I am worried that I am peaking too soon giving away the recipe for the Main Russian Dish so early in my blogging. What am I going to write about after this? Everything pales in comparison to this most famous Russian soup which, incidentally, is actually the most popular dish in Russia, too.
Buuut! I am willing to take that risk. Especially after writing at length last week about the Russians’ love of beets. Several paragraphs that seemed to surely lead to something beet-y… Nope, a coffee cake recipe followed! Therefore, I feel that I owe my readers a beets recipe.
When I first came to the US I was very homesick and, understandably, was excited to find a jar labeled “borsch” on an ethnic foods shelf at a supermarket. Closer inspection, however, revealed its contents as being thin, almost clear beet-colored liquid with a few shreds of… cabbage?.. floating in it. What is that?! How is this remotely borsch? The borsch that I knew – hot, thick, with rich beef or chicken broth serving to carry a whole bunch of vegetables and herbs? With sour cream added for a smooth creamy taste?
Now, of course, I know that not all borsches are created equal. The Polish also have something they call borscht (which, I think, is closer to what I saw at the store). And don’t even ask Ukrainians where proper borsch comes from lest you want to hurt their national pride :).
Below is the version I grew up with and still cook at home - my comfort food, with its tomato-y tartness, substantially thick with vegetables, mellowed out with sour cream. Below is my memory of home.
4 chicken thighs, with bones and skin
1/2 tablespoon salt
4 bay leaves
5 medium potatoes
1 medium onion
1 medium or 2 small beets
2 medium carrots
3 garlic cloves
1/2 cabbage head
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 14.5-oz can crushed tomatoes
juice of 1 lemon
4 tablespoons fresh finely minced dill or 1 tablespoon dry
4 tablespoons fresh finely minced parsley or 1 tablespoon dry
freshly ground pepper
sour cream for serving
In a large pot, combine chicken thighs and 6 cups of water. Bring to boil, add salt and bay leaves, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until chicken pulls away from the bone, about 30 minutes. In the meantime, peel the vegetables, dice potatoes, mince onions and garlic (it is ok to use the garlic press). Grate beets and carrots on the side of the grater with the largest holes, shred cabbage into thin strips, Cole-slaw style.
Remove chicken from broth, set aside. Add potatoes to broth, bring to boil and simmer unit potatoes can be pierced with a fork but are still firm.
In the meantime, in a medium skillet sauté onions in oil until translucent. Add beets, carrots and garlic; sauté until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes (including juice) and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Remove bones and skin from chicken, discard. Shred chicken with a fork.
Add cabbage to potatoes, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer until cabbage is soft, about 7 minutes. Add stewed vegetables, shredded chicken, lemon juice, dill, parsley and pepper. Bring to boil, remove from heat and let sit, covered, for a few minutes to let the flavors meld.