“Everything I do, I do on the principle of Russian borscht. You can throw everything into it; beets, carrots, cabbage, onions, everything you want. What’s important is the result, the taste of the borscht.”
~Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Russian poet
Okay, stop making that face! Have you ever actually HAD borscht?  I admit, I hadn’t…until last night.  Eastern European cooking is not prevalent in this region.  In fact, I’ve never even seen it on a restaurant menu.  Recently, I purchased The Essential New York Times Cookbook, and have been reading it cover to cover.


I stalled at Soups when I saw Winter Borscht and Amanda Hesser declared it “One of her favorite recipes in the book.”  That was the clincher.  I had to try it.  Besides, we are in the heart of winter here in New England.  Perfect days for dishes that simmer for hours.  

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My backyard 1/12/11
The house, dwarfed by the snow
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View from the kitchen window as I write this post

Regular borscht is often served cold.  This version is meant to be hot, hence the name.  A pretty straight forward recipe with a couple exceptions.  The beef shins posed a problem for me.  When I asked my butcher if he had any, he laughed and then called another butcher over, who also proceeded to laugh.  

hyena laughing
“She wants to know if we sell “shin.”  “Oh yeah, be sure to invite us over for  that.”
No lie.  I ended up purchasing beef shank, which is close enough and it worked great.  You cook it until it is fall-off-the-bone tender and tastes like pot roast.  A nice savory contrast to the sweet beet.  The recipe wasn’t difficult, but takes some prep work.  I had to shred the beets and cabbage on a box grater, which was messy and left my hands stained.  If you have a food processor, it would be much easier.  The finished soup, though different than anything I’ve made before, was delicious, with a very subtle sweet and sour undercurrent and gorgeously crimson in color.

Winter Borscht

2 pounds beef shin
6 cups water
1 small onion, cut in half
2 medium carrots, peeled.  1 quartered, 1 grated
3 medium red beets, scrubbed well
6 tablespoons tomato paste
4 medium garlic cloves, smashed
1/2 pound red cabbage, shredded
2 medium tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped (I used a 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes)
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons sugar
1 pound firm potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2 inch cubes and cooked in boiling salted water until tender (I used unpeeled red potatoes)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
Sour cream for garnish (optional)

1. Cover the beef with the water in a large saucepan.  Stir in the onion and quartered carrot and bring to a boil, skimming off any foam and fat that rises to the surface.  Lower heat and simmer gently for 1 1/2 hours.
2. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve; there should be about 5 cups.  Reserve the meat.
3. Return the beef and liquid to the pan and bring to a boil.  Add the beets and return to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer 20-30 minutes, or until the tip of a knife easily pierces the beets.
4. Remove the beets and allow to cool slightly, then peel them and coarsely grate.  Return the grated beets to the soup.
5. Dissolve the tomato paste in 1/2 cup of the soup, and stir back into the pan.  Stir in garlic, grated carrot, cabbage, tomatoes, bay leaf, vinegar, and sugar and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 hours.
6. Remove the meat from the pan.  Discard the bones and slice (or shred) the meat then stir into the soup along with the cooked cubed potatoes, salt and pepper to taste, and the dill.  Return to a boil for two minutes.
7. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of fresh dill.

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