This month, the joys of being freelance and self-employed are looking grim. An expected contract is no more, so it’s time to tighten the purse strings even more to fill the void of wagelessness. With LIDL selling 1.5kgof flour for 45p (8 pizzas worth), tins of plum tomatoes for 31p and mozzarella for 44p, Papesse is living outside the fridge and being refreshed every other day. And surprisingly, eating pizza three times a week is still a pleasure – though not so much for the blog posting stakes.
I remember the time when I lived with a Lithuanian colleague and Ukrainian couple in Southampton. They’d go to the wholesalers and big enormous bags of onions, so we’d always have a vat of onion soup on the go… and then there was the borscht. So I picked up a couple of pre-cooked beetroots and a jar of sauerkraut and went on my merry way.
Traditional borscht is a kind of kvas, or sourish beet liquor, made by fermenting the beetroot with a slice of rye bread for a week or so – but I cheat by adding a tablespoon or two of sauerkraut and a generous glug of beetroot pickling liquor to the grated beets, carrots and potato. There is a lot of debate about what goes in or out of this infamous peasant dish, so I’m in no way saying that this is an ‘authentic’ recipe, other than it getting a Ukrainian thumbs up. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream (or yogurt with a squeeze of lemon) and dill fronds, though I’ll never forget being served a bowlful of the delicious soup in Poland garnished with hard-boiled egg yolks that looked like eyeballs floating in a sea of blood. Mmmmm, appetising but pretty tasty!
Serves 2 – 4
A knob of butter
A grated onion
A grated carrot
A grated small potato
A 300g pack of beetroot grated (or fresh, but it’ll take longer to cook)
2 tablespoons of sauerkraut
A teaspoon of cayenne pepper
A teaspoon of allspice
One or two teaspoons of chopped dill stalks*
A bay leaf
2 tablespoons pickling liquor from a jar of pickled beetroot (or cider vinegar)
A sprinkling of salt and a grinding of pepper
A dollop of sour cream (or yoghurt with a squeeze of lemon juice)
A few fronds of dill
INSTRUCTIONS: Melt the butter in a large saucepan and fry the onion, carrot and potato with the bay leaf for five minutes, so they soften but don’t colour. Turn the heat up and add the paprika, beetroot and dill stalks and cook for a couple more minutes before adding the sauerkraut and enough water to just cover the vegetables. You can use beef or vegetable stock if you prefer. Cover and gently simmer for fifteen minutes. Add the vinegar and season to taste. The soup should be sweet from the beetroot and carrots and sour from the fermented cabbage and vinegar, with a bit of smokiness and extra depth from the paprika. I prefer the soup as it is, but it can be blended or strained. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, dill fronds and rye or black bread and enjoy with a chilled vodka!
*I tend to substitute wild fennel for dill as it likes the poor unfertile soil of my garden!