*Also known as Borshch, Barszcz, Barščiai, and something in a Cyrillic script that I don’t have on my keyboard to name a few.

So I got beets two weeks in a row, and I took this as a sign that it was time to make borscht. I foolishly assumed this would involve finding a recipe, gathering the ingredients, and making the soup. Ah, the naiveté. Looking back, it’s actually kind of cute. I have since learned that borscht recipes are like snowflakes and mom’s chocolate chip cookie batches: no two are exactly the same. The variation in ingredients and prep methods convinced me to back up a bit and do a little research to try and determine what was essential, what was traditional, what was most common, and what was overly fussy.

It turns out that borscht is the sort of soup that is anything you want it to be, as long as it includes beets. There are versions that are (no exaggeration) beets and water, and there are versions with more than thirty ingredients. To help sort through the mess I checked in with a Ukrainian friend (though there is some debate regarding the origin of this soup that is eaten throughout eastern Europe and Russia, Ukraine makes a good case) and asked her how some sample recipes compared to what she grew up eating. She got a good chuckle out of the more elaborate ones, and informed me that in her house anyway, borscht was suitable for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and the whole point of it being a staple dish was that it was incredibly cheap to make and used whatever you had around. So according to her, you were definitely looking at beets, potatoes, cabbage, maybe some carrot, as the main ingredients. (Update: I spoke with another Ukrainian friend today who assured me that meat is absolutely ESSENTIAL. So again, there is more than one way to make a borscht, and apparently I’m not completely out in left field.) Continue reading


Pico De Gallo: The inaugural installment in my survey of salsa

Or: “Making myself feel better about getting take-out by adding one homemade element”

So Mom and Dad, I know that when we spoke on the phone today I said my next post would be about the lovely borscht I made a few weeks ago. But then I had a look at what was left in this week’s Box of Wonders and saw among other things four jalapenos, a bunch of grape tomatoes from somewhere down south, and an onion. I don’t know about you, but to me that says salsa. But what kind of salsa? I had a slide show of choices running through my head, but in the interest of time and the possibility of consumption in conjunction with the take-out I am getting tonight to eat while watching the hockey playoffs starting in twenty minutes, I went with pico de gallo. In case you don’t know exactly what pico de gallo is (which would not be uncommon: when I worked in a restaurant that served it, I explained it to at least three or four customers per shift), it is distinct from other salsas in that none of the ingredients are cooked. Its most basic incarnation is just finely chopped tomato, jalapeno, and white onion with some lime juice. You see why it sprang to mind. Most recipes include some cilantro. Some include green bell pepper, but that is really just filler, and I like my salsas the way I like my crab cakes: with as little filler as possible!
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Fennel Salad

I got fennel this week. Okay that’s a lie. I actually got it two weeks ago and it took me this whole time to work up to using it.

foeniculum vulgare.

foeniculum vulgare. It sounds like a spell.

I have never liked anise, licorice, ouzo, even Italian sausage took some getting used to (I got over that one eventually. I mean come on, it’s sausage.) In case you were wondering, fennel and anise are not the same thing. they are different plants, but fennel is always said to be anise-flavored. Nobody ever says anise tastes like fennel. Zero respect for the fennel. Anyway, here I was with this fennel. I was so close to throwing it out. Within a whisker. But damn it, the whole point of this venture is to work outside the box, stretch my horizons, etc., so I decided to give it a shot. Because of the aforementioned distaste for, well, the taste, I have very limited knowledge of the possibilities here. I had fish baked with fennel once, and they seem to include it in a lot of the dishes served in the Game Of Thrones books, and there is the Italian sausage thing, though that’s just fennel seed. Not that I was planning on making sausage, I’m just laying out the facts as I knew them. Continue reading

Three Cabbage Recipes in Four Days (two wins, one fail)

*Or: “Proving cabbage would taste better if it was pork”

It’s been awhile since I posted. This is not to say I stopped cooking. There has in fact been a raging battle between myself and an army of cabbage that has stormed my kitchen over the last month or so. In my defense, they sent in the big guns first: a massive red cabbage with a small core and bad attitude.

Team Cabbage, trying to break my spirit early on.

Team Cabbage, trying to break my spirit early on.

I marshaled my resources (the internet) and came up with a recipe for braised red cabbage. Continue reading

Yet another kale soup

*Or: “A study in kale, punctuated by a soup”

I haven’t just gotten kale. I’ve gotten mustard greens, collard greens, several kinds of chard, dandelion greens (wow, was that a fiasco), red cabbage, green cabbage, boston red lettuce, loose leaf lettuce…okay let’s just say “many lettuces”. Lettuci. No I think the plural is probably lettuces. But the kale does keep popping up. And I am learning that it has as many varieties as any other fruit or vegetable, if not more. Here I thought there was just the one kind, namely, the pretty curly kind pictured below. Boy, was I wrong. It’s sort of like if you thought the only type of apple was a granny smith. Wrong, wrong, wrong. And the kind of variety you see in apples is actually a decent analogy for kale: big, small, soft, crisp, tart, bland, many many colors, you get the idea. But do you? I think you need to see it to understand. So before we get to the soup, here are most of the kinds I have encountered so far.

Curly kale

Curly kale

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