In my early 20s, I attended cooking school in New York City. Our class of 15 students was a diverse group, with nine countries and countless culinary traditions represented. One day, our teacher suggested that we each cook a dish from our heritage and — as she was also of Eastern European descent — handed me a book of recipes reflecting our common lineage. I chose to make borscht, the hearty beet soup. It was a gorgeous recipe: deep magenta in color, richly flavored with sweet, earthy beets, and brightened with a dash of apple cider vinegar at the finish. I lived on that soup for a whole week, keeping happily connected to my ancestors through its nourishing flavors. Though my version of the soup is fairly traditional, I do include a couple of unconventional moves, using sweet potato, apple, and celery root. The natural sweetness of these ingredients, along with the beets, balances the acidity and spices and eliminates the need for added sugars like honey. Caraway seeds add an earthy, warm anise note and are a key piece of what makes this recipe so complex and alluring.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
- Kosher salt
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
- 2 medium beets, scrubbed (not peeled) and trimmed, then shredded using a food processor or quartered and thinly sliced crosswise
- 1 small celery root, peeled and shredded using a food processor or quartered and thinly sliced crosswise
- 1 large carrot (not peeled), thinly sliced into rounds
- 1 quart low-sodium beef or vegetable broth
- 1/2 small red cabbage, cored and shredded (about 4 cups)
- 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
- 1 medium sweet potato (not peeled), cut into 1/4-inch cubes
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- Chopped fresh dill for serving
- Coarsely ground black pepper
- Sour cream for serving, optional
- 2 cups shredded brisket, optional
In a 6-to 8-quart Dutch oven or wide, heavy saucepan with lid, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and 1 teaspoon salt and reduce the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes more. Stir in the tomato paste, bay leaves, paprika, and caraway seeds to coat, then stir in the beets, celery root, and carrot. Add the broth and 4 cups water, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
Stir in the cabbage, apple, and sweet potato, return to a simmer, and continue cooking until the cabbage, apple, and sweet potato are just tender, about 5 minutes more. Stir in the vinegar and cook just to blend the flavors, 3 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
Serve hot, topped with dill and pepper, and adding sour cream and/or brisket if desired.
*KITCHEN WIDSON: MEAT VS VEG
The thing that excites me most about this soup is its flexibility. Make it meaty by using beef broth and (if you like) adding a little brisket. Go vegetarian with veg broth, or even vegan by skipping the sour cream garnish
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