Red Velvet Borsch

My grandmother and my aunt Tamara used to make a lot of Borsch. It would differ, depending on the time of year. At Lent, it was always without meat, and water was used as the base of the soup. Other times, beef bones and stewing beef were used, the meat shredded after cooking and put back into the soup. This version was hearty, delicious, and perfect during the colder months. My mother’s borsch was slightly different, although equally delicious, and, like my aunty Tamara’s and grandmother’s, was always served with a big bowl of sour cream and horseradish; so commonplace on a Russian table.

To most non-Russians, borsch is a soup made mostly with beetroot and served with sour cream, and this is what you will usually find in most recipes. But, it does differ, depending on the time of year, what your circumstances, and where you come from: bacon or ham bones can be added, frankfurters, duck, even sauerkraut, all giving a slightly different flavour, and look. For me, memory plays a big part when I try to recreate the dishes of my childhood, as I unfortunately only have a few of the original family recipes, borsch not among them. I hope one day to have more, and when I do, will put them into some sort of order for my children, and whoever else wants them: I believe that recipes should be shared, like all knowledge. So, when it comes to borsch, I make it my way, with a little nod to my ancestors and tradition. My preference is always to use a good broth, chicken usually, but sometimes, if I have made a lamb broth, I will use half that, half water. Doing that gives me the meatiness, without the meat, if you know what I mean. Also, I prefer to serve it with natural Greek yoghurt, not sour cream, probably because yogurt is something I always have in my fridge. My family and friends also know that I like to serve a small glass, or a tea cup of hot soup to commence Russian Easter. Sometimes it’s borsch, but not as a hearty bowl brimming with vegetables and steaming broth, but, in a glass, pureed, silky and smooth and topped with a spoonful of yoghurt. The colour is amazing, like red velvet. Anyway, here it is, my borsch. Enjoy.

Borsch

Serves 8-10

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 stick celery, sliced
  • 1 small cabbage, shredded, after removing outer leaves
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 3 medium beetroot, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 fresh bay leaves
  • 2 litres good chicken broth, or 1 litre lamb broth and 1 litre water
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt flakes and freshly ground pepper
  • Natural yoghurt, fresh dill and horseradish to serve

In a large saucepan put 3tbsp olive oil and heat gently on a medium heat. When hot, add onion, cook gently until opaque. Add cabbage, celery and garlic, cook for about 5 minutes, stirring every now and then. Now add carrots, beetroot, potatoes and bay leaves, turn to coat with olive oil, and add a little more if necessary. Put lid on saucepan, turn heat down to low, and sweat for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove lid, add tomatoes, salt, pepper and broth. Use a little water to cover if necessary and bring to a simmer. Gently cook for about 1 hour, or until all vegetables are tender. Taste for seasoning, and serve in heated bowls with yoghurt, horseradish and lots of chopped dill. If you would like to puree this and serve it in pretty tea cups, or small glasses, do so whilst it is warm, adding a little more broth or water if it seems too thick to drink from the cup.