Most people think of borscht as beet soup, but it is really much more than that. It is nothing less than a one-pot meal of whatever the cook of the house had on hand. In fact, the name of this version, Kрасный Bорщ, literally Red Borscht, suggests that beets are not really essential to the dish. It is peasant cooking at its best: simple and nutritious. And like any peasant cooking there endless variations each claiming to be the only authentic one.
Most of the recipes I found online seem to me to be far more complicated that what babushka would have done in her cauldron over an open fire. She would certainly not have boiled the beets before peeling them. No, she would have browned a beef shank in the pot and simmered in water. While that was cooking she would have peeled and diced the vegetables, not worrying that the beets colored her hands red. After a couple of hours she would have taken the shank out of the pot and cut off of it any meat she could find. That and the vegetables would go into the pot to be simmered until the tender. Near the end of cooking she might add some shredded cabbage and perhaps some kasha. That’s it.
In this recipe I have skipped forward a step by using prepared stock. Any stock will do: beef, chicken, lamb, pork, vegetable; whatever you have on hand. I keep a supply of homemade stock in the freezer but any good store-bought product will do, although I recommend unsalted so you can control the seasoning. What vegetables you use besides beets is up to you. Potatoes, turnips, carrots, and parsnips are all good. And do not scrimp on the garlic—vampires were always a worry on the steppes.
Note that I have not provided exact quantities of ingredients. Use your judgment.
Beef, cubed 250 grams (8 ounces)
Butter or oil 30 grams (2 Tablespoons)
Beets 2 or 3 depending on size
Carrots 1 or 2 depending on size
Onion 1 or 2 depending on size
Potatoes 2 or 3 depending on size
Stock 1 liter (1 quart)
Dill seed 5 milliliters (1 teaspoon)
Caraway seed 5 milliliters (1 teaspoon)
Garlic 2 or 3 cloves, minced
Cabbage ½ head
Vinegar 30 milliliters (2 Tablespoons)
Kasha 100 grams (½ cup) (optional)
Peel and dice the root vegetables and coarsely shred the cabbage. Set aside.
Heat the butter or oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat and brown the meat. Add the onion, carrot, and beets to the pot and sweat for about 15 minutes. Add the potatoes and the stock. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, until the vegetables are nearly done. Add the dill and caraway seeds, the vinegar, and the cabbage. Continue to simmer for 15 minutes or so. Add salt to taste.
Rinse and stir in the kasha, if using. Reduce heat to very low, cover, and cook for another 15 minutes or until the kasha is done.
Serve with a large dollop of sour cream.