I have a friend who calls beets “essence of dirt clod” : ) But I have always loved their earthy flavor and deep color. I like them roasted, simply boiled, grated into salads, pickled and perhaps most of all: made into borscht.
Borscht originated in the Ukraine, but the popularity of this hearty, beet soup bloomed all across central and eastern Europe before making its way here, resulting in dozens of delicious variants, some vegetarian, others not.
During this transitional-weather season, it’s nice to know that this soup works well hot or cold: Borscht is very good chilled with yogurt & chopped radishes mixed in. And hot, (with lots of cooked vegetables and cubes of beef or smoked sausage) it’s even better. In Poland people traditionally let vegetarian versions of the soup ferment naturally to develop the traditional sour flavor, but I haven’t yet been patient enough to try that. Our hearty version is made with oven-prepared, wine-enriched beef stock, plus beets, carrot, onion, dill and a little wine vinegar. We like it with crusty bread and a little smoked sausage. Add a dollop of creme fraiche, sour cream or yogurt if you like, but it’s just as good without.
- 4 lbs meaty beef neck bones
- 2 tsp salt and 2 tsp fresh-cracked pepper
- 32 ounces unsalted beef broth or unsalted beef stock
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 2 onions
- 8 medium-sized beets
- 1 small bunch carrots (4 cups shredded)
- salt and finely-ground pepper to taste
- fresh dill, 3 to 4 sprigs (about 3 Tbsp for soup–plus more to garnish)
- 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar (we used pomegranate-infused red wine vinegar)
- 1/2 cup sour cream, labne or yogurt, to garnish
- Crusty bread and sausage to serve with the soup
- Make beef base: Preheat oven to 400. Rub neck bones with salt and pepper. Roast in oven until well browned, turning so that all sides are browned. (About 15 minutes.) Cover browned bones with beef broth. Add wine. Turn oven down to 325. Simmer in the oven for three to four hours until meat is falling off of the bones. While beef base is being prepared, peel and finely dice onions. In a heavy skillet, saute onions with 1 tsp oil until soft, but not browned. About 15 minutes. Peel beets and carrots. Using a food processor or hand grater, grate all of the carrots. Wearing plastic gloves, grate all of the beets. Add carrot to onion with 1/4 cup water. Cover saute pan and continue to saute until carrots are al dente. Remove from heat. In large soup kettle, just cover grated beets with water. Simmer until beets are cooked through. Stir in carrot and onion mixture. Simmer for 10 more minutes to combine. Remove from heat. Remove beef and bones from oven; strain broth from meat. Cool beef and bones until you can handle them; remove meat from bones and cut into small pieces, discarding any gristle or fat. Discard bones. If you have time, chill stock overnight and remove any visible fat that solidifies on top. Combine beef stock with cooked beet/carrot/onion mixture. Add beef cubes. Heat until gently simmering and all flavors are combined well. Stir in vinegar; salt and pepper to adjust seasoning to taste. Add dill just before serving. Serve hot with sour cream, more snipped dill, crusty bread and sliced smoked sausage.