BORSCHT (RUSSIAN BEET SOUP)
A cold front brought blue skies and falling temperatures today and left us seeking something simple, hearty and warming for dinner -- and something that wouldn't be amiss with the nice bottle of Veuve Cliquot Champagne that we'd been hoarding for Saturday night.
The answer? Borscht, Russian beet soup, based on a fairly simple rendition in Craig Claiborne's New York Times Cookbook. The original involves lots of chopping, but I was able to cut the time way down by pressing the Cuisinart into service.
Start about 1 1/2 hours before dinner by throwing 1 pound stew beef into 6 cups cold water in a large pot with 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, skim off all the scum that rises to the surface, reduce heat and simmer until the meat is very tender and the liquid has become a good, simple broth.
Meanwhile, peel and chop fine (Cuisinart/steel blade) two carrots (enough to make 3/4 cup), two turnips (ditto), one medium onion (1 cup chopped), and four average-size beets (2 cups) and mix all together in a large bowl.
Then chop (no need to clean the Cuisinart) 1/2 small head of cabbage (1 1/2 cups) and two large cloves of garlic, placing this in a separate bowl.
About 45 minutes before dinner, place the chopped carrots, turnips, onion and beets in a large saucepan with 3/4 cup tomato sauce, 2 bay leaves, 2 tablespoons white or cider vinegar, 2 teaspoons sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste. Add about 2 cups of broth from the beef pot, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Stir in the chopped cabbage and garlic, cover, and continue cooking over low heat for 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
This should bring you up to about 20 minutes before dinner. Drain the broth off the beef cubes, and add the broth to the vegetable mixture. Remove the lid and raise the heat to medium. Shred the beef or cut it into small dice, depending on how tender it has become, and add the meat to the borscht. Let it cook over medium heat until the target time, at which point it should be thick and rich. Stir in another teaspoon of vinegar and check for seasonings, and serve, adding a dollop of sour cream or light sour cream (optional, but traditional and delicious) to each bowl.
Goes very well with black bread and Champagne.
Makes a huge quantity, with leftovers to last for days; fortunately, it freezes well.