Borscht Soup


2019-01-05

Borscht soup’s got to be one of the most delicious soups I’ve ever tried, besides my grandma’s sopa de galets. I would have never thought that a dish consisting mostly of beetroots would ever appeal to me. In fact, it wasn’t until I had been living in Finland for six years that I had the slightest interest in tasting it. Most people in Finland have probably eaten it at least once in their life, due to Russia’s influence on the country. Lauri, my partner, told me that most Finns have eaten a poor version of borscht soup at school. During his university years in Oulu, he and his best friend, with whom he used to undertake bizarre culinary endeavors, attempted to prepare a better version of this soup. They were greatly satisfied with the result. However, after tasting my version, he realized that their creation fell short of perfection.

The first time I ate this soup was when I first prepared it two years ago. Google was the one to tell me all the tips and tricks to succeed. The next time, I followed a recipe from Finnish chef Kari Pasonen, which appeared in a magazine published every two months by Helsingin Sanomat, aka Helsinki Times. The main topic of that issue was Russia, and Pasonen’s recipe made this land’s gastronomy a lot of justice. What caught my eye was his choice of ingredients: the use of clove and oxtail amongst the ingredients to make the broth, using bacon to poach the root vegetables, and adding other root vegetables besides beetroot, such as parsnip and celeriac. I made a few tweaks to adjust the recipe to my own taste, and the end result was simply outstanding.

One of the changes I made was simplifying the recipe by not cooking the cabbage separately before adding it to the rest of the soup, which in my opinion was an unnecessary step. Pasonen is a professional chef and he probably had his reasons, but I’m a student with a limited amount of time and a strong unwillingness to clean additional kitchen utensils. Pasonen also adds two tablespoons of canola oil, which I also found to be totally unnecessary given that bacon renders enough fat. [As a side note, I’ve noticed that many professional chefs use vegetable oil when they cook fatty parts of an animal, such as bacon or duck breast. They say it helps render the fat, but I’ve never done that and I’ve rendered fat just fine.] In his recipe, Pasonen uses the meat from the oxtail and adds it to the soup. While I thought this was a great idea, I tried it and quite frankly the meat was just an annoyance that got in the way, so I use it for other recipes. Lastly, Pasonen’s recipe didn’t contain dill, which I consider to be essencial.

The best word to describe porscht soup is balance. It has sweetness from root vegetables, sourness from tomato paste and vinegar, savoriness from bacon and meat broth, richness from smetana, and a special touch from dill. Seriously, don’t procrastinate like I did. Try this soup as soon as you get the chance.

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg beetroots
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 parsnip
  • 50g celeriac
  • 1 onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 100g bacon
  • 1 small cabbage head
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 dl vinegar
  • 2l meat broth
  • Smetana (or crème fraîche) and fresh dill to serve

Ingredients for the broth:

  • 1 carrot
  • 50g celeriac
  • 1 onion
  • 500g oxtail or lamb neck
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 6 whole cloves
  • Thyme
  • Parsley stems
  • Water to cover

Preparation:

Note: you will need a ~7 litre pot to make this soup.

Prepare the broth well in advance. Put all the ingredients in a slow cooker or pot and simmer for 4 hours. Then strain the liquid to use it in the soup.

  1. Peel all the vegetables.
  2. Chop the bacon slices into small pieces.
  3. Chop the onion into tiny pieces.
  4. Add the bacon to the pot and bring it to medium-high heat. When it’s warm, add the onion.
  5. Julienne the beetroots as shown in the picture above.
  6. When the onion has turned golden, add the beetroot. Stir and wait until they’re softer and have released some water.
  7. Meanwhile, julienne the other root vegetables (carrot, parsnip and celeriac), chop the cabbage and cut the garlic cloves into thin slices.
  8. Add vinegar and let it evaporate.
  9. Reduce the heat. Add tomato paste and stir.
  10. Add the julienned root vegetables, the cabbage and the garlic.
  11. Add the broth.
  12. Simmer for 1 ½ – 2 hours.
  13. Serve with a spoonful of smetana and chopped fresh dill.