Having visited Russia a couple of times in the past, I am quite familiar with a few of the foods which Russia has to offer.
I encountered, things such as Blini, Pelmeni, Piroshoki, Plov, Shashlik.
However it is the soups that got my attention the most.
I like the sour tasting soup containing lemon, and black olives called Salanka, and a summer favourite is the "no cook" cold soup called Okroshka, which is made from a drink of fermented rye bread called Kvass and a variety of chopped raw fresh vegetables, such as gherkin and radishes, and is full of lots of fresh dill. Its infinitely better than Spanish Gazpacho in my opinion, and is very refreshing like a liquid salad.
However on this occasion we made a Bortsch, I think it is fair to say, that this soup is very well known universally, across the world. And that there as many variations of this soup, as there are variations for something like an Italian Lasagna.
Essentially though, the soup is a peasant type affair, (as the best dishes are) and is made from a broth made from meats normally beef or lamb, with the addition of roots such as white cabbage, beetroots and carrot. The beetroots in particular give bortsch its traditional red colour and taste. Personally I adore it.
Normally as I understand it, bortsch is served with sour cream dumped in the middle, although I usually have it without. Instead choosing to drizzle some very Un-Russian peppery extra virgin olive oil over the top.
For the meat part of this bortsch I decided to use a leftover roast leg of lamb we had in the freezer. If we have a roast leg of lamb, we normally have at least another two seperate meals from the leftovers. To eat the same thing two days in a row, would be a sin in my view, and it simply does not happen in our home.
I have made things like curries, shepherds pie (to be blogged), or a ragu style Italian sauce from left over meat. And usually the actual bone goes into the freezer to be used at a later date.
I am pretty sure most people just discard the bone after most of the meat has been carved off, however it is an absolute sinful waste if you do.
At the very least a stock could be made, or alternatively as a flavour giving base for something like a soup. So in the unlikely event that anyone reading this is one of those food wasters, then please stop!
With regards to the ingredients, the only worthy note to make is the recommendation to use fresh beetroot. And not the vacuum packed varieties, as the difference in flavour is immense. However if nothing else is available, then it can give a satisfactory result.
1 bone-in piece of beef, or lamb, or at a push a piece of rump, or stewing steak could be used. Use enough to provide a portion of meat for each person. Quantity depends on your preference.
1 tablespoon of Vegetable oil
1 onion finely diced
1 sprig of fresh dill, chopped include stalks
2 medium sized beetroot, raw, grated
2 carrots grated,
1 tablespoon of tomato paste (puree, or concentrate)
4 large tomatoes diced up,
1 small white cabbage,sliced thinly
1 sprig of parsley, chopped
1 potato diced, peeled first
1 pint vegetable stock
1/2 pint water,
salt and pepper to season
sour cream (optional)
-Add the meat, onion, dill, into a heated deep sided pan, together with a tablespoon of vegetable oil, stir and if using raw meat, rather than leftovers (as I was), then colour the meat until a nice nutty brown.
-Next you simply add the vegetable stock, the fresh tomatoes, and some water and bring to the boil. Once at the boil, simmer and cover for around one and a half hours.
-At this point you can add the sliced white cabbage, the parsley, and season the cooking liquor to your taste.
-While the cabbage is cooking, in a frying pan, lightly fry the raw beetroot, carrot, and add the tomato paste. Once this has softened slightly add the whole lot into the main pan.
-Continue to cook for another 30 or so minutes, remove from the heat, and then serve hot.
Normally Bortsch is served with a large dollop of sour cream added to the center just before serving, it is quite delightful served that way. However as can be seen below I didn't have any. I have to assure you, it does, taste better than it looks. Although I will wager that yours would look better!
So on this occasion, being Italian I made it to my taste by drizzling some extra virgin olive oil over the top. I would however urge you to try it in the authentic manner and use the sour cream, or alternatively creme fraiche. The hot bortsch, with the flavours of the beetroot are really countered by the cold smooth sour cream, and it is lovely. Enjoy!