Tag Archives: traditional


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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harira was the first meal i cooked that really got me excited about cooking. after my first kid was born i found myself doing a lot more cooking than i used to. i found myself doing a lot more of many things than i used to. like shopping for bum cream. and yawning. but cooking was one of the more enjoyable new adventures that fatherhood brought. my wife helen is english and one quarter egyptian and eats mediterranean food like she drinks tea. often and with a romantic enthusiasm. so harira was an attempt at a north african treat for her. harira is known as a morrocan soup dish – almost the national dish of morroco – but it is found all over the arab world, mostly during the holy month of ramadan which encourages patience and humility, to break the fasting day. its substantial range of ingredients with meat, vegetables and sometimes 4 starches, make it an especially filling meal in itself. of course, like any traditional dish, there are a gazillion versions of harira, depending on the particular country, village or mother-in-law. some have rice, some have pasta or beans, some have all three or none of those. the israeli bistro down the road from us, zahava’s in norwood, does an especially good one, which is coarsely blended and heavy on the lemon to counter the greasiness of the lamb. as a north african meal, it is traditionally made with lamb meat, but i’ve seen – and tried – versions using diced beef or whole chicken pieces, as well as vegetarian versions – which i’ve started favouring, and here is one. right here. although this version is more of a thick hearty stew than a soup. and has no meat. and i don’t fast. still. its always very good. insha’allah.


Time: About 2 hours

Feeds: About 4 medium-sized adults

olive oil – exactly 2 dashes

whole cumin – 3 teaspoons

whole coriander – 3 teaspoons

onions – 2, fairly finely chopped

garlic – 3 cloves, chopped or crushed

fresh ginger – about 3 teaspoons, chopped

2 carrots – quartered then sliced

2 or 3 sticks of celery, depending on your fondness for that stuff, with its leaves – sliced

4 fresh tomatoes – chopped (obviously fresh is ideal, but a tin will do. obviously)

about a tablespoon of tomato paste

stock – veg stock (or chicken or lamb stock if doing a meat version), about 3 cups.

chick peas  – 1 and half cups of soaked chickpeas (or 1 tin)

lentils – a brave handful of rinsed lentils (i usually use the brown lentils for this)

rice – a slightly more cowardly handful of brown rice

chilli – 1 whole, dried or fresh chilli. not traditional, completely optional.

turmeric – 2 teaspoons

cinnamon – 1 teaspoon

salt – a few pinches

black pepper  – a few cracks

fresh parsley  – big handful,including stalks, chopped

fresh coriander – 2 big handfuls, including stalks, chopped

greens beans – half a cup, chopped

2 lemons – 1 halved, 1 in 4 wedges

mediterranean bread – to serve. i usually use pita bread, lightly warmed in a toaster, but not crisp

(for a meat version, its simple enough to add about 400 grams of browned, chopped lamb steak, or beef, and to make the veg stock a meat one)

in a frying pan, drizzle a few drops of olive oil and place on a medium heat. add the cumin and coriander and roast til they are lightly browned. remove and set aside. if you have a pestle and mortar its good to grind them up a little. in the pan, add the rest of the olive oil and when its hot, add the onion. cook for about 3 or 4 minutes and then add the garlic and ginger and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes. add the carrots and celery and cook for another 4 minutes. transfer everything into a large pot.

add the roasted cumin and coriander, the tomato paste and the tomatoes and cook for about 15 mins. add the stock, the chick peas, the lentils, the parsley, half the fresh coriander, the turmeric, the cinnamon, the juice of 1 lemon, the chilli, salt and pepper, and simmer for about 45 mins. add the rice and cook for another 30 mins, adding more water if necessary. add the green beans and cook for another 10 mins. discard the chilli. serve in a bowl, topped with the rest of the fresh coriander. serve with the lemon wedges and bread.

eat with patience, humility and a belly-dancer.


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