Friday, March 6, 2009

Not food for the Poor: Beef and Beet Borscht

I don't know what bee got in my bonnet but I had to have borscht. I think it might have been the 7 inches of rain spread over two weeks and our cold (because I'm so cheap) house. Or it might have been the thought that you eat cabbage and lots of root vegetables during a depression. So I went to the market looking for beef with bones--and for various health reasons, or neurotic obsessions, (I'll leave it for you to decide) we don't buy regular supermarket beef. I like grass-fed the best. But when I went to the eccentric market we frequent the only organic, grass-fed or non-feedlot beef choice with bones was short ribs. I would have preferred shin, but the shin came from a feedlot you can start smelling 4 miles before you even get there. So I got grass-fed short ribs, and I spent my heat money for a week on the better beef. But when I looked at the label and saw $17.50 for 2.5 pounds I nearly panicked. After completing the cooking process I fed the eight people who ended up around my dinner table one recent Thursday night. And there was enough left over for another dinner for the two of us. We had radishes with butter, salt and sour rye bread to start, and salad after the rich thick meaty soup, and one of the guests brought a French pear tart from a terrific little patisserie up the street. So the damage was not so bad, and I figure I'll get at least one or two invitations for dinner out of it and when I do, I turn the heat down before I leave the house.

Russian Beef and Beet Borscht

2 ½ pounds beef short ribs with bones
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large yellow onions, coarsely diced
12 cups water
6 ounce can tomato paste
juice of 4 lemons
6 cloves peeled garlic or more, halved
handful minced fresh parsley
3 tablespoons minced fresh dill
1 teaspoon dill seed
1 teaspoon celery seed
2 bay leaves, preferably Turkish
pinch of cayenne
1 whole clove
14 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 ½ pounds peeled beets
5 carrots
1 large green pepper
½ small cabbage
4 stalks celery
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

for serving:
more fresh dill, parsley, sour cream and hot boiled potatoes

1. Cut the meat off the bones and into 1 inch cubes. Don’t worry about the meat, cartilage and fat that remains on the bones, it won’t be wasted, it will end up in the soup.
2. In a large kettle brown the meat and bones, adding salt and pepper. When they are just starting to become golden add the onions. When the onions are somewhat translucent add the water and the tomato paste. Add the lemon juice and the garlic, parsley, dill, dill and celery seeds, bay leaves and cayenne clove and canned tomatoes and simmer for 90 minutes covered.
3. Julienne the peeled beets using the safety handle on the small julienne blade of the Börner slicer into a large bowl. Add the carrots sliced on the large Julienne blade, not trying to slice the last 1 ½ inches, just throwing them into the bowl whole or eating them yourself rather than trying to slice them down to the nub and adding a slice on “long pig” instead. Slice the green pepper on the slicer, and then cross cut a few times to dice. Same for the cabbage, and finally the celery, again eating the last 1 ½ inches.
4. Saute the vegetables in the oil in a large pan until wilted enough that they actuallly fit into the pan.
5. Skim the surface of the kettle to remove the fat. Then dump the vegetables into the kettle. Simmer for another 30 minutes.
6. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Allow to cool and refrigerate overnight. Dig out the bones, bay leaves and clove if you can find it. Warm adding more fresh parsley and dil, and serve with a hot peeled boiled potato in each persons bowl and a dollop of sour cream.

This is a Börner slicer. It is a low priced version of an expensive French mandolin. It is just as effective and it can be just as lethal as I learned one of the first times I used it and tried to push a piece on onion through with my finger. A year ago my son begged for one for Christmas. I wrote to him as it arrived. “Be very careful. “I sliced my finger the first time I used it.” My children have always had to learn for themselves. Shortly after that our son announced that he had to learn to type with 5 fingers on his left hand and four on his right hand. I believe he has gotten back some of the feeling in the right index finger which he choose to shorten rather than listen to his wise old scarred dad. My daughter is smart enough to know she should never own one.

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