The Handoff: Holiday Borscht
by Sarah A. Maine
In my post on Tuesday I mentioned that I was motivated by the beets in Brianna’s Punta Mona Spring Rolls to try my hand at a healing holiday borscht. My goal was to make something tasty, healthy, pretty and conducive to eating with a large group of people. I was also inspired by a lingering memory of the delicious restorative borscht at Veselka, a Ukrainian eatery on New York City’s Lower East Side. Theirs is a tangy deep red broth packed with slices of beets, beef and hearty beans (they also make a limited edition Christmas borscht that I have yet to try).
Beets have been available all summer and fall at the farmer’s markets here in New York but their character has been gradually changing. Smaller beets dressed with the delicate greens of early summer have given way to large, earth stained specimens that have been shorn of their leaves for winter storage. I had a happy accident in my own beet shopping this week when I unknowingly grabbed several Chioggia beets, an Italian variety which have candy-cane stripes inside – a perfect dash of holiday color! They also have a more subtle flavor than regular beets – making them a good ‘starter’ beet for anyone wary of dipping their spoon into the realm of the purple root vegetable.
Using Veselka’s borscht as my guiding star I decided to use meat in my preparation (I have put instructions for a vegetarian option in step #2 below). Instead of beef I wanted to use pork so I stopped by the Flying Pigs Farm stand to see what they had to offer. A conversation with the attendant at the stand led me to choose a smoked pork shank – it was already cooked and infused with an earthy smokiness – a perfect counterpoint for the sweetness of the Chioggia beets and the carrots that came in my final CSA box of the season. Next, I picked up some onions and garlic at Franca Tantillo’s Berried Treasures Farm stand. Tantillo is a former nurse and nutritionist who decided to help people get their vitamins and minerals through food rather than supplements – her produce has a natural place in my curative feast.
The last thing I needed was fresh dill, I was a little worried that there wouldn’t be any more available at the farmers market – lucky for me there was one forlorn bunch left at Migliorelli Farm stand. Though it looked a little worse for wear, as if it had battled some frosty nights, its robust dilly aroma signaled that it would make the perfect garnish for my Chioggia beet borscht. I think this dish would be a great starter at a holiday dinner party, warming your guests’ bellies and priming their palates.
Prep time: 1 hour (including roasting beets)
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Yield: 6-8 servings
- 1 (approx. 2 lbs.) smoked pork shank
- 8 cups water
- 3 medium to large beets
- 1 large yellow onion
- 3 large carrots
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 handful fresh dill
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF, wrap each beet in tin foil (do not trim the tops or root – this will keep the juices from leaking out). Place the wrapped beets in the oven and bake for 1 hour.
- Place the pork shank in a large pot with 8 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil and then turn the heat down. Simmer on low, without a cover, for 1 hour. For a vegetarian version use 4-6 cups of a hearty vegetable stock.
- While the beets are roasting and the shank is simmering: peel and slice the carrots, chop the onion, slice the garlic cloves, and trim the tender sprigs of dill from its thick stems.
- When the beets are ready, remove them from the oven and open the foil to allow them to cool (this will make it easier to peel them!).
- While the beets are cooling remove the pork shank from the broth. Debone the shank, trim off the skin and extra fat and slice it up into small pieces.
- Peel and cube the beets.
- Add the red wine vinegar to the broth a little at a time, tasting as you go. Place the beets, pork, carrots and onions in the broth and simmer for 30 minutes skimming off any foam that forms on the surface. Add the garlic in the last 5 minutes.
- Add salt and pepper to taste, serve immediately garnished with sprigs of fresh dill.
- Dig in!
Borscht comes in many many forms – the Joy of Cooking says “there are probably as many versions of borscht as there are Russians” – many many! For reference in creating this recipe I used the Joy of Cooking (1997 Edition, pg 175), the Global Feast Cookbook (pg. 100), How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (pg. 109) and Epicurious.com (Meaty Ukrainian Borscht). The main thing I took away from my borscht survey is that borscht can be as complex or as simple as you would like, I think the only thing that it absolutely MUST have to be able to qualify as borscht is beets. Be adventurous and bring borscht into your holiday meal traditions – go beet wild and let us know how it turns out. Have a great holiday season – my best wishes to all our RecipeRelay readers and their nearest and dearest!