Growing up, I was regularly subjected to bowls of borscht throughout the winter. My Latvian mother, raised on hearty food like this, assumed that we would drink it up on cold, crisp days in New England.
Boy, was she wrong. The tangy/beety aroma of the soup and it's practically neon-red/purple color were a bit much for me and my brother, as were the dollops of sour cream she'd drop on top. I was never a good Latvian growing up, and the standards of Eastern European peasant food - dill, caraway, sour cream, pickles - never interested me. I can admit to being a picky eater when I was young, but as I've grown up, my tastes have expanded and I now crave the stuff.
Recently, the CSA I belong to delivered us cabbage, beets, carrots, dill and onions, and as I was already feeling in the mood for some soup, I made a pot of borscht. Here's my recipe:
1 lb beef (stew meat or other inexpensive cut, chopped into bite-size pieces)
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp salt
1 bay leaf
1 bunch beets, peeled and chopped (approx 6 medium beets)
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 small head cabbage, shredded
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
Add the beef, onion, salt, bay leaf and peppercorns to a stew pot, and cover with 6-8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 45 minutes. As the scum (from the fat) accumulates on the surface of the water, spoon it off.
When the timer goes off, add the rest of the ingredients (beets, vinegar, cabbage, carrots, dill), and continue to simmer for 30-40 minutes. The vinegar will help the veggies maintain their color, and add a little tang to the flavor as well.
You can add water if it's necessary, but it shouldn't be.
If desired, add a dollop of sour cream to the soup before serving. This does well when accompanied by rye bread, pickles, or other Eastern European fare.