Cravings ... Red Borscht

5:56 PM

When people find out that I'm pregnant, they inevitably ask if I've had any weird cravings.  I have to say yes, although the things I'm craving aren't pickles and ice cream or anything like that.   For me, the weird stuff is corn dogs... and beets.  I spent the first half of this pregnancy wanting nothing but corn dogs, but avoiding it because of how unhealthy they are. I finally gave in and had some a little while ago..... and they weren't nearly as good as I imagined them to be.  Oh well - no more corn dog cravings!

Then there are the Beets.  Beets are seriously good for you, and contrary to popular belief, they are actually delicious!  You just have to know how to prepare them.  (I actually love eating them raw)  I spent my whole life until I turned 17 hating beets.  I remember my mom serving them with dinner occasionally when I was little and it was all I could do to choke them down quickly so I could eat the "actual food."  

Then I went to Ukraine and tried Borscht.  It was like heaven in a bowl.  Borscht, a beet based soup is served throughout Eastern Europe but originated in Ukraine.  Any one of the many variations comprises one of the main dishes served in homes and restaurants, often eaten 2-3 times a day!

 After coming home I spent the next 6 years trying various recipes online or making up my own, trying to re-create that flavor that I had so quickly fallen in love with.  I could never seem to get it right.  Until last summer.  I got to go back and live in Ukraine for the entire summer.  It was glorious!  And the borscht was everything I had remembered it to be.  

While we were there, we met a sweet lady who taught us how to make borscht the way her mother had taught her, and her grandmother before that - a time honored tradition that has a very long history in Ukraine.  The rich flavor comes, in part, from boiling some of the beet, while sauteing the rest of it before adding it to the soup.  Combining these methods of cooking brings out a greater range of flavors from the beet.  

Red Borscht

After being taught how to make this, I decided that I like a bit more "substance" in my borscht, so I added an additional carrot and beet.  Otherwise, this is just what you'd find in any Ukrainian home or restaurant.  Serve it hot or cold.

  • 1 medium head of cabbage
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 Tbsp oil of choice (I use olive oil)
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 2 carrots, finely shredded
  • 2 medium Beets, grated on large holes, divided
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/4 c water
  • Water or broth to cover:  2-3 quarts (I usually use homemade vegetable stock)
  • Salt to taste

Shred 3/4 of the cabbage (or all of a small head).  Add to a large soup pot along with about 1 Tbsp salt, cover with broth and bring to a boil.  Cover and reduce heat to medium.

Meanwhile, in a separate pan heat the 2 Tbsp oil.  Add the chopped onion and saute.  When the onion starts looking clear and the carrots and 2/3 of the beets.  Combine the tomato paste and water and stir into the mixture.  Simmer for about 10 minutes. 

Add potatoes and reserved beets to the cabbage.  Add more liquid if necessary and bring back up to a boil.  Stir in the cooked beet mixture and "cook, cook, cook" until the potatoes are soft.  Add salt to taste.

Serve with sour cream.

The soup can be served immediately but is best made in advance so the flavors have time to blend together. 

Optional additions: 
Minced clove of garlic added with the cooked beet mixture
Fresh dill and/or parsley - rough chopped and stirred in at the end

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