Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Going down Memory Lane to Russia.

St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square, Moscow, Russia

In 1976, I was a senior in high school and one of the foreign languages I had been studying was Russian (the other was German), and I was lucky enough to be able to travel with other students in my class to this country. At that time Communism was in power and the entire area was named the USSR; we saw much propaganda and poverty; the country was way behind in the times (music from the 1960's was just making it to the airwaves)and there was a depressive aura everywhere. We were teenagers and we did what all teenagers do...have fun. The hotels we stayed at would serve Americanized food for our meals and we hated it. We were in this country that did not promote tourism; you needed special permission and visas to enter, and as American students studying the language and culture, we were allowed in. We wanted to interact with the Russian people and experience everything there, including the food. A small group of us would sneak out at meal times and seek out local restaurants.

Now the fact that we were foreigners was not a secret to anyone; we spoke differently, dressed differently and we showed no fear. We knew we were being followed everywhere by a couple of KGB agents (they all dressed alike - raincoats and fedora hats) and one day even turned around and confronted them...imagine their shock when we offered them cigarettes, bubble gum and candy (things the locals could not easily purchase, but we traded for pins and baubles). Oh yes, those were fun times indeed. The locals welcomed us and helped us with learning their language; they wanted us to teach them English so badly and tell them about our homeland. Good memories!

One of the meals I really enjoyed was Borscht or what we knew to be "Beet Soup"; it was primarily made with beets and onions, a dollop of sour cream on top and it was really, really good. Coming home to America, this was a dish that I couldn't find any place, unless I went to one of the few Russian restaurants in New York City, and they weren't cheap. As time went by, my interest in this soup faded with all the other culinary adventures I was having throughout life.

Unfortunately, most of my cookbooks dealing with Slavic and German cooking were destroyed when I moved to Utah. I was able to replace two of them, "Croatian Cuisine" and "The Best of Slavic Cooking" both by Alojzije and Ruzica Kapetanovic. and the second book contained 2 recipes for Borscht, one Ukraine, the other Russian. So while the Russian recipe was probably the one I wanted, I was curious as to how many versions were in the Slavic world. I went online to look it all up...holy moly!!!...there are hundreds of recipes online, and looks like almost every country has their own version. Since I was sharing this soup with my mom-in-law, and she doesn't eat pork, I had to go beef all the way; and this is what I came up with.....

BorschtThis recipe reflects more of the Ukraine style of Borscht.

4 cups shredded cabbage
6 cups shredded fresh beets
1 cup shredded carrots
1 cup slivered onions
2 Tbsp minced garlic
1 ½ lbs lean roast or steak cut into 1” cubes
2 cups diced tomatoes
1 Tsp ground black pepper
2 Tbsp lemon juice
6 cups beef broth
Sour cream and minced parsley for garnish.

In a 6 qt crock pot, set on low, layer ingredients in order of list, except for sour cream and parsley. Cook for 10 hours. Serve with dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of parsley.

Makes 8 servings.

Mary Cokenour