Saturday, September 18, 2010

Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap: Borsht Soup

Gayle from The Grocery Cart Challenge (whose blog I heartily recommend) asked for readers to contribute recipes for her recipe swap, and I noticed this versatile soup is not currently listed, so I thought I'd share this money-saving, taste-bud-pampering easy recipe with people, especially now that the harvest season brings cheap ingredients within anyone's reach... The sample ingredient costs will be included in Euros, and I'll translate the cost to US dollars once I get to it (prices tend to be cheaper in the US, since the VAT for food is lower there)... Ping me if I forget...

Borsht Soup - A little Background

For a start, Borsht comes in a variety of recipes, and ingredients vary as much as the chef, but the main ingredient remains the same. Beets, that give it its rich, luscious red colour. The recipe originates in Eastern Europe, and has travelled far and wide. The best Borsht I've had was when my grandmother still bothered making it, cutting every piece of vegetable into about 1/2 inch strips that were between 1/16th to 1/8th of an inch thick. The worst, I had in Vancouver, British Columbia at an otherwise excellent restaurant with good portions and affordable prices, The Crime Lab. Their soup was too sour, and watered down to a light pink. I sent it back, sad that a delicacy was so ruined. But I think they noticed the soup was accidentally spoiled, too... (I hope)

The soup is easy to package in portion sized containers or larger and freeze as-is, for quick thawing when needed, and can be served either warm or cold, depending on season.

Borsht Soup - Ingredients

This recipe serves 4 as a main course, and 6 as an appetiser, but this varies based on portion size. Estimate two beets per dinner guest.

The main ingredient list for the simplest, vegetarian version are:

- Around 6-8 medium to large beets, peeled and chopped (preferably finely)
- A rough two handfuls of carrots, peeled and chopped, (preferably finely)
- One large or two small (I prefer red) onions, peeled, quartered and sliced thinly
- A clove of garlic or two
- A little olive or canola oil for sautéeing
- 2 pints of Vegetable Stock or 1 stock cube and appropriate amount of water
- A "splosh" (roughly a teaspoon) of balsamic or red wine vinegar, or 1/3 cup of household wine (this can alternately be replaced by a squeeze of lemon, but beware, the acidity has to be checked, rather add a little less than ruin it!)
- Sprinkle of salt and pepper to taste

+ You can also add cabbage or other nummy vegetables according to taste and availability.
+ For a meaty adaptation, sliced sausage, fried bacon, salami or pieces of beef or ham can be added, and the stock can be replaced by chicken or beef stock.

Borsht Soup - Method To the Madness (of the ingredient list)

Prep all the veggies beforehand. It's messy, so use an apron, and do it on a surface with tools that are easy to clean. Beet juice is good for you, but not for your clothes. I tend to cut the beets in halves, and then slice thinly. If you go "by the book", they should be cut to thin strips, almost as if you're making slaw.

[Now if you're using meat for the recipe, first sauté the meat!]

Sauté the onions in a bit of olive or canola oil and add the chopped garlic through the end of it. You don't want burnt garlic, it'll taste bitter.

Add a pinch of salt and pepper to the onions. Throw in the carrots, and let them cook a little, they don't have to brown, just let the heat soften them up a little.

Add the beets, and pour water or the stock, and the vinegar into the pot. You can add a little water, since it evaporates through the cooking process. Some people like their soups thick as stews, other like them more watery.

Put a lid on and let simmer on low to low medium heat for about an hour. Season to taste. Nutmeg, coriander, parsley, bayleaves and various peppercorns go well with the soup.

If you serve the soup by the book, you should have a dollop of smetana (Eastern European 25-30% fat sour cream), but by mixing a few drops of lemon into regular sour cream, you come very close to the flavour, and don't have to worry about the fat.

You can sprinkle fried bacon on top, too!

And with freshly baked bread, this is a hearty meal in its own right.

Now what does this soup cost?

I usually purchase the basic, vegetarian soup ingredients when root veggies are in season. A 3kg (roughly 6 lbs and some odd ounces) bag of carrots or beets costs €1.49, and is enough for three times my recipe. That brings us to €0.77 for the main ingredients for the whole soup. The onions are usually about €0.15 or less, and the stock depends on what you keep handy. All in all, it's around $2 for a whole main course for a whole family before you add the bread, which can be home baked. Not bad? :)

As a little post scriptum, I could mention that I lived a few years with a student budget, and had to pay all my expenses from less than €500 a month. That included rent, transportation, study materials and food. I learned to make a lot of cheap tasty dishes. There's nothing quite like a well stocked spice rack at home for the times when you need to conjure up something on a zero budget.

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