Sunday, June 11, 2017

Borshch; A "Cook the Books" Recipe

Our Cook the Books selection this time was Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen. This selection was chosen by Simone of Bricole.

Current Selection

I ordered this up on  The reading by Kathleen Gati took about 12 1/2 hrs.  That was about 10 hrs too long in my book.  It wasn't that I hated the story, some of it was quite interesting especially once the author got through all of the background information about her grandparents and parents that took up the first 2/3 of the story.  I understand that she was trying to give a history of the Soviet through their eyes but I found myself daydreaming about other things while Kathleen droned on and on and on in an accent that I couldn't determine was actual.

Perhaps it was the narrator, perhaps it was the writing.  Probably it was a bit of both.  Once the storyline started dealing with Anya and her life, her feelings, her got much better. The best thing about this audible memoir was the pdf file of recipes that were included.

As some of you may know, in a past life I was a representative for an Exchange Student Program, placing students from around the world into homes here in Michigan.  You will often hear me talking about my Russian daughter, Marina, my Danish kids, Dian and Zoey, my German son, Max and, of course, my Chinese daughter, Tingting who has blessed us with our Little Angel Face.

You become very close to these children, they become part of your family.  Tingting lives here in the USA and we get to see her all the time.  Max was home for a visit a couple of months ago.  Dian is bringing his family to spend time with us this summer and in August we are meeting up with My Marina for a week long visit while we cruise to Alaska.  

I place a young lady from Ukraine, Nataliya, with our friends, the Bendas several years ago.  She, too, fast became an important member of their family and returned to them while attending University here in Michigan.  They were over for dinner one night and (unbeknownst to her) there was a potluck birthday celebration in the works for her.  I casually asked her, as we ate dinner, what meal she missed the most from her homeland.  Without hesitation she replied "Borshch".  She said that while she had gotten Borscht here in the USA it was not the same as that with which she had been raised.

I was listening to this book at the time, so after they left I went to the recipe file and found the recipe from the 1980's visit that Anya made to her father.  Anya states that this is true Ukranian Barshch that she had slightly tweaked from her father's version.  I slightly tweaked it as well but I must have done okay because this is what Nataly had to say about it.........

So we have always spelt this soup Borscht and you can find a Polish version that I made here.  Anya spells it Borshch and Nataliya spells it Borch.  However it is spelled it is a version of Beet Soup that originated in Eastern European Countries and was brought here with the emigres.

Anya's version contains meat, kidney beans and apples none of which I have ever had in a Borscht before.  This is more of a stew actually than the soupy Borscht of which I was familiar.  I have to say that it was absolutely delicious and I can see why Nataly missed it so badly.  This is much more work than the other beet soups I have made and worth every moment of it.  Enjoy!

I made enough for 2 large crockpots full of this wonderful creation but feel free to halve the recipe if you like. 

Want to join us this month?  You have lots of time.  Submissions are accepted until July 31st when Simone will do a roundup of all the recipes inspired by this memoir.  You can find out how to join by going to Simone's announcement post.

I am also linking up with Foodies Read 2017.  See what other food lovers are reading this month right here.

adapted from Anya Von Bremzen

For Stock:

4 lb beef pot roast, trimmed
4 qts water
2 onions, quartered
2 carrots, scrubbed and broken in half
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste

Place beef and water in a large stock pot over high heat and bring to a boil.  Skim foam from surface and reduce heat to low.  Add the onions, carrots, bay leaves, salt and pepper.  Simmer, partially covered for 2-3 hours, until meat is fork tender.

Remove the meat to a platter to cool.  Strain the stock into a clean container and let cool to room temperature before refrigerating overnight.  Discard the vegetables.  When beef is cool enough to handle, cut into 2" chunks, discarding any bones, gristle or fat.  Place into a container and refrigerate until making soup.

