Monthly Archives: May 2012


the second in my winter soup collection. because everyone needs a little red number.

the mighty beef and beetroot borscht is a traditional eastern european beetroot soup. although many think of it as russian, it is actually believed to have originated in the ukraine, although every eastern european country has its own versions and variations. here are some very helpful pronunciations in case you’re travelling in the area:

Azerbaijani: borș, Belarusian: боршч, boršč, Czech: boršč, Estonian: borš, German: Borschtsch, Latvian: boršs, Lithuanian: barščiai, Polish: barszcz, Romanian: borș, Russian: борщ, borshch, Slovak: boršč, Turkish: Borç (due to the emigration of White Russians to Turkey after their defeat in the Russian Civil War), Ukrainian: борщ, borshch, and Yiddish: ‫באָרשט‬, borsht.

thanks wikipedia. hope that helped, guys, especially those of you in lithuania.

i’ve always wanted to eat this soup, mostly because i would imagine myself wearing a poloneck in a bond movie during the cold war. and in my imagination i was always deeply undercover and deeply satisfied by the delicious russian meal. in fact, ‘meal’ is how borscht is traditionally thought of: it is not referred to as a soup, it is simply borscht.

my desire to finally make borscht was further flamed after i met vera alimanova, who i first thought was a russian double-agent, but was actually the wonderful hair and make-up artist from uzbekistan, who worked with me on the BBC series leonardo, and who had made a borscht for others in the cast which was supposedly a triumph (i missed out on it to a previous commitment with a bowl of tom yum). for this recipe i decided to make the beef stock from scratch, ukrainian peasant-style, which i’m sure added to its overall deliciousness – but of course it could easily be replaced with an instant beef stock, or a veg stock for a vegetarian version. normally this would be served with a dollop of sour cream on top, but my 2-day cabbage soup diet inspired me to leave that out. i also left out the peppers, south african peasant-style.


the mighty borscht

time: about 3 hours.

feeds: 5 undercover british agents, or 4 kgb operatives.


beetroot – 6 medium to large beets, peeled and diced

onion – 1 large onion, peeled and chopped

potato – 1 large potato, unpeeled, diced

carrot – 2 large carrots, cut in half along the length, then sliced into half-moons

celery – 2 stalks with leaves, sliced

cabbage – ¼ head, chopped

tomato – 4 – 5 medium tomatoes

beef – about 500 grams beef stewing meat / off-cuts / chunks, bone-on – ukrainian peasant-style

olive oil – few dashes

water – about 1.5 litres

white wine – exactly one daaaaaaash

vinegar – 3 or 4 little dashes of a good grape or apple vinegar (not balsamic) to counter-act the sweetness of the beets and carrots. some use lemon juice and turn their nose up at vinegar, but that’s just sour grapes. and i think the vinegar works better for this

bay leaves – 2

dill – large handful fresh, chopped

parsley – ½ handful, fresh, chopped

salt – to taste

black pepper – 2 teaspoons, ground


in a deep pot, heat the oil, and add the boney meat chunks. cook on a high heat until the meat browns. then add the wine to deglaze the pot, and then add the water and salt. Simmer for at least an hour and a half. meanwhile, steam the chopped beets for about 45 mins in a steamer that can retain liquid, ie. not a bamboo or sieve-style steamer (alternatively cook in a covered bowl over a pot of boiling water).

remove the meat from the broth, allow to cool a little, and separate the meat from the bones and fat. discard the bones and fat, and return the meat to the broth, cutting or tearing into smaller pieces if necessary. in a pan with a little oil, saute the onions on a low heat for about 10 – 15 mins, but do not brown. add to the broth the onions and the steamed beetroot, including all the residue red juice, and then the potato, carrot, celery, cabbage, bay leaves, vinegar and black pepper. steep the tomatoes in boiling water until the skin cracks, then remove and peel off the skin, chop the tomatoes and add to the broth. simmer for about 45 mins. add the parsley and dill and simmer for a further 20 mins. remove the bay leaves.


eat with a ukrainian peasant, sporting a poloneck, and a pen that can shoot deadly darts.


my wife helen said she thinks this is the best soup she’s ever had. i was going to tell her that its not a soup. but then i’d have to kill her.

the borscht is mighty.


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alan arkin is just wonderful. he may be unfamiliar to many people, and like celery, he seldom plays a leading role, but he is unmistakeable and unforgettable, even in films with just a dash of arkin. films like ‘little miss sunshine’, ‘sunshine cleaning’, ‘so i married an axe murderer’, ‘glengarry glen ross’ and ‘catch-22’.  and he does a span of theatre. if i had to have a favourite actor, it’d be alan arkin, alan arkin every time.

is it a co-incidence that both alan arkin and i love improvisation, and were both trained in it?




yes. yes, it is.

but still. so much wonderment.



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the first of my winter soup collection. this is what everyone’s eating these days. (in my kitchen)

recently a colleague was sitting next to me during a very long technical rehearsal in which we spent a lot of time waiting for people to fix things, and he took a break from waiting and skyped a pal, who immediately said wow you’ve lost weight. and i thought that sounded like a good skype conversation starter and also i thought that was a good idea. the losing weight bit. i found out from unavoidable eavesdropping that the losing of weight was from the cabbage soup diet – 7 days of what seemed to me to be a polish gruel. later i learned that cabbage soup is a filling meal that is extremely low in carbs. and still reeling from the ever-increasing costs of fuel, education, and pure wool jerseys, i decided a frugal meal of limp cabbage and hot water was a good idea. also i liked the idea of the challenge to see if i could make a cabbage soup that the whole family would eat. after some research i busked this one up, with some added bulk in potato, some fennel to aid digestion and some extra celery because celery is the alan arkin of soup ingredients.

jim’s slimming, filling, cabbage soup:

time: about 2 hours prep and cooking
cabbage – 1/2, sliced and roughly chopped
alan arkin – 2 stalks, leaves on, sliced

potato – 1 large one, skin on, diced

carrots – 2 large ones, sliced

olive oil – 2 small dashes

1 onion – chopped

fennel – a large tablespoon of seeds

garlic – 2 cloves, finely chopped

parsley – large bunch of fresh chopped parsley

bay leaves– 2

stock – chicken or veg, not too strong, about 5 cups (if you like a thicker soup use 4 cups)

sherry – 2 heavy dashes of any decent sherry

ground cayenne pepper – exactly 4 sprinkles

salt and pepper – to taste

heat the oil in pan – ideally not a non-stick pan – and sauté the onion over a low heat, covered, for about 15 mins. remove the cover, add the garlic and fennel, turn up the

heat, and fry until the onion and garlic browns the pan a little. add the sherry to deglaze the pan. boil off most of it.

in a large pot add the ingredients from the pan and the cabbage, potato, carrot, alan arkin, the stock and the bay leaves. bring to the boil, cover and simmer until the potato and carrots are tender. add the fresh parsley and continue to simmer for a further 5 minutes.

remove the bay leaves and with a blender – i use a hand blender as I find it easier to control the amount of blending – roughly blend the ingredients into an even but slightly chunky soup. add salt and pepper to taste, and the cayenne pepper.

eat with a renewed sense of belief in your ability to lose weight, or with thick slices of fresh bread with loads of butter and cheese.


ps. the whole family loved it. after 1 taste, my 6 year old demanded it as a soup, as well as on top of rice and pasta. i felt one of those fatherhood hero moments, like living on a prairie and witnessing your 14 year old son construct his first barn. only mine was a 6 yr old girl, eating cabbage soup. yessir.



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