It’s fall in South Africa, the weather is turning and my body is craving foods to keep it warm. Thus I spent an inordinate amount of time this weekend (over 20 hours) cooking (I know how pathetic that is). Since we didn’t have guests for the first time in 4 weeks (btw, apologies for last week’s pathetic posting I needed to CHILLAX THE F OUT) I found myself with a lot of time on my hands and creative energy to burn, thus things were cooked and other things were spray painted.
Sometimes recipes on Land of Nams are quick weeknight pursuits. This is definitely not one of those recipes.
In pursuit of authenticity, I first consulted my Polish friend Katarzyna to prevail upon her mom for her recipe. I thought only Indian moms dictated recipes that go something like “add some of this, throw in a little bit of this, then cook it until it’s finished” but was happy to find that Polish moms do the same. So I used her guidelines, rounded it out with some internet research, and measured it all so that I can recreate it whenever I want. The soup itself is quite easy but it requires gelatinous beef broth (dun dun dun).
As appetizing as that sounds, it makes all the difference between an ‘oh yea, this is pretty good’ soup and holyshitthisisfuckingdelicious soup. Before I started I thought I would use a bouillon cube and call it a day but something (being finished with work early?) possessed me to pop over to our butcher (BEST BUTCHER IN JOHANNESBURG btw, Meat on Grant in Norwood) and buy 2 kilos of beef bones.
Pro tip: I made enough beef broth for a lifetime and then froze the extra in pint-sized freezer bags, so I only have to torture myself with the broth a couple times a year.
Gelatinous beef broth (makes about 6 litres)
2 kilograms beef bones
Tomato paste, approx 3 tbsp
Soup vegetables roughly chopped, you don’t want them too small (1 celery stalk, 1 white onion, 2 carrots, a few sprigs of parsley, 1 potatoes)
1 bay leaf
6 litres (12 pints) of water, plus more along the way
Heat oven to about 400 degrees F or 220 degrees C (the temperature isn’t that important). In a roasting pan spread tomato paste over the beef bones. Roast bones in oven for 45 minutes to an hour. In the meantime, chop your vegetables. After the bones are done, transfer them into a giant soup pot with the water and heat to a boil. Reserve some fat from the roasting pans and cover vegetables in it, roast vegetables covered in fat for 20-30 minutes. Then add roasted veggies to the boiling water. Bring water to boil again, then turn heat down to a very light simmer. I proceeded to simmer it all night on veeeery low heat, since we don’t want any fires but did want complexity. Using a spoon with a sieve, take out all the bones and vegetables and discard them, then pour liquid through a proper sieve to catch all the bits you missed. Then, the most important step: SKIM THE FAT. I used my spoon sieve to skim the (very disgusting) fat, in my three litre portion I was using for the soup, there was en ENTIRE JAR OF IT. Gross. Set aside what you need for the borscht, and freeze the rest in small freezer bags.
Semi Authentic But Very Delicious Borscht for 8
100 grams butter (no one said this was health food)
650 gm beetroots, peeled and diced (except for one, which should be peeled and shredded)
2 medium onions, chopped
1 large leek, chopped and rings sepearated
1 large stick of celery, chopped
1 laaarge carrot
Any other soup vegetables you feel like throwing in, finely chopped
4-6 grains of allspice (yes, all spice is a thing that comes off of a tree)
1 bay leaf
3 litres gelatinous beef broth
4 potatoes, peeled and chopped
8 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
Apple Cider Vinegar (a lot, like 6 tablespoons, more to taste)
3-5 teaspoons of sugar, to taste
Dill and sour cream for serving
At the bottom of a very large pot, melt the butter. Add onions, cook for 5 minutes. Add the diced beetroot and remaining vegetables, coating in the butter and cook for 10 minutes. Add broth, bay leaf, all spice and potatoes, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer, adding the grated beetroot, garlic, cabbage, and pepper. After all the vegetables are cooked and soft use an immersion blender to puree it. Of course this is an optional step but I love the brilliant color of beetroot and I don’t love the texture of soupy cabbage. Then let it continue to simmer for a long time. Katarzyna’s mom said, and of course was very right about, for a long time it tastes like nothing and then all of a sudden, it’s delicious. For a while, I was quite worried that my soup wasn’t going to taste like anything, but I needn’t have worried. Add the ciger vinegar and sugar, adjusting amounts to taste. Since traditional borscht involves fermented beets, the vinegar gives it that taste if you’re too afraid/lazy to ferment beets. Serve with sour cream, chopped dill and rye bread.
We had a pan-eastern European extravaganza, we supplied the borscht and our friends Heidi and Jeremy supplied the cabbage roles, and then we rolled ourselves home and
didn’t eat again for 3 weeks had pierogi for brunch the next day.
Typing that out was about as exhausted as actually making it! The end.