As a younger chef, I’d go to enormous lengths to ensure a dish’s authenticity. I would spend hours researching and drilling for extra information on certain cuisines and their origins, fearful of inadvertently falling into the trap of cultural appropriation. Crossovers and misinformation make the pool very murky, but the stories that accompany any given dish are evocative and fascinating. Borsch’s origins are hotly contested throughout Eastern Europe, where the ever-changing borders have made its true beginnings very difficult to pinpoint. Is the original borsch a lightly soured and partially fermented beverage or is it a rich stew based on beetroot with cabbage and potato? It all depends on what side of the fence you are standing.
These days I don’t place as much importance on replicating a dish authentically. While I still find it important to understand a recipe, I am more happy to adapt it using ingredients that are locally abundant. This version of borsch would have many Ukrainians shaking their heads in stern disapproval, but it came about after I recently visited some market gardener friends of mine, Paulette and Matt, south of Hobart. They have been left with a surplus of produce after both their major sales outlets – local restaurants and Salamanca Market – were forced to close due to Covid-19 restrictions. The pair have now set up a roadside stall by their house to keep the wheels moving. Among the Portuguese cabbage, lovage and stunning turnips that were on offer sat some golden beetroots.
Beautiful golden beetroots. Cold weather. It doesn’t take a genius. Especially since the wonder of borsch actually lies in its adaptability. You can serve it hot or cold. It can be vegetarian with the use of dried mushroom for the stock instead of the beef rib and you can dress it with different condiments and embellishments for days. The day I made this in isolation outside Hobart, the temperature was 13 degrees with a “feels like” reading of minus 1.5 degrees. I had my borsch hot. With vodka.
– 300g beef rib
– 1 stem of celery
– 4 bay leaves
– 1 onion
– 30ml grapeseed oil
– 4 large golden beetroots (or red)
– 20ml white wine vinegar
– 2 waxy potatoes
– ¼ head savoy cabbage
– juice of 1 lemon
– 20ml honey
– salt and pepper
– sour cream
– lightly salted cucumber slices
– braised beef rib
– sautéed mushrooms
To prepare the stock, cover the beef rib with two litres of water and add the celery and bay leaves.
Peel and dice the onion and place the scraps in with the stock and the diced onion into another heavy-based pot with the oil.
Cook the stock very gently for at least an hour and add a little salt about halfway through.
In a separate pot boil two of the beetroots in water with the vinegar until just cooked (about 30 minutes). Let them cool, then remove the skin with a small knife and dice into large pieces. Cut the potatoes and cabbage into a similar size dice and reserve. Grate the other two raw beetroots on a box grater.
Sweat the onions off in the heavy-based pot and then strain the stock into the pot. Add the grated beetroot and the diced vegetables and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
Finish the soup with the lemon juice and honey, then season with salt and pepper as needed.
Top the dish with any combination of the embellishments suggested above and a dollop of sour cream.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 2, 2020 as "Same aim but different".
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