Recipe Review: Borscht, the Purplest of soups

I’m starting this new campaign in my life where I, you know…try. Hang up my sweaters when I’m washing them and not stick everything in the dryer and hope for the best. Not count, “I took the stairs at work” as my daily workout. Cook things that take effort, and not something that involves saltines and sriracha (my grad school special).

This last goal brings us to my most recent culinary adventure. I spent last weekend in NYC with my mom and my sisters, and we visited one of my old haunts, Veselka, a Ukrainian diner in the East Village. AKA, where I first tried borscht.

Borscht, however, is not a mainstay of the live and hoping soup scene in Wisconsin. (You don’t know about the soup scene? Oh man…catch up, you guys. Catch up..) So tonight, folks, I tried to make my own. I found a pretty straightforward recipe to start with. And I’m not going to lie to you, I made so many edits, this soup probably no longer counts as borscht. It’s sorta-borscht. Sorscht?

First hurtle: (once again) grocery shopping! I’m not sure my grocery store was having a great produce week, so the amounts of ingredients got a little muddled. The recipe doesn’t specify if you need regular cabbage or red cabbage, but upon seeing the regular cabbage, I knew I was staring at the product of a nuclear accident. The cabbage was the size of a small child. So after consulting my cabbage experts (my sisters), and honestly wondering if I could carry the cabbage to the car, I went with the much more reasonable, less-terrifying, red cabbage option. Also, purple! It matches all those other borschts I’ve seen. Color coordination means something in cooking, I’m sure.

Godzilla Cabbage: "I may be a good source of fiber, but I will also destroy everything in my path. Something you have to deal with."

Godzilla Cabbage: “I may be a good source of fiber, but I will also destroy everything in my path. Something you have to deal with.”

Second produce disappointment, the beets. And you guys! You need awesome beets to make beet soup! For weeks I’ve seen these beautiful beets in the produce section thinking, “huh…I should try making borscht.” And when I finally do it, the only beets to be found are roughly the size of…. an excitable grape tomato? A growth-stunted crab apple? They were small you guys. Beets, consider yourself doubled.

Make way! Artistic license stepping in! The recipe calls for potatoes. I don’t love potatoes in soup (Unless it’s potato soup, but then again, that soup is 50% cheese). They just seem like filler. So I traded the potatoes out for a green vegetable. Now once again, listen to the master. When looking for the best leafy green to put in your beet soup, take my advice, and go for the prettiest. I’m pretty sure that technique is employed by all the greats. Colorful stem? Swiss chard, ho! (Let’s not talk about the fact you don’t use the stems. I’m learning, folks.)

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Second hurtle: Chop everything, and then chop the chopped things. All in all, there was a lot of prep, but it was all chopping. I attacked the cabbage first, and decided that it is the clown car of vegetables. You start chopping, and you keep chopping. And then you must continue to chop because the cabbage. Never. Ends. And because you don’t need the whole cabbage for the recipe, once you’re done after the 13 hours of cabbage-chopping, take half of it and put it in a mason jar with sliced cucumbers, white vinegar and sriracha. Stick it in the fridge for a few days, and you’ll have a nice cabbage salad for later in the week. Ta-dah!

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Chopping beets is your next adventure. Beets themselves are pretty fascinating. Once you peel them, they have this cool woodgrain-esque pattern on the inside. Bad news? Peeling beets gives you “I definitely didn’t commit murder” hands.

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They’re beets. It’s always beets.

Once you get everything chopped up, it’s all down hill from there. After one more recipe change, that is. The recipe calls for filling up a pot with two quarts of water. Simple change, I used one quart of chicken broth, one quart water. Done. (Truth time? It would have been more broth, but the only other kind I had was spicy tortilla chicken broth, and that might just be too much adventure for a borscht right out of the date.)

All in all, a pretty simple tasty recipe! I’m looking forward to summer when I can try out Ina Garten’s recipe for cold borscht. AKA Dill-explosion-ahoy!

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