Saturday, December 4, 2010


I've had it in my head for a while now that I was going to take a shot at this - although I'm not that big a fan of beets, I'm utterly enthralled by the color of this hearty soup so I had to give it a shot.

Though it's going to be a while before I manage to match the borscht at Veselka here in NY's East Village (that's what set me off on this mission in the first place), this version I cobbled together is still pretty damn good.

It seems to be that the key here is to sort out a hearty, flavorful, savory broth base on which to build.  Ready?  OK!

Stuff you'll need

  • Beef broth (I used a whole 32oz container)
  • 4 or 5 medium sized beets, whole - don't peel them yet. (you could use canned beets{3 cans}, but at the moment they're in season so why would you?)
  • Cooking liquid from the beets (or liquid from the canned beets)
  • 3-4 stalks of celery chopped
  • two medium sized carrots chopped (or not - personally I forgot the carrots and it was still good)
  • Small to medium sized head of cabbage, shredded
  • 2-3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • couple sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon(+) of 5 spice powder (most recipes I saw called for a teaspoon of allspice berries, but I didn't have any so I substituted 5 spice powder)
  • 2 medium sized potatoes diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1-2 lbs pork shoulder
  • 3 - 4 good sized soup bones (I like the ones with a healthy chunk of marrow - good snacking!)
  • Salt (kosher works better) to taste
  • Pepper to taste

You're going to need a couple of huge pots for this.  Start with the beets - boil them with the skin on until tender.  Save the cooking water (which should be an eye watering shade of pink now) and peel and dice the beets. Set aside both the beets and the liquid.

Now the broth - cook the pork shoulder, in beef broth, with bay leaf, 5 spice powder/allspice berries, beef soup bones and salt and pepper to taste - be careful with the salt, it's possible the broth is already well salted. If you're able to find a boneless pork shoulder, cut the meat into chunks to facilitate cooking.  The first time I did it, I cooked it for about 30 min stove top, cut it up and added it to the broth to finish, the second time I cooked the pork in the beef broth in a slow cooker for about 2 hours.  Personally I liked the slow cooked results better, the broth was heartier and richer, the marrows dissolved almost completely into the broth (denying me of my snack but wow was it worth it).  I'd recommend slow cooking if you have the time (plan ahead it's worth it!)
In another large pot, pour a generous splash of oil - I used olive, but vegetable oil would be good here too - something flavor neutral.  Add garlic and onions, and sweat them till they start to become translucent.

Turn down the heat and add the potatoes, cooking them till they start to soften, add carrots, celery, and cabbage, and sweat the whole mix, letting the vegetables cook through without browning.  A tip for the order to add veggies - add the hardest ones first, like the carrots -  let them cook a bit then add the softer ones it'll help even out the texture and assists with timing.

Once the meat is cooked through, pour the entire pot of meat broth off into this pot with the veggies - this is going to create the base of the borscht. Add a splash of white vinegar (or apple cider vinegar if you prefer) - add vinegar sparingly, you can always add more but you can't fish it out..

If you've already diced up the meat, add that now, otherwise dice up the pork shoulder to spoon friendly pieces.  Let this simmer for a couple minutes to blend the flavors (like +/-10min).  You're looking for an intensely savory soup with a slight vinegar flavor. If it seems a little bit sour or salty, it's OK the beet liquid is sweet and it'll temper the salt and vinegar.

Now the fun part - add the cooking liquid from the beets, along with the diced beets to the  mix - adding it last ensures the color remains vibrant - over cooking at this point will change the color from vivid magenta to tomato red.  Warm the entire pot through and simmer it for a couple or 5 minutes and you're done!

I'm imagining this with a thick slice of toasted sour dough....


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