A couple weekends ago, the soup swap was brought back to life after a one-year hiatus. What were we thinking, skipping a year? I do not know. My only excuse is that we moved last January and at the time, I probably didn’t think the house was “ready” to have people over. I can’t say that it’s that much more ready now- we still have a long way to go and the list of home improvement projects is long- but fortunately I’ve forced myself to get over it and lower my standards; otherwise, I’d never have any guests!
It’s a well-known fact that a little pork can enhance just about any soup, and we found it amusing that everyone’s soups, without specifically planning it that way, had pork in them. Michelle’s was the meatiest, a pork and tomatillo stew with big chunks of tender, falling-apart meat. Kate brought a delicious split pea with bacon, perked up with the addition of fresh rosemary. Molly made a hearty chickpea and sausage soup with some Hungarian sausage she’d been gifted from a neighbor, and Sarah made a fantastic wonton soup with homemade, pork-filled dumplings.
I was torn on what to make and, as before, prepared two soups- one to eat for lunch that day and one to take home. I had found a borscht recipe in Molly O’Neill’s One Big Table* that used slab bacon as the meat rather than beef, and I just happened to have some homemade un-smoked bacon in my freezer, so I made that as the soup to swap. For lunch, I created a soup that brought together elements of Eastern European peasant food (or at least, what I imagine it to be): sautéed cabbage, leeks and mushrooms in a light chicken and mushroom broth, with kasha (buckwheat) for an earthy flavor, and venison & pork meatballs. The final touch was some homemade yogurt stirred into each bowl for a little tang. It went perfectly with the homemade crusty rye bread Molly had brought. For dessert, I made a rustic apple tart- no recipe, just thawed out some graham cracker dough from the freezer, made a sort of custard from eggs and yogurt, sugar and cinnamon and poured it over sliced apples. Because of the yogurt, the custard didn’t have a perfectly smooth texture (the ladies said it reminded them of bread pudding), but that didn’t bother anyone.
I kind of fell down on the job this year as compared to soup swaps past, where I photographed every soup and posted recipes for each one. I’m going with the excuse that I now live with a hungry male and the soups disappeared much faster than they did when it was just little ol’ me consuming them. Not only that, but ironically my schedule as a freelancer has, so far, left less time for blogging and photography than before! But as you can see, I did snap some photos of the borscht and will provide that recipe. I hadn’t made borscht in a few years but I had a pretty specific taste memory of what I wanted, so I used the recipe from One Big Table and tweaked it a bit, using the same ingredients but altering some quantities (more beets, less potato) and the cooking method (dirtying only one pot instead of two). I like my borscht to have a nice punchy sweet and sour flavor, so I added quite a bit more vinegar, and used my homemade red wine vinegar instead of the white vinegar called for. The only other change I’d suggest is cutting the carrots in something other than matchsticks, unless you have pro knife skills. It took me half an hour to cut 2 carrots! D’oh.
Anyway, borscht recipe below, and here are links to the previous two soup swaps if you want to check out those recipes. And of course, I highly recommend hosting a soup swap of your own: you get a fridge full of soups and only have to do the work of making one, and all that time you save can be spent in a pleasant afternoon eating, chatting and sipping wine with girlfriends. Total no-brainer.
*Incidentally, as of press time this great cookbook is on sale for 60% off- get it while you can!
½ lb salt pork or slab bacon, preferably unsmoked
2 quarts beef broth or bouillon
2 small or medium onions, roughly chopped, ok to leave skins on
2 bay leaves
1 Tbs neutral vegetable oil or olive oil
1 lb beets (about 3 medium), peeled and shredded
2 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks (or small coins)
4 garlic cloves, minced
½ small head green cabbage, cored and shredded
1 cup crushed tomatoes
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into ½-inch dice
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
sour cream for garnish
chopped fresh parsley, dill or chives for garnish
In a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot, cover the pork with water by 2 inches, bring to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes. Remove the pork and pour out the water. Return the pork to the pot with the beef broth, onion and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer and cook about 2 hours, until tender.
Transfer the meat to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle separate the meat from the skin and fat, and chop into bite-sized pieces. Strain the cooking liquid and discard the solids; reserve the liquid.
Heat the oil in the pot over medium heat. Sauté the beets and carrots until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes, adding the garlic after about 5 minutes. Raise the heat slightly and add the cabbage; cook, stirring frequently, until slightly wilted. Add the tomatoes, potatoes and reserved cooking liquid; bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are done to your liking.
Add the meat, sugar and vinegar to the pot. Stir well and taste for salt and pepper, adding as needed, and add vinegar to taste– you’re aiming for a nice balance of sweetness and acidity. Beets and carrots are quite sweet, so I added much more vinegar than the original recipe called for (I used ¼ cup as opposed to 1 tablespoon), but taste and adjust based on your own preferences.
Serve with a spoonful of sour cream stirred in, and garnish with chopped herbs of your choice.