I'd never made it, and with so many gorgeous beets at the market, and the damp, dreary days of November upon us, it seemed time to try. I bought my beets, and then started combing through recipes.
I must have looked through at least 30 different recipes. That in itself isn't unusual for me when trying something completely new, but never before have I been so unable to discover any trends. The only thing really the same about the recipes is that they all used beets. Borscht can be served hot or cold. Some use potatos, some use tomatoes. Some use pork, some use beef, some use both, and others are vegetarian. It can be flavored with dill, parsley, and even cloves. It is generally considered a specialty of Russia, Ukraine, or Poland, and I looked for themes in recipes that identified a national origin, but many did not specify.
What I determined - and I suspect most Eastern European grandmothers would validate - is that borscht is what you make it, and if you make it fresh and with love, it will be delicious, and if you try to copy someone else's version, you just won't be able to get it right.
So this is what I did, and it was satisfying, flavorful, hearty and rich and well-worth repeating, but inspiring enough to make it a little bit different every time.
5 medium-large red beets
3 large cloves garlic
1 1/2 pounds beef short ribs (with bone in)
4 cups water
1 bay leaf
10 black peppercorns
3 allspice berries
1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
2-3 cups shredded green cabbage
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Place beef in stockpot and cover with 4 cups water. Add peppercorns, bay leaf, and allspice. Bring to boil, skim foam, and simmer - covered - for 1-2 hours.
Meanwhile, wrap beats, along with whole, peeled garlic cloves, tightly in two layers of foil. Roast in over at 425 for 60-80 minutes (depending on size of beets.) Should be able to easily pierce through foil with a skewer when they are done.
Cut onion into quarters crosswise, then slice thinly. After meat has simmered about 45 minutes, add onion to pot and continue to simmer.
Meanwhile, grate carrot and cabbage (use a food processor if you have one!) Chop dill (kitchen shears work great for this), and enough parsley to garnish. When beets are done, remove from foil, peel, and grate. Smash garlic.
Remove meat, bay, and any remaining whole spices from stockpot. Add carrot, cabbage, and garlic, and continue to simmer, about 15 minutes. While simmering, shred or chop meat and discard bones. Return to pot with beets. Stir in dill and vinegar.
Serve hot, garnished with hearty dollop of sour cream and generous sprinkle of parsley. This is so packed with vegetables, I didn't even accompany it with salad, but we did soak up the broth with some tasty bread.