While I was tidying up the house the other morning, I put a pot on the stove with a couple of chicken backs and some wing tips, onions, carrots, celery, two bulbs of garlic, mushroom stalks, a handful of parsley and some black peppercorns. I let this come to a boil and reduced it to a seethe–where you can see the surface move gently without it even simmering. I skimmed the scum as it rose, from time to time. I blotted off the fat periodically. And that is how I came to have a nice pot of homemade chicken stock by lunchtime.
Which brings me to the actual borscht. Around eleven, I went into the garden and started cutting and picking whatever seemed ready for harvest. There were a fat handful of beets which had thrown themselves out of the ground, they were so desperate to become a part of the food chain on our farm. There were carrots (purple, yellow and orange) which had thrust their shoulders up, bluish green fronds waving above the madding crowd of their brethren and sistren. There were onions as eager as the beets to come along to the kitchen; they’d pushed themselves more than halfway out of the ground when I got to them. There was a mess of fingerling potatoes–some of the last few potato hills from our first planting round. And there were Hungarian wax peppers, bright greenish yellow and four inches long.
With the addition of some more celery and a little thyme, I could see the garden vegetable soup I was after would really be a nice, fresh borscht. Of course, farm hands cannot live by soup alone. I opened the lunch with a green salad of black seeded Simpson lettuce and a balsamic mustard vinaigrette. I put out sandwich fixins’ too–since hard work in the hot sun burns many calories in the bodies of our dedicated WWOOFers. But the soup was the centerpiece of the meal. Rich with stock, tangy with the pepper and sweet from the carrots and beets–it was a simple, fresh, balanced masterpiece.
7 medium beets, greens washed and stemmed
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups carrots, cut into fat rounds
2 cups Yukons or banana fingerling potatoes in small dice
2 cups chopped celery, strung
1 cup Hungarian wax peppers in fat dice
6 cups good vegetable, chicken or beef stock
1 handful of parsley, stemmed and minced
2 sprigs of thyme
salt and pepper
Start the beets (unpeeled, one inch of stem left on) in a pan of water to cover on the stove, or in the microwave if you’re in a hurry. Get your soup pot hot with a couple tablespoons of fat in the bottom of it. Add the onions first. When they’re translucent, add the carrots. After the carrots have been in the pot a few minutes, add the potatoes. Once the potatoes are hot and beginning to take a little color, add the celery and peppers. Give the mixture another five to seven minutes before adding the stock.
When the beets are cooked through, peel and dice them and add them to the pot. Now throw in the thyme and parsley and the chopped beet greens. The soup is ready when the greens finish wilting. Season to taste with salt and pepper. This is best hot. You may serve it with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt if you like, but it’s good as is.