Friday, February 14, 2014

Celebrating the Olympics with Borscht

I absolutely love the Olympics! I'm not certain whether I enjoy the Summer or Winter games more. I'm always happy to have the television on whenever the games are being broadcast. I first became enamored with the Olympics in 1980 when I was in the 7th grade. I was especially enthralled with figure skating and had my own dreams of becoming an Olympic champion. For good or for bad, that dream was not to be realized. I did experience an Olympic dream in 2002, when I was able to attend the ladies' figure skating free skate event when Sarah Hughes won her gold medal. I was sitting in the less expensive seats in upper bowl of the arena, but I was still thrilled to be there. What saddened me was that the much higher priced lower bowl seats were essentially empty until about halfway through the event when the more highly ranked girls were ready to take to the ice.

I still continue to watch every moment of figure skating that I can. Already during this Olympics, I have been amazed by exquisite performance of the Russian pairs champions which was so reminiscent of the past champions from the Soviet Union. Watching Evgeny Pleshenko's expression as he came to the realization that he would need to withdraw from the men's singles competition because of injury was heartbreaking. I was also amazed at Jeremy Abbot's courage to get up after a dramatic, clearly painful fall and complete his short program flawlessly.

As an "event," the Olympics also provide an opportunity to try new recipes with an international flair. Fortunately for me, my family is willing to humor me in this endeavor. During the Torino games, I came upon a wonderful recipe for baked ziti. During the London games, we enjoyed a dinner of bangers and mash as well as a tea party or two. 

Growing up during the Cold War era, I have always been somewhat intrigued by the Russian-speaking countries and their culture. Over the past several years, I have spent time in Russian-speaking countries. I've worked to learn the Cyrillic alphabet to be able to read in Russian. I've also found myself applying some of my German language skills in my endeavors to learn Russian. Although most people don't think of Russian cuisine as something they are eager to try, I have enjoyed most of the foods that I have served. I have enjoyed borscht (beet soup) during my travels, but I have never prepared it myself until now. The verdict from last night was that it was a success.

Before I proceed to the recipe, I will humor you with a few pictures of Olympic memorabilia just to illustrate what an Olympic "junkie" I truly am. This picture highlights some of my items from the Salt Lake games, including my pin collection and cowbell. Yes, my boys and I were avid pin traders, and we rang our cowbells and cheered when we attended the 4-man bobsled event. The orange zipper bag is from the closing ceremonies.

I'm not sure how many of you will recognize this second picture. These are stickers from Chiquita bananas (yes, really) that I collected during the 1980 Lake Placid games. At the time, I didn't know what to do with them, so they ended up being stuck to a plastic sandwich bag. Most of the time, I keep them in my Olympic memorabilia box. Yes, I really am that pathetic. 

Now on to my newly-found recipe for borscht:

8 cups of beef broth
1 pound of bone-in beef shank
1 large onion
4 large beets
4 carrots
1 large baking size russet potato
2 cups sliced cabbage
3/4 cup chopped fresh dill
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream for garnish

  • Bring 4 cups of the beef broth, the beef shank, and the onion (peeled and quartered) to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is tender.
  • Remove the meat and trim to remove the bone, fat, and sinew. Chop the meat into small pieces, cover, and refrigerate.
  • Allow the broth to chill for several hours and skim off the fat.
  • Peel and chop the beets, carrots, and potato. Add to the chilled broth along with the additional 4 cups of broth and bring to a boil. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, approximately 30 minutes. 
    • Note: I have typically cooked beets by trimming the tops, boiling them, and then peeling them. For this recipe, I followed the instructions and went ahead and peeled them using a potato peeler. I then cut them up into fairly small pieces as shown in the picture below:

  • Stir in the meat, cabbage, and 1/2 cup of the dill. Simmer until the cabbage is tender, approximately 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add the vinegar. 
    • Note: at this point, we also found that we needed to add another cup of beef broth.
  • Ladle the borscht into bowls and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and the remaining dill.
  • Serve with warm bread and enjoy
If you will excuse me now, it's about time to turn on the Olympics!