Food, Fresh made soups

Cooking with Mary #3: Borscht!!!!!

Few Russian dishes are more iconic than borscht, Russian beet soup. Typically made with beef and beef broth, borscht is a gift to the palate. I fell in love with it the first time our Tatar Babushka made it for us. We were fortunate when our family arrived in Kazan to have a built in family. Two years prior, a young student from Kazan State University came to study at the University of Nevada, Reno where I taught. Kazan State University is famous or infamous, depending on your point of view because it is the university that expelled revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin when he was a student. It was also the third largest university in Russia and home to the renowned Russian mathematician, Nikolai Lobachevsky.

To make a long story short, we adopted Albert through a university program designed to give international students a local family to help their transition and expose them to U.S. culture. Our family never does anything halfway, so before you knew it, Albert was having dinner with us regularly, going on picnics, inviting us to his dorm for dinner (not the most tasty option, but it meant a lot to him to share with us). My children Stefan, age 6 and Alyssa, age 1, fell in love with Albert as he did with them. They were delighted to have a big brother. He often spent weekends and breaks traveling around the area with us or simply staying at our home. He became family.

Originally I was supposed to be posted in Kaluga, a small industrial city 90 miles south of Moscow for my Fulbright. Albert was going to live in our Reno house and find roommates to cover the mortgage payment. Shortly before we were to leave, my posting changed. We would be heading to Kazan and a built in family, Albert’s mother Zainob, Zainob’s father who we called Großvater (grandfather in German – to this day I don’t know why we referred to him in German), and Zainob’s mother who we called Babushka, a delightfully sweet and strong woman who was also a marvelous cook and a loving person. It was wonderful to travel half way around the world and find family.

As I said, Babushka loved to cook and her food was delicious. Her borscht had shredded beef, cabbage, beets, garlic, and was never complete without a dollop of Smetana (village sour cream) and some chopped green onions on top. It was one of my favorites.

For our purposes, Mary and I decided to make a vegetarian, gluten-free borscht. As I noted in my prior post, we used Olga’s recipe from her site as our starting point.  Again, you can find her original recipe here:борщ-authentic-russian-beet-soup-recipe/

Here’s our version:

borscht fixings


2 medium beets (peeled and shredded)

1 large carrot (peeled and shredded)

1 tomato (diced – Olga recommends peeling it. We didn’t.)

3 cloves garlic (smashed and chopped)

Saute above in 1 1/2 tbsp of olive oil plus 2 tbsp of water and the juice of 1/2 of a lemon in the stock pot in which you will make the soup. (5 minutes on medium/high heat)

Reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes

Boil 1/2 gallon veggie stock in a separate pan; add 1 tbsp salt (Note: we did not season the stock at all as we prepared it.) ((See recipe in prior post)), or you can just use 1/2 gallon of water or store bought veggie stock.)) (((Note: the veggie stock really adds dimension, though. We think it’s well worth it.))). Add to veggies and stir in after they simmer for 20 minutes.

fresh stock with sauteed onions and garlic

Add 5 potatoes (peeled and diced) ((For a heartier soup, you could forego peeling the potatoes.))

Add 1/2 head of green cabbage, finely sliced.

Stir to mix ingredients thoroughly. Cook for 10 minutes.

Sauté 1 large finely chopped red onion and 3 smashed, then chopped, cloves of garlic in 1 tsp olive oil over medium heat. Cook until onions are translucent and turning golden. Stir into soup.

Add 2 handfuls of chopped fresh parsley

4 bay leaves

Juice from the other 1/2 lemon

1/2 tsp black pepper


Cook for 5-10 more minutes until diced potatoes are cooked, yet firm.

Garnish with sour cream, dill, parsley, chopped radishes, and/or chopped green onions. We stirred some of the dill and green onions into the sour cream, then added more as garnish.

borscht lunch

This version of veggie borscht is flavorful, yet delicate. Mary and I think the dill and sour cream really set it off. We served it with European rye bread we’d picked up at the Saturday Central Phoenix Farmer’s Market (It wasn’t gluten free. It was delicious!!!) and a lovely bottle of Conundrum Red Wine.

If you try this, let us know what you think. As I noted in the last post, we ate it hot first and it was delicious. The next night we took it to a gathering of Mary’s friends and enjoyed it cold. Cold, it makes a perfect, refreshing summer soup. This soup made me smile with memories as we made new ones. I think Babushka would have been pleased.


Food, Fresh made soups

Cooking with Mary: Part #2 – The Making of Veggie Stock for Borscht (Not as hard as you’d think!)

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: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: 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. veggie broth Next up: The making of borscht!