Friday, February 26, 2010

Big Borscht

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!

Big Borscht
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


el said...

Lucky (and bad) dog!

I always crave borscht in July. You know, when it's not practical (but it is nice to have a plain beet borscht cold then). I like the idea of adding a few home-fermented veggies and laud your home creme fraiche efforts!

Trout Caviar said...

Bad dog dad, more like it. She was just doing what any opportunistic omnivore would have done (NOW, I'm philosophical about it...). I'm sure it seemed like manna from heaven. My dogs are actually really, really good about not scarfing down food that's not given to them--especially compared to stories I've heard from bread customers!

A summer borscht is great! Sweet young beets, fresh herbs. For the winter version the fermented veggies really add a nice kick. I think there's a classic Russian borscht based on fermented beets.

Cheers~ Brett

Charles Leck said...

Annabel, you lucky dog!
Charlie Leck

Lo said...

This looks seriously incredible. I think borscht is one of those dishes that just hits the spot -- regardless of the time of year. I love the addition of the fermented veg!

Fred said...

I just get a cube of Knorr from the shelf. That way I don't have to worry if stuff is not fresh.

Rob said...

Maple syrup, really? I'd never thought of that. Then again I've never made Borscht. I'm thinking diced rutabaga would be good in this. Yeah, I know, I'm a bit off for liking rutabaga. My grandfather said to harvest it after a hard frost.

Trout Caviar said...

Hello, Lo: A quick Google revealed that lots of borscht recipes call for fermented beets, and some opine that without the tang of fermentation, "It's just beet soup, not borscht..."! I am not taking sides (I had a Ukrainian grandmother, but she never told us she was Ukrainian, long story...), but I do think the pickled veg really livened up this soup. Thanks for writing.

Fred: Uh, right, yeah, um, whatever.... KnorrSwiss, MSG All the Way. You take yer umami where you can get it.

Rob, maple syrup is more versatile than you'd imagine. With a good supply from tapping our own trees last year, we've found many wonderful uses for it, from salad dressings to marinades to martinis.

On the rutabagas, I think you're way ahead of the curve. With turnips and kholrabi vying for attention from retro-gourmets, I predict we soon will hear that, "Rutabagas are the new truffles." The "better after a frost" tip seems to hold for most cabbage family plants.

Cheers, all~ Brett

p.s.~ Fred, I probably should delete your comment, for your own good....

Patrick said...

Nice to read your blog! I love borscht right from the garden:

Lo said...

Interesting about the fermented veg in borscht... though that makes perfect sense! So many old foods were fermented, I think we've lost the taste memory of that.