Something about the onset of winter seems to call to the Eastern European Jewish side of my culinary unconscious. As I contemplate my final farmbox of the year, full of many, many beets, baby turnips, carrots, onion, dill, a cabbage and potatoes, I picture some chubby shortribs and a soup pot . This is a Ukrainian style, full meal borscht, the kind of soup that my friend's grandmother used to say "feeds the blood." At the time, especially given the Eastern European connection, that sounded a bit too much like a reference to a certain undead Transylvanian aristocrat to be appealing. Now I think I know what she meant. If you are cold, or tired, or both, and are given a bowl of this sort of soup, you can just about feel it flowing through your veins to your fingertips.
This is not a family recipe (my paternal grandparents came from Lodz, in Poland), nor is it from any particular source. It's one of those things that probably started with a newspaper article read a long time ago. (This seems the most likely explaination for knowing it to be Ukrainian.) I've been making it for so long, fiddling it a bit from time to time, that I feel l it is more or less my own. However an internet search revealed several very similar recipes-all of which were also identified as Ukrainian.
I mourn the discovery of shortribs by fancy restaurant cooks-they used to be cheap, and now you have to pay what they are worth to get some. The rich gelatinous quality of the slow cooked shortrib is unequaled and divine. It makes this soup distinguished, as does the lemon juice and the full panoply of root veg-if at all possible, don't leave any thing out. That being said, when there are not enough shortribs to be had, you can use oxtails for part of the meat without apology. This is best done as a two day venture. I really think there is no substitute for this meaty stock; canned and boxed beef stocks don't work for me. Boxed chicken stock is acceptable in lots of things. There has been something seriously not right, though, about every prepared beef stock I've tried so far.
2 leeks, white and green parts chopped
2 parsnips, one sliced
2 chopped turnips
a celery root, peeled and diced
3 potatoes, peeled and diced
handful chopped cabbage
fresh dill and parsley, chopped
several cloves chopped garlic
First make a broth, using the shortribs, whole carrot, whole parsnip, allspice berries, whole onion, salt and pepper, and about 4 qts of water. Cook until the broth tastes rich, and the beef is very tender. This will take several hours. Strain the liquid and remove the beef. Chill the broth in the fridge, and peel off the top fat layer. Take all the meat off the bones and cut it in small neat squares. (Thereafter, you are authorized to gnaw any stubborn bits off the bones, salt the soup veg and consume over the sink.... cook's priviledge.) Discard stripped bones, and refrigerate meat in a bowl, covered.
Next day, or some time later, saute the remaining chopped carrot, leeks, parsnips, and cabbage in a little butter or oil in the soup pot. Add broth, garlic, potatoes and shredded beets. Bring to a bowl, reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are done. Add the cut up beef, and heat. Adjust seasoning. Squirt in the juice of the lemon, dish up, and sprinkle with dill and parsley.
Along with onion rolls (of the pletzlach ilk-about which more later) and some beer or a freindly bottle of red, this soup will make you feel snug when the cold winds rattle your windows. The healthy dose of garlic may fend off colds, and who knows what else?