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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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