Sunday, October 29, 2006

Borscht, borscht, borscht, borscht...BORSCHT.

What a fun word to type.

I don't ever remember having borscht as a kid - I guess because my family is from the German-Swiss Mennonite contingent 'stead of the Russian Mennonite contingent. Thank heavens I've discovered it now. But...what IS it?

There are many answers to this question. I asked the intrepid eGulleteers about this very dish 1 year ago when I was overrun with garden beets. They chimed in with many a recipe, and what amazed me then and now is the sheer number borscht variations that exist. Chunky, not-chunky, hot, cold, sweet, sweet 'n sour, sour, with potatoes, without potatoes, with lemon juice, with vinegar, with or without meat (which could be beef or chicken) get the idea. I used to think that beets were the unifying factor, until I was served a soup called "borscht" at the Breadbasket in Newton, KS that beets at all.

So, I guess borscht is whatever you call borscht. But it probably has beets. At least, in my opinion, it should.

I found a really great recipe for a Ukranian-style borscht on, of all places, a website dedicated to New Orleans and Cajun cuisine and culture (I found it by Googling "chicken borscht"; it was the very first result). The recipe is actually the lyrics to a song by Peter Ostroushko, a musician I grew up listening to on A Prairie Home Companion. It's kind of a neat way to communicate a recipe, and it works 'cause borscht is one of those dishes that doesn't require careful measuring - just some chopping and whatever you've got.

I halved the original recipe, and that was PLENTY. Half the recipe, in my estimation, would feed 8 to 10 people really well - but it's worth making the whole thing if you REALLY like borscht or have a big crowd to feed (see the recipe link for a full-size batch). Also, from what I can tell, this freezes really well - I have about 4 pints of it sitting in the freezer to feed the next borscht-craving. It's really a heart-warming recipe - it sticks with you, and it just makes me feel good all over. Must be all those anthocyanidins.

Borscht a la Ostroushko (with modifications)
adapted from "B-O-R-S-C-H-T" by Peter Ostroushko

1.5-2 lbs. chicken parts w/ skin and bones (I used thighs 'cause I prefer dark meat)
Several large springs parsley
1 bay leaf
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
1 14 oz. can tomatoes (or 2 c. fresh tomatoes)
1/2 T. dried dill
2 large beets
2 large potatoes
3 to 5 carrots
1/2 head cabbage (or 1-2 c. raw saurkraut if you like a more tart borscht)
sour cream (optional)
lemon juice or vinegar (optional)

1. Put the chicken in a large pot, and add 2 qt. water. Add the parsley, the bay leaf, about 1/2 t. salt, and a generous grinding of pepper.

2. Heat the water to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and let the meat cook about 45 min.

3. While the chicken is cooking, chop up the onion and the garlic, and saute them in olive oil or butter until brownish and clear.

4. Fish out the chicken, and put it on a plate in the fridge to cool. Also fish out the parsley springs. Put the browned onions and garlic into the pot, along with the tomatoes and their juice and the dill. Bring to a simmer again, and cook about 10 min.

5. While this is cooking, scrub the beets and chop them into big chunks, whatever size you like (no need to peel). Put them into the soup pot, and cook for about another 10 min.

6. While the beets are cooking, scrub and chop the potatoes and carrots into similar-sized chunks. Once the beets have been cooking 10 to 15 min., add the carrots and potatoes to the soup and cook for another 15.

7. While all the other vegetables are cooking, shred the cabbage, and add it to the soup. If you are using saurkraut, I would wait until the rest of the vegetables are tender, and then add it (along with any saurkraut juice). NOTE ON THE SAURKRAUT: I used some raw homemade saurkraut that was lying around. I would not try it with the canned or cooked stuff, as the texture is different, but maybe you like that kind of thing.

8. Once all the vegetables are cooked, take the chicken out of the fridge. Take off the skin and throw away the bones. Shred or chop up the meat, and add it to the soup. Don't cook it too much more (it's already cooked); just heat it up.

9. Taste, and add salt and pepper if it needs it. If you are not using saurkraut, you might want to try adding a few tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice (I like a little acid in my borscht). Or you might not; borscht is a very individual thing. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, alongside rye or pumpernickel bread with butter.

Serves: a small crowd! (probably 8-10 people)


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