Basically borscht is a Russian dish – or Ukrainian dish depending on who you’re asking – that is primarily flavored by the use of beets. I’ve heard it said that borscht is not soup, it’s just borscht. Though it often includes beef, in the rough times I imagine it is made vegetarian and though my recipe calls for carrots, tomatoes and shallots, I’m sure that onions, turnips, rutabaga and any other root vegetable with good storage longevity could be used and still maintain the traditional flavor.

In researching this dish I looked over dozen of recipes on various sites, only to find that the Eastern European community had generally disparaging comments about the authenticity of many of them. This led me to a variety of sites dedicated to this particular community and the recipe here is what I have found to be the consistent ingredients and techniques in many of the recipes. Though I’ve heard it said that there are as many types of borscht in Russia as there are beautiful women.

So, if this isn’t exactly traditional, I hope it is a close approximation of what would be considered a good recipe. In fact, I think most traditional foods, no matter where their origin, are more concerned with quality of ingredients – as they are using things on hand pulled from their own meager resources instead of a local supermarket – than they are with matching a particular ingredient list.  Like substituting turnips for carrots if the turnips are coming out of your garden.

This soup, or stew, is a wonderful blend of great flavors. There’s something about the combination of vinegar, dill, and beets that brings a light tang to the palate and the beef, shallots and garlic provide the richness, the foundation, that any good soup needs. Like in other soups I really let the shallots and garlic sauté gently until they had fully caramelized and added to the already nicely browned fond left by the meat before adding any liquids, making sure to scrape the bottom to bring up all those flavors into the stock. But, as I’m already talking about the recipe, here it is:

4 cups fresh golden beets, sliced

1/2 cup savoy cabbage, chopped

3 small potatoes, halved and sliced

1 medium carrot, sliced

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

2 small shallots, chopped

13 oz top sirloin, or round steak cut into 1/2 inch cubes

3 T fresh dill, minced

3 T olive oil

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 T white vinegar

4 cups water

2 T butter

Salt and pepper

In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium high heat until just smoking, but not quite. (I know recipes always say things like this, and it is completely frustrating. “How do I know when something is about to start smoking before it does?” you ask. The easiest way is to tilt the pan from sided to side and watch the oil. Smooth oil indicates cool temperatures, when the oil ripples across the bottom of the pan it is good and hot.) Add half of the beef and sear on all sides. Season with salt and pepper and sear until browned. Remove and set aside. Repeat with remaining beef.

The bottom of your pan will have browned bits, the fond, glazed on, don’t scrape it just yet. Add the garlic and shallots and lower to medium heat. Saute for 5-6 minutes, until the shallots have become translucent and then began to brown lightly.  The well browned shallots and garlic create the depth of the stock. Return beef and any resting juices to the pan. Add water and dill, scrape the bottom of the pan to release the fond into the stock. Bring to a boil and simmer until beef is tender, about one hour.

When beef has cooked for about 35 minutes, in a medium saute pan add 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Sauté beets, season with salt and pepper, add vinegar and tomatoes, cover to simmer for 15 minutes. Add carrots and sauté covered until tender, about another ten minutes. Add cabbage to beef and stock and simmer while carrots are cooking. When carrot and beets are tender add to beef and mix in. Season with salt and pepper to taste if necessary. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, if desired, and a slice of thick rye bread.

This soup get’s better each day. Definitely let it sit for a day and reheat some. As the flavors blend together it becomes more rounded and full. Enjoy!

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