Big Borscht is in the "Grow Your Own" Round-Up hosted by House of Annie.
Here's something a little more seasonal, a root around the root cellar, clean out the crisper, "Eeww, what is that thing?", "Oh, that's okay, I can trim that off..." sort of soup. We're getting down there in terms of vegetables, but March is straight ahead, I've got some green things growing in flats, and a big, robustly flavored soup like this is just the thing to buck up one's spirits for that last push toward warmer days.
This is truly a one-pot meal with no fuss at all involved--as long as you like to chop. Who doesn't like to chop? Bung it all in the pot, simmer until you feel it's done. The key flavor ingredients are some decent stock to bring it all together, some pickled or fermented vegetables to add a sharpness that balances the earthy roots, and maple syrup and cider vinegar, because I love using the products of Bide-A-Wee's tree crops. Tree crops. I love saying tree crops.
For my stock I used a combination of vegetable stock, chicken stock, mushroom soaking water and plain water to reach eight cups for this large amount of vegetables. The mushrooms are optional but my dried chanterelles added a lot of flavor and fragrance. Dried porcini are another good choice, or sometimes you'll see packages of mixed dried "forest mushrooms." If you've got a stash of dried morels, those would more than do the job. Shitakes are a last resort, though the chopped mushrooms would add good texture; shitake broth won't add a lot of flavor here.
Here's a good illustration of why dried wild mushrooms cost so much. The chanterelles in this bowl weighed one ounce:
The vegetables are whatever you have on hand, mostly roots. You need beets to call it borscht, I think, but you don't have to call it borscht. Here's what I had:
From our garden: turnips, carrots, potatoes, beets. From the market: parsnips, onion, garlic. My pickled (fermented) vegetables jar yielded gardens beets, beans, carrots, and snow peas, market cauliflower, snap peas, and onion. And of course I foraged the chanterelles.
If you don't have a big jar of fermented vegetables at your house, perhaps you have some sauerkraut, or a jar of pickled beets, or can manage to purchase some. Check the refrigerated section of your co-op for naturally fermented or pickled products. Be prepared for a little sticker shock; in my experience the "artisan" versions of this sort of thing do not come cheap. The upside of that is that it may encourage you to do more of your own preserving, next fall.
You can make this with or without meat. I put in some roast pork shoulder I had in the freezer. Other meat options: ground beef or leftover roast, smoked sausage, cooked chicken. Sour cream or home-cultured "crème fraiche" really elevates the dish. Fresh herbs should you have them--dill, tarragon, parsley, thyme--would be nice, too.
When I first made this soup I thought it would need more syrup and vinegar to get the slight sweet and sour flavor I wanted, but after it sat overnight, then simmered a bit more, I found that the natural sweetness of the roots, the natural sourness of the fermented vegetables, had filled in the blanks perfectly.
Then a loaf of crusty bread, glass of wine, beer, cider or as you please.
More soup, please!
serves six generously, or three humans and one wire-haired pointing griffon*
8 cups liquid--a combination of meat and/or vegetable stock, mushroom soaking liquid, and water
6 cups chopped fresh vegetables (beets, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, turnips, onion)
1 cup chopped fermented vegetables (or ‘kraut, or pickled beets)
12 ounces cooked pork shoulder, or smoked sausage, or ground beef, cooked chicken (optional)
3 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 ounce dried mushrooms, soaked, then chopped (optional)
1 tsp salt or to taste
1 small dried red chili, crumbled (optional)
2 T maple syrup (or to taste)
1 T cider vinegar (or to taste)
Sour cream or crème fraiche
Black pepper to taste
Fresh herbs of choice--dill, tarragon, parsley, thyme (optional)
Combine all except sour cream or crème fraiche in a big soup pot. Simmer a half hour or longer, to desired doneness. Best when it sits a day or two. Adjust sweet/sour balance to taste with additional syrup and vinegar before serving. Serve topped with crème fraiche or sour cream.
* This recipe is griffon tested and approved. As we were getting ready to head to the cabin for the weekend, I placed a warm, open container of borscht in the snow on our deck to cool. Forgetting the disposition of said soup, I let the dogs out before we put them in the car. When Mary went to look for the borscht to put it in the cooler, I heard her call, "Where did you say the soup was..."? We're pretty sure Annabel ate it all. She had a guilty--but satisfied-- look, and Lily's beard was clean.
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw