Borscht comes in from the cold

Warm up to this clas­sic Rus­sian soup with sausage

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - J.M. HIRSCH

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

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.

Le­mon Syrniki

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

Matthew Mead/The As­so­ci­ated Press

Sausage Borscht is a vi­brant and in­cred­i­bly de­li­cious vari­a­tion on a clas­sic dish from Rus­sia that re­ceives much un­de­served crit­i­cism.

Matthew Mead/The As­so­ci­ated Press

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...

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