Borscht is like a lot of classic local dishes - there are tons of different tweaks to it, depending on where the recipe you use comes from. It's a peasant staple found anywhere in Eastern Europe, but thought to originate in the Ukraine.
Apparently, those who make this on a regular basis have a lot of spare time on their hands. Either that, or I'm doing it wrong. I can fully appreciate the latter is more likely true.
This is actually the second time we made borscht (if you want the recipe, you can get it here on Epicurious). This time it took a ton longer...two days, to be exact. If you are a very hungry peasant, that might prove to be a problem. At least, I would think so.
The first day we made the stock, which was easy. Basically brown the meat and throw everything in the pot to simmer for hours. While that was going we roasted the beets, then took the time to peel the skin off (if anyone knows of a quick way to do this, I'm all ears - or, in this case, eyes).
This took many hours though, the simmering, then the cooling of the stock and the meat. The recipe then adds this little note about the short ribs, making it seem like an innocuous little tidbit:
"Chill stock until fat solidifies on top, at least 3 hours. Remove meat from bones; cut away excess fat. Shred meat finely."
Seems easy enough, right?
However, we started this at about 10pm, thinking it would take just a few minutes and then we could go to bed. Actually, Wifey started this while I peeled the second round of beets. Twenty minutes later I joined her, and we spent the next hour working on the ribs.
And what did that entail? Painstakingly pulling threads of flesh from bone and fat. Actually, it was kind of disgusting, but at the same time intriguing. I told Wifey I felt like we were doing surgery. It was messy work - our hands all coated in a thick sheen of fat - and at the end of it our three pounds of beef ribs had been reduce to about ten ounces of flesh to put in our borscht. Perhaps, again, there was a better way to do this, a more efficient way - or maybe it's just slow because it's not something we do every day. Either way, I'm not signing up to do it again anytime soon.
That ended the first day of work. We had meat, we had beets, and we had stock. The second day went smoother, but it takes much longer than the recipe lets on. Also, we didn't need to any extra beef stock - we had plenty leftover from the first day's work we didn't need the extra we bought. I suppose now we have some for later...
One final note: the recipe says to season the final version with additional red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. We both recommend this. Our first meal I didn't add any extra and the borscht was extremely sweet from the beets; additional vinegar (we used cabernet red wine vinegar) gave it another layer of flavor.
We opted for creme fraiche instead of sour cream for our dish, but that's a personal preference. It melts into the hot stock pretty quickly, making for a bright pink, creamy liquid.
Overall this was an excellent meal. We liked the previous version we made too, though, and it was much less work for roughly the same results. So would we make this again, knowing how much work it was? Umm...probably not. At least, not anytime soon.
Borscht, though, is excellent. This was one of those dishes I approached as not really sure if I would like it or not - especially the first time - and I was pleasantly surprised. It's not difficult to make, it just takes time and patience, so give it a try.