I was never a big fan of the beef stew from my childhood. I found it boring. The frozen, mixed vegetables that were added always ended up mushy and gray by the time the stew was served. Because of my adverse experience with beef stew, my mind was blown the first time I had borscht at a restaurant specializing in Russian cuisine. When I thought Russian food, I thought white, colorless, and bland: potato, perogi, cabbage. This stew was anything but. It was hearty, yet fresh and full of color and taste. The flavors mingled in a way I didn’t expect. It was a delightful flavor explosion. A stew that was definitely a meal, but not heavy. Ever since, it’s been a favorite of mine.
Borscht is a simple beef stew that’s cooked with beets, carrots, and potatoes. I add cabbage at the end of cooking so that it does’t turn to mush, as I like the little textural difference in my stew. I’ve even used sauerkraut in place of cabbage, which is also a really lovely addition. It adds a crunchy, tart element that pairs so nicely with the sweetness of the beets. My favorite part of making borscht is adding the fresh dill at the very end. The bright green against the red stained beets is just beautiful, and the dill adds something so distinctive and fresh to the dish that, in my view, it can’t be eaten without it.
In the past few years, I’ve also become fond of adding chickpeas. I started doing this when a friend told me her mom always added them to their Ukrainian-style borscht.
Traditionally, Borscht is made by slowly cooking beef shanks. As they cook, the meat becomes fork tender, and the bones and marrow of the shank make a rich stock. Since shanks can be hard to find and don’t yield a lot of meat, I usually use a roast and pair it with a rich homemade stock.
Once you taste this stew, you realize why it is a Russian staple. In a cold country where little with color grows, the radiant red soup is bursting with flavor and nutrition. If you haven’t tried it, I highly encourage you to give it a go. You just might decide it’s your favorite beef stew.