Let’s start at the very beginning, the first recipe in the cookbook, the first vibrant taste of the what’s to come. For Olia Hercules Mamushka cookbook that recipe is Borscht, the kick off point for many Russian and Eastern European tables and with good reason.
I spent a year living in Saint Petersburg, Russia attending university and learning Russian. An odd choice for an Oklahoma. I will never forget my grandmother’s bold statement as I headed to the airport. “But Melissa, it’s dangerous there.” I won’t complete the statement as the remainder only reflects her adolescence during the cold war years. It wasn’t an uncommon thought for someone growing up in the post WWII era but it was 2002. We had boldly rounded the corner of the new millenium. Time for happy thoughts and higher hopes than the fears of bygone times.
Every home I visited, and practically every restaurant, served their own variation of Borscht – a beet broth with as few or as many fillings as the cook preferred. Some were just a thickened beet potage topped with sour cream and the classic Russian herb – freshly snipped dill. Other variants represented a vegetable beef soup filled to the brim with color and soupy scenery.
For every bowl of Borscht I’ve enjoyed from my host, I’ve never made it myself. Beets are one of those vegetables that require a certain amount of prep work to remove their earthy, grimy undertones. They must be chopped on top of paper towels or on top of a plastic bag to prevent them from staining your cutting board. The best kitchen friendly note I’ve ever learned is to bag each beet separately. Turn it inside out as you remove the beet and use it as a makeshift cutting board.
And then make yourself a pot of Olia’s lovely Ukrainian Borscht. I served this one to my parents…who do not love beets. More on that in the recipe, but we all ate two bowls. Mamushka good!
- 1 (1/2 lb) beef short rib
- 1/4 of a yellow onion
- 1 bay leaf
- 6 cups water
- 1 small red beet, peeled, washed, dried and cut into matchsticks
- 1 Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 1/2 tablespoon oil (canola, olive, safflower, whatever you have!)
- 1/4 yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks
- 1/4 red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- 1/4 cup jarred, puréed San Marzano tomatoes (I use Bella Terra jarred diced San Marzanos)
- 1/8 of a small head of cabbage, thinly sliced
- 1/2 (15oz) can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
- Sour cream and freshly minced dill, for serving
- To make the beef broth, cover the beef short rib, onion and bay leaf with 6 cups of water seasoning to taste. Simmer over medium heat for 1 hour.
- Next, prep the beet. First, turn a plastic grocery bag inside out and place it on top of your cutting board. Trim the ends and peel the beet. Thoroughly wash, dry and cut the beet and potatoes into matchsticks. Add both to the stock and discard the plastic bag and paper towel. Continue simmering for 30 more minutes.
- Meanwhile, prep the onions and carrots caramelizing in a 1/2 tablespoon of oil in a small frying pan over medium heat until softened. Season to taste. Add the tomato paste, the puréed San Marzanos and red bell pepper matchsticks to the pan, stir and cook for 1-2 minutes longer until slightly reduced. Add the veggies to the soup!
- Remove the onion and bay leaf from the stock and discard. Stir in the red kidney beans and cabbage cooking for 7 minutes longer or until the beef short rib is fork tender. Remove the short rib, shredding the meat with two forks, discard the bone and add the meat back into the soup. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with dill!
- Serve with Olia's Black Pepper Sage Pampushki! (recipe coming soon!)