Every eastern European cultural group has their own way of making this soup. Even within the Doukhobor half of my family, there’s a few different versions. My Baba’s borscht, for instance, is lighter on beets, heavier on cabbage, and somewhat lighter overall. My father’s borscht has usually been darker and heavier on the greens, making use of whatever leaves are at hand. Ideally, borscht is a simple simple soup, relying on just a few good ingredients and minimal seasonings; not unlike a great potato-leek soup in this respect. This is my version:
1 pound butter
6-8 lg beets, with greens
2 bunches Swiss chard
1 small head white cabbage
2 quarts veggie or chicken stock
2 quarts water
1 lg bunch fresh dill
Trim, peel, and medium dice the beets. Wash and cut the beet stems into a similar size. Wash and thinly slice the beet greens. Ditto for the chard. Core and thinly slice the cabbage. Finely chop the dill, stems and all, removing any woody bits.
Melt the whole block of butter in a large pot. Add beets and dill with a pinch of salt. Once they get going over medium heat, add the cabbage. Get things bubbling again, then in with the beet and chard stems. Once everything is wonderful and red, add the stock. Return to temperature, the in with the beet and chard greens. Add water to cover all the solids with a couple inches of liquid. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer without boiling for at least an hour.
I cook it until the beets themselves begin to lose colour, but are still firm.
Like most soups, this almost always seems best the next day, but eat it up straight away if need be; shallow bowl, dollop of sour cream, and a healthy chunk of crusty rye. Yum!
This soup is very leafy and stewy… for fun, take the next day’s refrigerated leftovers and have at ’em with a food processor or sturdy hand blender; the resulting creamed soup is almost a whole different recipe.
Yes, yes, the butter at the top of the bowl in the fridge the next morning is a little scary, but forget the diet and play the hardy peasant for a day; you won’t regret it.