a child and read a series of travel books that I used to check out from my school library. I was so entranced with the stories that that was pretty much the only shelf in the library that I used to visit. I recall devouring the tales about the adventures around the world of the little boy and little girl protagonists, who were always dressed in the traditional style of each country they visited, and feeling tremendously excited with anticipation that I would one day also visit all these places. The stories fueled my dreams and my wanderlust.

However, if I cannot yet go to Russia, in the meantime, I can bring a little bit of Russia to me in the form of food. I’m not sure why I was inclined to try this dish all of a sudden, but I have to admit I was delightfully surprised.

Borscht is a supposedly a Ukrainian (not Russian) dish, at least according to my Russian friend André and all the research I’ve done. André, who left what was then the Soviet Union in the early 90s to come to America, has promised to find out the origins of this recipe for me, if I in return can tell him the history of gazpacho and lentejas. As you can imagine, I think we will both be left in the dark …

If you’ve never made borscht before, you’re in for a spectacular experience. You may want to lock all the doors to your house, as the aromas emanating from your kitchen will have your neighbours inviting themselves over for lunch or dinner … Borscht has got to be one of the most deliciously fragrant meals I’ve had in a long time.

The combination of the sweet onions and beetroot, braised beef, and tart cabbage make for an intensely hearty meal that is a real delight for the senses. It’s not only delectable to the palate, but it’s really pretty to look at with its bright reddish-purple colouring.

And maybe best of all, it’s incredibly easy to make.

Borscht with Beef

Serves: 4
Prep Time: 10 min
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 min

Ingredients

750g (about 1 1/2 lbs) stewing beef, cut into cubes
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 beetroots (save the beet greens), peeled and grated
beet greens, chopped
1/2 cabbage, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large or 2 small leeks (the white and slightly green parts), sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup white or red wine
2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon dry parsley
1 teaspoon vinegar
6-7 cups filtered water

Method

In a large pot over medium heat, cook the onions and garlic in the olive oil until translucent, about 10 minutes stirring frequently. Add the beef, increase the heat to medium high, and brown on all sides, stirring occasionally. Add the dry parsley and cook an additional 30 seconds. Add the wine and reduce, about 2 minutes. Turn down the heat to medium, add 4 cups of the water and the sea salt, and cook covered for 1 hour.

In the meantime, prepare the rest of the vegetables. Once the meat has cooked, add another 2-3 cups of water and the vegetables all at once. Cook for 30 minutes, covered. Add the vinegar and stir before serving.

Scullery note: My friend André says that borscht should be served with some freshly chopped parsley and a dollop of sour cream. I had neither at home, but if a true Russian recommends this, I will give it a try next time.

By the way, I’d like to share with you that I have some wonderful surprises coming to the blog, which include a few Paleo cookbook reviews and two awesome giveaways. So, please sign up to follow my blog and stay tuned…