Public Health Announcement: borscht is good for you

The part of me that is not English or Hungarian is Ukrainian. This post seems a necessary counter-balance to the Hungarian salami post.

I have always had a nagging feeling that I couldn’t properly claim Ukrainian heritage unless I could make borsch, and this week I finally did it.

I am giving the recipe exactly as I found it in Savella Stechishin’s excellent Traditional Ukrainian Cookery. I have no qualms about copying it out word for word as the book has been out of print for some time. If you can get a second-hand one (and it will cost you a finger and a toe if not an arm and a leg) I strongly recommend it. Stechishin was born in the Ukraine but emigrated to Canada, which is why you will find North American spellings below.

My tips:

  • I used pork ribs for the ‘soup meat’ – they are fun to fish out and gnaw on.
  • Don’t leave out the garlic.
  • Don’t bother with the flour.
  • Don’t worry about the beet kvas bit – it’s a sour liquid made from fermented beetroots which is way beyond the call of duty.
  • Do add the lemon juice, or alternatively a couple of spoonfuls of the pickling liquid from some dill pickled cucumbers.
  • Be generous with the soured cream.

Borsch is stuffed with healthy vegetables, a beautiful colour and tastes like nothing  in the Western European repertoire. It will put a spring in your step. Enjoy.

“Standard Borsch

This standard recipe for borsch is the one most commonly used with slight variations to suit one’s taste. It was customary for grandmother to cut the beets and other root vegetables into very thin strips. She preferred them that way. But they may also be grated in long shreds on a coarse grater with no sacrifice of quality to the finished product. For a well-flavoured borsch, it is best to use some fresh lean pork and a small piece of any smoked pork along with the soup meat of beef. Each of them contributes its own specific flavor and adds to the richness of the stock.

1 1/2 pounds soup meat with bone
10 to 12 cups cold water
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium beets, cut in thin strips
1 small carrot, cut in thin strips
1 medium potato, diced
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup diced string beans or cooked white beans
2 to 3 cup shredded cabbage
3/4 cup strained tomatoes or tomato juice
1/2 clove garlic, crushed, if desired
1 tablespoon flour
beet kvas or lemon juice
salt and pepper
chopped dill
1/2 cup sour cream

Cover the meat with the cold water, add the salt, bring slowly to the boiling point, then skim. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Add the onion and beets; cook 10 to 15 minutes for until the beets are almost done. If young beets are used, cook them together with the other vegetables. Add the carrot, potato, celery, and string beans; continue cooking for about 10 minutes. When cooked white beans are used, they should be added after the cabbage is cooked to retain their white color. Finally put in the cabbage and cook until it is tender. Do not overcook. Stir in the tomatoes or tomato juice and the crushed garlic, if it is used. Blend the flour with 3 tablespoons of cold water, spoon into it some soup liquid, and then stir into the borsch. If a thickened borsch is not desired, omit the flour. Add a small quantity of the beet kvas or lemon juice or any other mild acid commonly used in borsch, taking care not to use too much. A good borsch should be pleasantly tart but not sour. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and bring to the boiling point. Flavor it with the chopped dill. When ready to serve, add some thick sour cream or rich sweet cream. The amount of cream will depend on personal taste. It may also be served without cream. Some prefer to put the cream into each serving. This is the custom in central Ukraine. When the borsch is to be reheated the next day, do not add any cream. It tastes better when the cream is added just before serving.”

Ukrainian Borsch

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Portable crumble with a dipping sauce

A friend of mine had a baby last week. They’ve had to stay in hospital a few more days while the baby gets over an infection so I went to see them this evening after work. And took some biscuits. I wanted them to be healthier and more interesting than hospital food but the hospital kitchen has the last laugh. While mum and dad were eating biscuits and I was admiring the baby we came up with the idea that takes these from semi-sensible biscuits to portable crumble.

Dip them in custard.

I don’t mean ‘proper custard’ made with vanilla pods, scalded milk and eggs but completely artificial bright yellow custard made with milk and a sugary powder. The kind you get in old people’s homes, schools and hospitals. The baby’s mum is ordering custard with tomorrow’s dinner.

The recipe is based on one in Baking Magic by Kate Shirazi. The main difference is the substitution of grated fresh apple for dried:

60 ml sunflower oil
75g unsalted butter
110g soft brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
100g rolled oats
150g wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
generous 1/2 tsp cinnamon
50g fresh blueberries
120g peeled and cored apple

Preheat the oven to 180C and grease or line two baking sheets.

Very VERY gently soften the butter. You don’t want to make it liquid or cook it in any way. When it’s soft enough to pass a spoon through it pop it in a large mixing bowl and beat it with the sunflower oil and sugar till all the sugar is dissolved. Make sure it’s cooled to room temperature then stir in the vanilla and egg, followed by the oats.

Sift over the flour, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon and stir. Finally throw in the blueberries and grate the apple straight into the bowl.

Give the mix one last stir then plop the mixture one tablespoonful at a time onto the baking sheets. The mix is pretty stiff and dry so you might want to flatten each dollop slightly with the back of a spoon.

Bake for ten or so – the biscuits should just be turning from golden to brown.

Let them cool on a rack while you prepare the custard…

blueberry apple crumble biscuit

Blueberry and apple portable crumble biscuits (best served with custard)

Alongside the crumble cookies, I made rugelach, this time following a Baking Magic recipe to the letter. The filling was apricot jam, chopped almonds, sugar and lemon zest and the result was very sweet and zingy. A real contrast to the relatively sensible crumble biscuits. Once I’d made them I realized the shape, like a miniature croissant, was exactly the same as that of Ukrainian rohalyky.

Rugelach rohalyky

Rugelach (or rohalyky)

Rugelach literally means ‘little twists’, rohalyky means ‘little horns’ and yet the sound of the words and the shape is so similar there must be a common ancestor to these pastries.

I’ve found recipes for both in two of my favourite cook books: Claudia Roden’s Book of Jewish Food (rugelach made with a curd cheese dough) and Savella Stechisin’s Traditional Ukrainian Cookery (rohalyky made with a yeasty dough). I’m looking forward to getting further into the similarities and differences  very soon.