When I was little, my mother had a pottery studio on 6th Street in the East Village. I had borscht at all the neighborhood places, but my favorite was always the cold Ukranian style borscht at Veselka. This is the approximation I was able to come up with at college (with input from a Russian friend from down the hall, plus tweaks to fit my own taste). —The Weary Epicurean
6 to 8
Large Beets (as big as you can find)
Medium Red Onions
Good Red Wine Vinegar to Taste
Seasoning to Taste
Chopped Dill to Taste
Boiled Eggs to Taste
Sour Cream to Taste
Diced Celery to Taste
In This Recipe
Put the beets on a dish and cover in paper towel. Microwave a minute at a time, testing skins for looseness. After 4-5 minutes you should be able to remove them easily. Microwaving has zero effect on the flavor of tough, sugary beets! Incidentally, when I say 4, I mean four real big 'uns, like maybe 3"-4" in diameter. If these are unavailable, just make sure you're getting as much weight of beets as you are cabbage or your soup will be cabbagey!
Once peeled, you have a bit of a choice to make. The beets need to be chopped. To get the best flavor, I think the way to do it is to cut them in half, then make half moon slices about a quarter of an inch thick. For the best appearance and bite, however, you should do rough julienne. Really, it depends on how beety you require your soup to be - sometimes a mix is a good idea.
Carefully shred your red cabbage, fairly finely. Rough chunks of cabbage ruin the texture of the soup, in my opinion.
Cut the (large) onion into half moon eighths.
Finely dice your garlic with a sharp knife to keep it nice and strong.
Bring beef stock to boil in a large stock pot, and add cabbage, onion, garlic and bay leaves. Make sure all is covered by a few inches, but not overly covered. If your stock sucks, obviously your soup will also. Maybe supplement a store-bought stock with some beef bones you've roasted in the oven to add flavor. Wait about 15 minutes before adding the beets.
Add your beets, and boil at a sort of "fast simmer" for half an hour. Basically you want the soup to reduce a little, but if you boil it to fast it's not sugary enough at all. Taste it periodically . . . it should get sweeter over time.
Take the borscht off the heat, cover tightly and let it cool overnight, at least 8 hours. Move it to the fridge once it's room temperature (unless you're trying to kill someone).
Season the borscht with salt, pepper and red wine vinegar just prior to serving. Serve with sliced hard boiled egg, chopped dill, chopped celery, and sour cream. Challah bread is also an excellent idea!