Russian Cabbage Borscht
My mother was a first-generation American. She learned to speak Yiddish when her cousins escaped Poland in the early 1930s to come and live near her. She was poor growing up, and her cooking as an adult reflected the reverence she had for the simplest of ingredients.
This soup is a perfect representation of a "less is more" mentality and the love affair the Eastern European cooks had with all things sweet and sour. The original recipe was shown to me with a shiterein (a handful or a pinch — a nondescript amount of ingredients — of this and that). Here is my recipe for another generation.
- Rinse off meat and place in a 4-quart pot. Add the water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 30 minutes, skimming the top of the soup occasionally to remove the brown foam.
- Add the onion, after piercing it 4 or 5 times with a sharp knife. This technique allows the flavor of the onion to permeate the soup without the onion disintegrating.
- Squeeze the canned tomatoes through your fingers so that you get uneven strings of crushed tomato. Add this and any liquid from the can to the pot. Add the tomato sauce.
- Add the shredded cabbage, salt and pepper to taste, and the raisins to the soup pot, and cook for 1 1⁄2 hours partially covered.
- After 1 1⁄2 hours, add the brown sugar and adjust the seasonings to your taste, using some lemon juice, if needed, to balance the sweet-and-sour taste.
- Cook for 1/2 hour more. Remove the onion, break up the meat into pieces, remove the bones, and serve.
- This soup, like most soups, tastes even better the second day and freezes very well.
- If the soup is too thin for you, either add additional tomato sauce or thicken with an einbreene, which is a mixture of equal parts pareve margarine and flour that is added in small amounts to the hot soup to create the desired thickness.
- Flour can never be added directly to a hot liquid without creating little floating lumps. Mixing it into a fat first will allow the flour to dissolve slowly and evenly.
- When preparing soup, it is always a good idea to cook meat alone in water for the first 30 minutes. Any impurities rise to the surface as a foam that is easily removed, which helps clarify the soup.