For better or for borscht*

The first time my wife tried borscht she said, “It tastes like roots.”  Since then she has grown to love this colorful, flavorful dish with which I grew up.  For me, this is the quintessential comfort food.  It reminds me of my childhood, Sunday lunches with my family, my grandmother, and all those cozy memories only tastes and smells seem to trigger.  My mom shared her recipe with me and I have made it a few times.

One of my co-workers had a surplus of beets from his garden and I said, “Give ’em to me; I’ll make borscht.”  He, being polish incidentally, was more than happy to oblige.  I am going to bring him a Tupperware of borscht as payment (if there is any left after Cati has her fill).  Borscht is certainly time consuming, and a bit labor intensive, but well worth it.  Here’s what you’ll need:

Phase 1:

  • 2 or 3 bone-in shank steaks
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 1-3 tsps Salt (or even better, adobo)

Phase 2:

  • 1 can Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 can tomato paste (6oz.)
  • 6-8 beets
  • 1 large onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
  • sour cream
  • 2 carrots (optional)

Get your largest pot and add about 10-14 cups water.  Add the beef shanks, adobo/salt, and bay-leaves.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 90-120 minutes.  Make sure there is plenty of room in the pot because you’ll be adding beets, onions, etc.  I like to fill the pot 2/3 to 3/4 full.  I taste the broth from time-to-time to see how it’s going.  Now, to make life easy, let the broth cool to room temp, overnight, if possible.  This will cause the fat to harden on top of the broth; you can easily scoop it out and throw it away.

Remove the meat and cut into bite-size pieces.  Trim off the fat, and remove the soup bones.  Throw away the trimmings and bones (or see photo below for alternative use of soup-bones).  We are ready to start what I call phase-two of operation babushka.

Add the entire can of cream of mushroom, and the can of tomato paste, and stir into the broth until smooth.  While you are waiting for the broth to return to a boil, peel and coarsely grate the beets.  Pour a little olive oil onto your hands before you grate the beets, otherwise you will have slightly brown-stained hands for a week.  Grate the onion as well.  If you so desire, you can also grate a carrot or two to give more substance to the soup.  I don’t do this unless I am running low on beets (definitely not the case this time).  The broth will turn a beautiful deep-red color.  Bring the soup to a simmer for about 20 min.  Taste to make sure the beets are no longer crispy.  After the beets are soft, turn off the heat and add the dill and the chopped trimmed meat into the soup.  Ladle the soup into bowl and add a heaping dollop of sour cream.  Sprinkle on a little more chopped dill for an extra splash of color and serve.  I hope you enjoy this as much as we do!  It’s great for serving to guests as it’s not very common, and the flavor is easy on the palate (i.e. not bitter or sharp in any way).  Have a look at some photos below for a play by play:

the gear

The broth

meet the meat

we got the beet


now serving

twice as nice the next day

Can you hook me up with the soup bone?

they meet

mm mmm good

*In my attempt to create a terrible pun for the title of this post, I considered these honorable mention titles:

“You and the borscht you rode in on”

“You just can’t beet a good borscht recipe”

You got one?  Leave it in the comments.

3 Responses to “For better or for borscht*”

  1. Lydia says:

    Your borscht looks absolutely delicious. I’m coming over to have a bowl or two. Some good crusty bread rubbed with olive oil salt and fresh garlic would truly make it Ukrainian.

  2. alex|dimitri says:

    Ha! Good ones, Amy. “GRATE recipe” hehehehehe. I never realized you had an affinity for terrible puns; like me! Ooh, there’s always the poor man’s borscht; the borscht boxter. (rimshot…)

    Also, about the borscht recipe, my mom corrected me.  She doesn’t add the beef back to the soup until the very end; with the dill.  This will keep the meat a bit firmer.  This is a small change, but y’know moms, they always gotta be moms.  :)

  3. Amy says:

    I think you were on to something with your second one, although for added ridiculousness I would’ve said “You can’t beet a GRATE borscht recipe.”

    If you added a particular kind of pepper and are into luxury SUVs, it could have been “Borscht Cayenne”.