Borsch is not the easiest dish to make without a solid understanding of what you’re doing in each step. But –unlike I did– you now have a proper recipe to start from, and if you follow directions you will end up with a very nutritious soup that’s excellent both hot and cold. Moreover, it freezes very well for those days you don’t have the energy to cook. The prep time is fairly intensive for a simple soup, but you’ll be rewarded with an extremely healthy dish with complex and persistent fresh flavors.
- 3 medium-to-large red beets, peeled and thinly sliced into matchsticks
- 1 green bell pepper, thinly sliced then cut in three parts
- 1 potato, unpeeled and diced into ½ inch cubes (preferably Yukon Gold)
- 3 carrots, cut into ½ inch pieces (on the bias if you’re fancy)
- 1 white onion thinly sliced in rings
- ½ to 1 jalapeno, minced
- 5 cloves of minced and smashed garlic
- 1 can of diced tomatoes
- red wine vinegar
- sugar or natural sweetener
- 2 quarts (or cartons) of chicken or beef stock
- olive oil
- fresh or dried dill
- full or low-fat sour cream
- a few shakes of Italian seasonings or Herbs de Provence
Set the stock, tomatoes, a quart of water and diced potato to boil and cover.
Begin to prep the vegetables. I suggest you start with the onion and pepper, and set them to sautee in a large pan with 1/4 cup of olive oil in medium-high heat. The goal of borsch is to impart the veggie flavors into the oil: basically, you are confiting (braising them in oil) them, and this oil then flavors the simple soup base you are boiling. When the peppers and onions are on the verge of browning, add the carrots and half of the garlic. When the carrots are just past al dente, meaning they are cooked but not soggy or browned, remove all the vegetables and put them in a bowl, saving your precious oil for the beets.
Now for the tricky part. Access how much oil you have left and add a tablespoon more if you need. This is the only fat going into the soup, and it carries ALL of the flavor, so don’t be stingy. Bring the oil to medium-high heat and when it’s hot, add the beets. Toss the beats in the oil to cover them, and cook for about ten to fifteen minutes, stirring often. Midway through, add in the rest of the garlic and the minced chili. When the beets are al dente, add sugar and vinegar to taste. Depending on the sweetness of the beets, this will be anywhere from a tablespoon of each to possibly a fourth of a cup. You are aiming for a sweet and sour mixture here. Season with your French or Italian spice blends, salt and fresh cracked pepper set to a medium-small grind. Take off the heat and add in the rest of the vegetables. Readjust your seasonings if necessary, adding more salt, pepper, sugar, or vinegar as necessary.
At this point, your broth should be ready or nearly ready. You’ll know this when the potatoes are on the verge of falling apart and some of the skins have fallen off. (I never peel the skins off potatoes because that’s basically the only nutritional value to the potato besides carbohydrates, which we all get more than enough of.)
Add the vegetables and adjust the heat to simmer. In a few minutes start tasting the soup for flavor balance, adding sugar, vinegar or seasoning until it’s got a nice sweet and sour effect. Add a couple tablespoons of fresh chopped dill or one tablespoon of dried dill. Remove from heat. Do NOT let this soup simmer or boil away because all the vegetables you worked so hard to cook just right will become mushy and your heart will sink, that is, unless you like soggy vegetables.
This soup is traditionally garnished with sour cream and a sprig or two of dill on top. I use low-fat sour cream (a miracle product). Sour cream blends into the soup and makes it a beautiful creamy magenta color when it’s served cold. This soup is excellent both hot or cold. I find that when tasting cold foods, the flavor complexity is more evident, probably because the trigeminal nerve that transmits flavor also transmits temperature information. Also, when any soup chills overnight its complexity deepens substantially.
Borsch freezes exceptionally well, so make a nice big batch and freeze your leftovers in a few days.