Ukrainian borshch, French style
This version of the classic Ukrainian/Russian soup is ‘French style’ mainly because the recipe was given to me by a friend in Paris. Okay, truth be told, Rima’s originally from Moscow (and one of the very best cooks I met there). She adapted her recipe to fit Parisian ingredients, notably the beets, which are sold here already cooked — a great convenience.
Borshch is often prepared with beef or pork, but this version is vegetarian. If you begin with raw beets, boil them until tender before starting to make the soup.
2 quarts (2 liters) cold water
1 sweet red pepper
1/2 head cabbage
2 tbsp. tomato paste
juice of 3 lemons
1 tbsp. sugar
1 bay leaf
1 sprig parsley
3 large cooked beets
2 tsp. sea salt or table salt
freshly ground black pepper
bowl of crème fraîche or sour cream
Peel and mince the onions. Peel the carrots, slice in half lengthwise and then into thin half-rounds crosswise.
In a very large soup pot, combine the cold water, the onions and the carrots. Bring to a boil over high heat. While the water is heating, seed the pepper, chop and add to the pot.
Peel and cube the potatoes. Core and shred the cabbage. My method is to place the half-cabbage flat-side down, slice it vertically into strips about 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide, and then horizontally into very fine strips.
When the pot has come to a boil, add the potatoes and cabbage. Add the tomato paste. Stir well. Add the lemon juice. Add the sugar. Add the bay leaf and the whole sprig of parsley. Turn down the heat and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.
Peel the cooked beets. Grate them using the large holes on a cheese grater. Add to the soup. Season with salt and pepper. Cook just five minutes more. Remove from heat.
Remove the bay leaf and parsley sprig. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more sugar or lemon if necessary. The soup should be neither sour nor sweet — somewhere in between. Allow the soup to rest for at least a few hours, and preferably overnight.
Reheat gently just before serving. Ladle into individual soup bowls. Snip some fresh dill on top. Add a dollop of cream, or take the bowl of cream to the table and pass it around. Serves 8-10 generously.