Wednesday December 18, 2013 | 06:47 AM

If you’re looking for a hearty meal-in-one soup, a classic beef borsch, fortified with the goodness of beets, cabbage and potatoes, is the perfect antidote for this frigid spell of winter weather. 

There are many variations, but the classic Russian beef borsch is the standard. 

Think of it as a kind of New England  boiled dinner.  A big cut of beef, usually chuck, is simmered with aromatics for several hours in a slightly sweet and sour broth.  The soup bones that are put in the pot initially  give the broth body.

To serve, remove the bones from the broth.  Then remove the meat and carve it into small chunks;  return the meat to the soup pot..  Ladle out serving portions directly from the pot to include plenty of cabbage, potatoes and beef for each serving.  Optionally put in some thickly turned carrots along with the potatoes and cabbage during the last 15 to 30 minutes of cooking.  Garnish with a big dollop of sour cream for each serving and plenty of fresh snipped dill.  Accompany with a salad and good crusty bread and you’ve got a great meal.  The leftovers, refrigerated, improve with age.  Note that it’s best to chill the soup overnight to allow the fat from the beef and bones to rise to the top.  Skim off the congealed fat before reheating and serving.

A warming bowl of beef borsch with sour cream and dill

Russian-style beef borsch
Servings: 4  to 6  with leftovers

3 to 4 pounds chuck roast, rolled and tied
3 pounds beef bones with marrow
4 quarts cold water or more to cover
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
6-once can tomato paste
1 l/2 pounds red beets, peeled and quartered
16-oz can diced tomatoes
3 tablespoons sugar
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
1 small head cabbage, cut in eighths
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
Sour cream, for garnish
Dill, snipped, for garnish
4 carrots, trimmed (optional)

 Put the beef and bones into a large stock pot and cover with 4 quarts water or more to cover by 1 inch.  Add the salt and bring to the boil, uncovered.  Cook at a medium simmer until all the scum has risen to the top, about 45 minutes, skimming it off with a large wire-meshed spoon.

Add the ground pepper, tomato paste, beets, diced tomatoes, sugar, garlic, lemon juice and onion, stirring to combine.  Simmer partially covered for about 2 hours, checking the pot occasionally to maintain a steady simmer.  Cook until the meat is almost fork tender, about 1 hour 30 minutes.

Meanwhile put the cabbage and whole potatoes into a large bowl of generously salted water (about 2 teaspoons) to soak. 

When the meat is nearly done (about 1 hours and 30 minutes), remove the cabbage and potatoes from the soaking water; drain and pat dry.  Add to the pot to cook for 15 minutes once the water has returned to the simmer.  Cook for another 15 minutes, partially covered or until potatoes and cabbage are done. Optionally add the carrots at this time.

Remove the beef from the soup to a cutting board.    Remove the bones and discard (or save the marrow to spread on toast). Slice the meat into serving size pieces and return to the hot soup.

Meanwhile let the soup rest for 10 minutes and skim whatever fat you can from the top. It’s best to chill the soup overnight to allow the fat to rise to the surface and congeal. the flavor will also intensify.   Remove the fat when ready to serve and reheat.

To serve, ladle the soup into large bowls, add a dollop of sour cream in each bowl with the snipped dill.  Serve with warm crusty bread and butter.

To store, transfer the soup to a large container and refrigerate.  It will keep for several days.



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John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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