Winter Borscht

This recipe, adapted from the New Moosewood Cookbook, is one of my favorite winter soups. Borscht is a traditional Eastern European dish, and there are many variations. This version comes from the Russian tradition, where beets, cabbage and tomatoes are standard. Beef stock, as well as the addition of beef or sausage, would probably be the more authentic, but I like to use chicken stock and I don't add meat. You could also use vegetable stock or just water for a vegetarian stew.

The original recipe called for boiling the beets with the potatoes, but I thought that roasting them would provide more flavor. However, I really wanted to preserve the red color and wasn't sure that I would get the same results as boiling them and then using the cooking liquid. To keep the color, I rinsed the cooked beets (and the juices off the tin foil I roasted them in) in a bowl with some water (I used some of the cooking liquid from the potatoes, but cold water would be easier) and then peeled the beets over that bowl of water so that any juice would be retained. I then strained out the beet peelings and reserved the liquid for cooking. All of this is optional (it's a little messy). If you want to preserve the color without the extra work, boil the beets and use that liquid. Or you can roast them and peel them without reserving any liquid. It won't affect the flavor and you should still get some color. I just think that the intense red is pretty, and I like to extract flavor from anywhere that I can think of.

I also used the reserved pot likker from my New Year's collard greens as part of the cooking liquid, and that worked out well.

This soup is great for a warming but light weeknight meal, served with some hearty bread (or in my case, leftover cornbread).

WINTER BORSCHT

3 medium russet potatoes
3 large beets
4 cups liquid, (chicken stock, beef stock, or water)
1 Tablespoon oil or butter
1 medium onion, medium dice
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 half small cabbage
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, chopped
1 teaspoon dill
1 Tablespoon brown sugar or honey
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, or to taste
lemon juice or a little more cider vinegar, to taste
salt and pepper , to taste
sour cream or yogurt, for garnish
dill, fresh or dried for garnish

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Wrap beets in foil and roast for one hour or until tender. Cool with cold water (reserving liquid to preserve color if desired.) Remove skins (over bowl to reserve liquid if desired). Chop into bite-sized pieces.

Peel potatoes and cut into bite-sized pieces. Place in a pot and and cover with cold water. Add salt and cook over medium heat until tender (approximate 20 to 30 minutes).

Heat oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven. Add onion and saute until translucent.

Add cider vinegar and saute to au sec (almost dry). Add caraway seeds, celery, carrots and cabbage, plus 2 cups of the liquid (including reserved beet liquid if using). Cover and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are tender (10-15 minutes).

Add the tomatoes, dill, brown sugar or honey, beets and potatoes. Cover and simmer for at least 15 more minutes.

Add Worcestershire sauce, cider vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve hot, topped with sour cream or yogurt and dill.