Friday, September 11, 2015

Green Borscht

Since April I've celebrating celebrating all the independence days of as many countries as I can discover by finding a restaurant of its type in Houston or cooking something myself. August 24 was Ukrainian Independence Day. Since Ukraine separated from the USSR in the 1980s, the capitol is now Kiev and Ukraine's signature dishes are chicken Kiev, borscht (both the red beet and green sorrel varieties), holutubski, holodec, pierogis, and salo.

Ukrainian painted blown eggs or pysanky for Greek Orthodox Easter

decorative breads made for Easter in Ukraine

holodec or pork aspic is popular

Ukrainian borscht is not limited to beets alone but also has added eggs, potatoes, beans, etc.

holubtsi or stuffed cabbage

salo, a type of fatback, is a food of cultural identity for Ukrainians

So I decided to check out the Russian General Store in the Meyerland neighborhood of Houston where many Russian and Eastern European Jews live to look for Ukrainian food. I love that they label all the foods with their country of origin and I found lots of picked and fried vegetables, prepared borscht, hearty dark rye and pumpernickel breads, sausages and preserved meats, gingerbread cookies, and unusual drinks (sea buckthorn fruit juice, kvass [a soft drink made from bread like beer], and koumiss [fermented mare's milk]). I picked up some canned prepared sorrel to make green borscht myself, since that type of borscht is not eaten in other parts of the former Soviet Union.

The haul from the Russian General Store

Some cat-themed nesting dolls sold in the store
fresh sorrel look similar to beets or Swiss chard
don't be confused with sorrel flowers used to make a tart drink in the Caribbean and Mexico similar to hamaica which is in also in the hibiscus family 

green or sorrel borscht

Green Borscht

2 cups water and 2 bouillon cubes
1 carrot, sliced
1 leek or onion
1 bunch of sorrel leaves or one can of sorrel
¼ cup white vermouth
3 waxy potatoes (such as Yukon Gold), peeled and boiled
3 hard-boiled eggs, diced
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring the water to a boil and add bouillon cubes, carrots, leeks, sorrel, lemon juice, vermouth, and salt and pepper. Cook soup slowly for 30 minutes. Add sliced cooked potatoes and garnish with chopped hard-boiled eggs. Alternatively thin egg noodles and even cooked beans may be added to change the flavor of the soup. The soup is very lemony so you may wish to add 1-2 Tbsp of olive oil or Kerrygold butter at the end to add some fattiness to balance the taste.

August Soups

August is a time when there is an abundance of tomatoes, peppers, corn, zucchini, and eggplants. During August I explored four soups with these themes: Provencal Rainbow Soup, Avocado Soup, Corn Tomato Pepper Soup, and Tomato Soup Florentine. These soups are easy to make and have lots of great summery flavor. The Provencal Rainbow Soup is probably the most colorful of the four, and the combination of anchovies and crisped bacon really creates a depth of flavor. Avocado Soup takes people by surprise because they may not imagine that avocados have a use outside guacamole and a taco topping. I like a little more heat so I used Hatch chiles in my version of Corn Tomato Pepper Soup. You can feel the transition to the fall with the inclusion of spinach in the Tomato Soup Florentine as the fall crop of spinach starts to appear as August's baking heat declines. Both of the last two soups could easily be made with your own roasted and frozen peppers and canned tomatoes.

mise en place
lots of layers of colors and flavor

Provencal Rainbow Soup

1 small red onion, diced
1 clove garlic
1 red pepper, diced
1 zucchini, cubed
20 haricot verts, halved
1 4-oz can pitted black olives
1 anchovy filet
4 leaves of fresh mint
2 tsp olive oil
2 strips of bacon, cut into small pieces
1 can of diced tomatoes or 3 fresh diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper

Peel the onion and garlic and slice finely. Cut the red pepper and zucchinis into small cubes. Cut the green beans in half. Slice the black olives. Chop the mint leaves. Pour the olive oil into a large soup pot. Add the bacon, onion, and garlic and cook for 3 minutes over medium heat. Remove the onions and continue to brown the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon, chop into pieces, and return to the pan. Add the other vegetables, olives, and anchovy-mint mixture. Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking for 8-10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the sliced tomatoes, chicken stock, water, salt, and pepper. Cover the pot, raise the heat to medium, and let the soup come to a boil. Cook for 20 minutes. Turn heat down and let the soup simmer for another 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Avocado Soup

1 ripe avocado
½ skim milk or unsweetened soy milk
2 Tbsp scallions, minced
½ tsp lemon juice
1 ½ cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/8 cup dry sherry
Salt and pepper to taste
1/8 cup cilantro, minced

Cut the avocado in half. Pit, peel, and cut into chunks. Blend the chunks and the milk in a blender. Add the scallions and lemon juice and blend again until smooth. Bring the chicken broth to a boil. Turn off the heat and add sherry, salt, pepper, and half of the cilantro. Let it simmer for a few minutes. Pour the avocado mixture into the broth and mix thoroughly. Allow the soup to be refrigerated for at least 2 hours. Serve cold and garnish with cilantro.

Corn Tomato Pepper Soup

1 onion
1 garlic clove
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 ½ cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 small red pepper, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
1 ½ Tbsp tomato paste
4-oz frozen whole kernel corn
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel, slice, and mince the onion and garlic. Saute the onion and garlic in the vegetable oil, until they begin to brown. Add the broth immediately. Add the red pepper, cover the pot, and bring to a boil. Lower to medium heat and cook for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, add the remaining ingredients (green pepper, tomato paste, corn, salt, and pepper). Stir soup until well mixed. Cover and cook another 15 minutes. Serve hot.


Tomato Soup Florentine

¼ cup olive oil
½ onion, finely sliced
4 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp fresh basil
1 bay leaf
½ tsp thyme
1 bouillon cube
3 cups water or chicken stock
1 package frozen or 1 bunch fresh spinach
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated

Heat the oil and add the onions and tomatoes. Saute vegetables 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic cloves, celery, carrots, and herbs. Stir well and saute another 2 min. Add the bouillon cubes and water/stock and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and simmer for 1 hour. Remove the bay leaf. Add the spinach, salt and pepper and cook another 10 min. Stir well. Blend the soup until the spinach is fine. Turn off the heat, and let the soup stand covered 5 min. Serve hot topped with grated cheese.