Borscht comes in from the cold
Warm up to this classic Russian soup with sausage
Borscht is woefully underappreciated in America. This classic dish from Russia (and much of Eastern Europe, in fact) not only is a great way to eat a ton of vegetables, it also can be incredibly delicious.
But it generally has a bad reputation. People think of it as a cold, stringy and mostly bland soup. While it can be served cold, that’s by no means the rule. And as for the stringy and bland part, no way. Borscht can get a stringy or mushy texture if it’s overcooked. But so can pasta, so it’s really just a matter of paying attention.
And if you’ve had a bland borscht, you just haven’t had a good one. The key is to start it off right — a nicely sautéed onion and spicy pork sausage. They add tons of flavour and a great hit of protein that makes this a substantial soup that can stand in as a full meal. Dill and fennel seeds also amp up the flavour. Round it out with fresh dill and sour cream, and you’ll learn to love borscht as an easy weeknight meal. Start to finish: 20 minutes Servings: 6 1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil 1 large red onion, thinly sliced 1 pound (454 g) loose spicy pork sausage meat 1 tsp (5 mL) fennel seeds
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) dill seeds 1 quart (1 L) beef stock Three 15-ounce cans beets, drained
Salt and ground black pepper
Chopped fresh dill, to serve
Sour cream, to serve
In a large saucepan over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook until just starting to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up, until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the fennel and dill seeds and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. While the stock heats, fit a food processor with the large grating attachment. Grate the beets. Add the beets and any liquid in the processor to the pan. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and top with sour cream and dill.
“For Americans, it’s pretty specific to drink beer, eat pizza, eat wings,” says Yevgeniy Khorishko, press officer at the Russian embassy in Washington. “There is no such tradition in Russia.”
Which is why when Olya Morgen and her husband Brian sit down to watch the Winter Games, they plan to enjoy a feast of potato salad and piroshki.
“We’ll munch and watch,” says Morgen, a 33-year-old chiropractor from Arlington, Va., who emigrated from Moscow in 1991. “Brian loves it. The piroshki are his favourite.”
Need help getting a taste of Russia for your own viewing party? Consider starting with Russian potato salad, also called Olivier after the 19th century Belgian chef who created it.
Potato salad is one of Russia’s most beloved dishes. Olivier generally incorporates peas, carrots, salted cucumbers and sometimes other vegetables in a rich mayonnaise dressing with chicken, ham or a bologna-like sausage.
“In Russia, it’s very famous,” Alexander Lokhin, executive chef at the Russian restaurant Mari Vanna in Washington, said speaking through a translator. “All holidays we have Olivier, especially for New Year’s Eve.”
Adventurous eaters might watch the cold weather events with some “herring under a fur coat.” This is a plate of finely chopped pickled herring buried beneath layers of shredded potato, beets, onions and carrots.
Dumplings called piroshki offer pockets of yeasty dough filled with ground beef and onion, mushrooms, rice, mashed potatoes and dill, braised cabbage, or even liver and potatoes. Pelmeni are dumplings with a thinner skin, a bit like wantons, and are filled with minced meat, fish or mushrooms, before being boiled. They can be eaten in broth or buttered and served with sour cream.
Sbiten is a Russian mulled honey drink. Served warm, it is similar to mulled cider. It’s usually served without alcohol, but certainly is delicious with vodka added just before serving. Start to finish: 45 minutes Servings: 8 12 oz (3/4 lb or 340 g) seedless blackberry or currant jam 3 cinnamon sticks
1 tbsp (15 mL) whole allspice
Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cover for 30 minutes. Strain and serve warm.
Syrniki is a cheese pancake, sort of a cross between cheesecake and pancakes. We liked ours topped with sour cream and jam, or fresh fruit and whipped cream, but you could omit the sugar and go savoury with sour cream, chives and chopped ham. Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours Servings: 12
Sausage Borscht is a vibrant and incredibly delicious variation on a classic dish from Russia that receives much undeserved criticism.
1/4 cup (60 mL) low-fat sour cream 2 tsp (10 mL) Dijon mustard Kosher salt and ground black pepper 1 lb (454 g) 90- to 95-per-cent lean ground beef The obvious appeal of lean ground beef in these burgers is that it cuts the fat. And if you can find...