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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter Borscht

There are many different versions of Borscht depending on the season or region of Eastern Europe.  The Russian and Ukrainian versions are very similar, and it is that version I have in a small memory parcel deep in my brain that has somehow resurfaced since yesterday.  Summer Borscht is eaten in a similar way that Gaspacho is eaten.  Nice and chilled on a hot day.  Winter Borscht is eaten steaming hot.  The broth is clear but red and earthy and full of beet flavor.
The only time I've ever eaten borscht was back in my university days.  I had a Russian friend who hosted a team project meeting at his parent's place and his mother politely offered to feed the team.  When you're a student, there is nothing better than being offered a home cooked meal, especially by somebody who's well trained in that domain.  The best part of this offer was that she was giving young Americans from various backgrounds a peep into Russian cuisine, which none of us had ever tried.
Her Borscht nourished me, but also drove me crazy.  In those days, my cooking skills were limited.  I knew how to make only what my mother had been able to explain to me over the phone, which was great, but I was not ready to take on challenges or cross over my culture-comfort zone.
Today, I'm ready to take on the world, and if this Borscht tastes remotely like the one engrained in my memory, I will have conquered that challenge.
By the way, this Borscht was out of this world.
Adapted to the slow cooker from Natasha's Kitchen's stove top recipe.
Serves 6
450g (1 lb) stew beef
2 bay leaves
1 beet, peeled and grated into sticks
2 carrots, grated into sticks
1 onion, diced
1 potato, peeled and cubed
1 tomatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely grated
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp dried dill
2 beef bouillon cubes (find some without MSG)
1 Tbsp coarse sea salt
1 Tbsp sugar
8 or more cups water
1 1/2 cups shredded cabbage (I used red)
1 jalapeño or green chile, seeded and diced (absolutely necessary!)
plain yogurt or sour cream
freshly chopped parsley
squeeze of lemon
red pepper flakes for extra spice
1.  Place everything but the garnish into the crock pot.  The water should cover everything but you may need to push some veggies down under the water level.  Cook on low for 7-9 hours.
2.  Fish out the beef pieces and shred.
3.  Serve hot into bowls with some shredded beef for each serving and garnish with a dollop of plain yogurt and parsley.
The longest part is all the cutting.  I spent about 1 hour doing prep-work.  It will take much much longer if you don't have the right tools.  I may not know how to play a musical instrument, but I sure know how to jam on my mandolin to get those gorgeous vegetables to their match-stick perfect shapes.
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