Beggars Borscht

You guys already know Harold, the hard working slow cooker that I have such limitless affection for.  However, about a year ago, we welcomed a new small appliance into our household and I realize that I haven’t written anything about him yet.  Let me start by saying that he doesn’t have a name (yet), but he does have my heart.  I would like to present to you a frequent assistant for weeknight food preparation:  our pressure cooker.

I adore this little electric wunderkind.  There is something a little bit magic about a pot roast which can braise in less than an hour, veal shanks which are falling off the bone in 25 minutes, and white beans in a smoky molasses broth which are ready for breakfast before you get out of the shower.  That, my friends, is the joy of pressure cooking.  Harold and I had a good long talk about it, and frankly I don’t think he minds a bit of a rest every now and then.  You see, he has his niche too; when I have time to take care and start preparation for a slow cooked dinner the night before, that’s when Harold steps in and does his part. But when I scramble home at 7:15 pm, googly eyed with hunger and slightly disheveled, Harold quietly moves to the back of the cupboard and gives the pressure cooker a small shove in my general direction.

Such was the case last week when I had a full fridge, ready to make a slow braised pot roast with buttery potatoes Anna and a roasted beet salad for Sunday night supper.  And then we ended up eating grilled cheese instead.  It happens.  But come Monday night, when all the ingredients were there but none of the time needed to cobble it all together, I spied the pressure cooker peeking out from behind a cupboard door.  That was provocation enough to throw the idea of fussing around out the window, and make one of my favorite one pot wonders:  a classic hearty, beefy, beautifully hued and beefy Russian borscht.

Beggars Borscht

Serves 6

  • 1 kg (2.2 lb) beef stew meat *
  • 3 tbsp olive oil **
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 5 ribs celery
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp caraway seed
  • 3 large  (1.5 lb) white potatoes
  • 2 large (3/4 lb) carrots
  • 4-5 medium (1.5 lb) beets, with greens attached
  • 1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups beef stock OR water
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • small handful fresh dill (~1/4 cup minced)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, optional garnish

* I like to use a cheap, tough, stubborn cut of beef like a rump roast.  There is a lot of great flavor in the meat without too much fat but it still ends up incredibly tender when stewed. That said, if you prefer to buy pre-cut “stewing beef” in a flat rather than dicing it yourself, that’s absolutely fine too.

** Olive oil is the healthy choice for this low fat stew and fairly healthy peasant stew, but I’m not going to lie…if I have a jar of reserved bacon fat hanging around from the last time we cooked a decent breakfast, I will totally use that for the saute instead.

If you’re starting with a beef roast, cube it into little mouthfuls that are all approximately the same size.

If your pressure cooker has the option to brown and saute with the lid off, use it.  If not, in a large pot heat about a tablespoon of the oil over medium high heat.  Pat the meat dry and season liberally with salt and pepper.  Brown the meat in batches, adding additional oil before each batch as necessary if the pot looks to dry.  Be sure to reserve at least one (1) tablespoon of oil for the vegetables.

When you’re browning, let the meat sit and try not to stir constantly, because you want to get some nice, brown caramelization on the outside.  As batches are cooked, scoop them out and set them aside.

In the mean time, prep your aromatics.  Roughly chop the onion into a medium-small dice, slice the celery into 1/4″ half moons, and coarsely mince the garlic.

Slice the greens off the beets and set them aside.  Despite my fondness for cabbage soup, I don’t like the texture of cabbage in my borscht and I would prefer to bring the leafiness back with the tender and richly hued beet greens that I already have on hand.

Peel the carrots, beets and potatoes and chop them into large bite-sized cubes of roughly the same size.

Without cleaning the vessel where you browned the meat, add the remaining oil and saute the onions, stirring regularly so that they do not burn.  When the onions are partially cooked and translucent, add the celery, garlic and caraway seed.  Continue to saute for another minute or two until the garlic is fragrant.

Pour in the vinegar and the stock (or water), stirring vigorously to scrape up those delicious browned bits that accumulated at the bottom of the pot.  To be honest, I think this hearty peasant stew has enough flavor that water will suffice, but if you really want to enrich the flavor, beef stock will make it dark and rich; chicken stock will make the stew slightly lighter but equally flavorful.

Add the chopped root vegetables, the browned meat, the diced tomatoes and all their liquid, and the bay leaf.  Season lightly with salt and pepper. Stir until everything is combined.

Seal the pressure cooker and set it to high pressure for 25 minutes.

In the mean time, wash the beet greens well (they tend to be rather gritty) and clip off the leaves, discarding the stems.  Bundle up those tender leaves and slice into ribbons.  While you’re at it, mince the fresh dill.

When the time has elapsed, quick release the pressure if you are able to do so safely. If not, a natural pressure release is fine.  Remove the lid and stir in the beet greens and dill.  Let this simmer together for 5 minutes as the greens wilt down.  Adjust the salt and pepper to taste before serving.

Ladle the soup into large bowls and garnish with a hearty dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of fresh dill.

As you can imagine, a side of buttered rye bread is not exactly optional when it comes to sopping up every last drop.

You will love the hearty, rustic Eastern European flavor of this borscht.  The vinegar brightens up the rich beefiness, and the beets and carrots save the stew from being too stodgy.  This is the kind of hearty and wholesome winter warmer that leaves you feeling sated and good without needing a nap.

This beefy borscht is also just calling out to the good people at Canadian Beef who are kindly holding a contest to sponsor three (3!) lucky Canadians to participate in the amazing food blogging conference of Eat, Write, Retreat 2012 in Washington.  Mike and I love meeting our peers in the food community and making new friends, and our fingers are crossed that maybe, just maybe, our name will get pulled!

  • Cherie

    This looks wonderful!!  In fact…I have the very same pressure cooker.  😀

  • Beth Cockrell

    This looks amazing. I think I may have to give my slow cooker a shot at this one (Pinky doesn’t have a pressure cooker companion at this point)

    • choosybeggarmike

      I was originally doubtful about our pressure cooker, what with all the stories I’d heard of 1960s devices exploding people — but then I realized:

      1. Everything to do with food in the 1960s seems to have had terrible ramifications, from countertop appliances to red M&Ms.
      2. It’s worth a lid shearing off my face every now and again in order to get food like this.

      So in conclusion, buy a pressure cooker.