Borscht!!! A blog post in which I reminisce about delicious Russian and Tatar food and then cover the first of two detailed, but not difficult, stages in making this classic Russian standard. Borscht can easily be served hot (the way we ate it in Kazan) or cold (the way we ate it with Mary’s friends in Phoenix), and it is delicious both ways. In 1996-1997, I had a Fulbright Fellowship to teach and do research at Kazan State University in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia. I returned in the summer of 2001 on a Fulbright Alumni Initiatives grant to carry out a women’s health study during which our team interviewed more than 1000 women. It’s been 14 years since I’ve been to Russia and the flavors I fell in love with still linger in my mind. The thought of my favorites dishes makes my mouth water. Triugulnik (meat, carrot and onion, or pumpkin and onion stuffed dough triangles – these were Tatar versions of pirozhki), manti (beef and onion stuffed dough steamed in a multi-level rice steamer), pelmeni, (dough stuffed with beef, then boiled in broth and served as a soup or strained, either version topped with smetana (Russian sour cream, perhaps the most heavenly substance on earth) and chopped green onions, polv (beef, carrots, onions and rice cooked in beef broth). Our favorite pirozhki which my Tatar son Albert, Stefan, Alyssa and I made for school events at Mountain View Montessori School in Reno, Nevada, was rice, egg, and green onions wrapped in dough and baked. The kids loved them! But today, our topic is the second soup my dear friend Mary and I made during our “soup from scratch” adventure in Phoenix, borscht!!! As Mary is a vegetarian and as our goal was healthy eating, we chose a vegetarian version that is also gluten free (although, to be honest, I’m not sure what gluten would have been added anyway). Since we were looking for such a precise recipe, we stopped with the delightful version outlined by Olga, self-proclaimed foodaholic, and author of the food blog Fablunch. Here’s the link to Olga’s recipe: http://blog.fablunch.com/vegetarian-borscht-борщ-authentic-russian-beet-soup-recipe/ We decided to take the recipe up a notch as Emeril would say and make our stock from scratch as well. Neither of us had ever done this before. As a base, we settled on a recipe for vegetable stock found on Bon Appetit. Here’s the link: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/vegetable-stock. As you would expect, we modified it “our way”. From the Bon Appetit recipe, we subtracted mushrooms (which Mary loves and I despise), fennel (which neither of us had ever cooked with, and as we had other preferred herbs and weren’t sure how fennel would go with beets, we left it out), and whole black peppercorns, although we did add pepper later. We added 1 bunch of green onions, a beet, and beet stalks. We put in more parsley and more bay leaves. If you’d like to compare the recipes more explicitly, the link to theirs is above. Below we outline what we did. Remember, we were making a broth for borscht, so beets were a logical addition. Veggie Stock In a large stock pot, we warmed 2 tbsps of extra-virgin olive oil. To the oil we added: Beet greens (stalks, not the big floppy leaves – we didn’t want it to get bitter) ((Our beets were large. If we’d had smaller, younger ones we would have included the leaves as well.)) 3 large Carrots (unpeeled – cut in 1 inch pieces) 10 stalks Celery (cut in 1 inch pieces) 2 White Onions (unpeeled and quartered) ((Feel free to use your favorite onions.)) 1 Garlic bulb (unpeeled, cut in half) 1 bunch Green Onions (cut in 1 inch pieces) 1 Beet (unpeeled and quartered) 1 Green Pepper (seeded and quartered) 2 large handfuls Parsley Cover and cook 5-7 minutes until vegetables start to soften a bit. Add 4 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until liquid reduces by half, about 1 ½ – 2 hours. If you need broth to reduce more quickly, take the lid off at 1 hour. Let broth cool, then skim out all vegetables and discard. They have given their all for your broth, color, texture, taste, nutrients. We then poured our broth through a fine strainer to get out any remaining “sediment” and let it cool on the stove covered overnight. We could easily have made the borscht right then, but we wanted it for the next day. The yield was just about 2 quarts. The stock had a very light flavor and we thought could be used as the base for just about any vegetable soup. Next up: The making of borscht!