For Soup:

8 beets, well scrubbed and stemmed
3 large cloves of garlic
Large handful of parsley leaves
1/4 c. vinegar
1/3 c. sugar
3 oz. fresh mushrooms
2 large onions, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
6 slices bacon, diced
1 lg. green pepper, cored, seeded and diced
6 T. butter (plus more if needed)
1 head cabbage, cored and chopped
2 t. paprika
8 small red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" dice
2 (15 oz) cans diced tomatoes
2 small tart apples, peeled, cored and diced
2 (16 oz) cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Sour cream for serving

Wrap the beets in aluminum foil and roast in a preheated 400* oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until easily pierced with the tip of a knife.  Unwrap the beets and immediately place them in an ice water bath.  The skins should slip right off.  Shred half of the beets using a box grater and set aside.  Cut the remaining beets into quarters and set aside.

While beets are roasting remove stock from refrigerator, skim off any congealed fat on the top of the stock and discard.  Allow stock to come to room temperature.

Cook the bacon in a large soup pot over med low heat until crispy, remove to a paper towel lined dish and reserve.  Add the mushrooms, onions, carrot, apple and green pepper to the bacon drippings Increase the heat to med high and cook until softened, approx. 10 minutes adding butter if the pot looks dry. Add the butter and cabbage to the pot and continue to cook, stirring for another 5 minutes or so.  Stir in the paprika.  Remove 2 cups of the stock and set aside.  Place the remaining stock, potatoes, tomatoes with their juices, apple and the reserved beef into the pot and bring to a gentle boil. Season with salt and pepper and simmer over low heat, partially covered, until potatoes are tender, 15-20 minutes.

While soup is simmering place the quartered beets, reserved stock, garlic, parsley, vinegar and sugar into a heavy duty blender or food processor and pulse several times.  Add this mixture to the soup pot along with the beans and reserved bacon.  Cook over med high heat for at least a half hour or longer, allowing the flavors to meld.  Stir in the grated beets, reserving some for garnish, if desired.  Ladle into soup bowls, top with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle with some grated beets.  Serve with extra sour cream on the side. Print Recipe


  1. I definitely felt the same way about the book: not my favorite. But this soup looks amazing! I love how your exchange students became part of your family. Lucky kids.

  2. Doesn't sound like a book I'll be reading. But the borscht sounds delicious!

    1. Yes, It wasn't a great read but it was definitely good eats.

  3. I have yet to read this; however, my sister said it was funny which makes me pause after your description....:) Love the personal connection you shared regarding the recipe.

    1. I don't recall any funny parts in the story at all Debra. Perhaps I was zoned out though...the narrator failed to keep my attention.

  4. My family hosted a short term exchange student from Japan and I did some short term exchanges in Central and South America. I loved it. It would be great to be able to do it again.

  5. I liked reading about the students you hosted. I can imagine how they become part of your life. And thank you for sharing Nataliya's story. The Borshch in the book is certainly more complex than the version I knew and I am glad you enjoyed the result. Thank you for contributing to this edition of Cook the Books :)

    1. Thanks so much for hosting Simona. Without your choice of this story I never would have discovered this amazing recipe.

  6. What a sweet testimonial from Nataliya on your work of love, making that Borsch. It does sound delicious. Funny, I never buy meat specifically for soup, but it seems to be worth it from your experience.

    1. I buy a beef quarter once a year so I always have chuck, rump and round roasts in the freezer which are great for beef soups.

  7. Great post--I loved hearing about your exchange students. I imagine this would have been a bit dry for 12 1/2 hours of audio. So glad you made the Borshch--it looks delicious.

    I saw your comment on my post about joining in on Souper Sundays and please do drop by and link up soups, salads or sandwiches any time you like.

    1. I am definitely going to do that Deb. I am out of town for a week but plan on stopping by when I get back and start blogging again.

  8. I never knew how many variations of borshch there were out there! This version looks amazing!

  9. OMG that note she wrote is just so touching! I can feel how much it meant to her. And that is definitely the best borshch recipe I have ever seen. Will have to try it.

  10. I love beets but have never tried borscht -- guess it's time - cathy branciaroli


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