Making borscht


So I thought it might be nice to actually post one of my own recipes, rather than just my experience with other people’s.

My dad used to make borscht a lot when I was little, and then it kind of went off my radar for years. I think that a lot of people’s only experience of it is getting rid of skunk-stink in Rugrats, but a while back I decided to try making it and, after some refinements, this is the recipe I’ve settled on. It’s probably not strictly authentic, or correct, but it has the taste that I’m after with borscht, and is visually appealling.

(Serves four)

1 large onion (or 2 small)
2 sticks celery
2 large potatoes
5-6 fresh beetroot
1 tbsp caraway seeds
1 tbsp fennel seeds
1 bunch fresh dill
1.5 pints stock
Sour cream to serve


First, finely chop the onion and, in a large heavy pan, fry it off in a little oil until soft. Roughly chop the celery, and add it to the pan, along with the caraway seeds, fennel seeds and chopped dill, reserving a little dill for a garnish.

Fry this mixture gently for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, and meanwhile dice the potatoes (you can leave the skin on). Top and tail the beetroot, and peel off any rough patches. (You can peel the whole thing if you like.) Chop the beetroot into rough chunks and add it to the pan along with the potato. You probably could use pickled beetroot here – it would save on some preparation – but I really prefer fresh. The vinegar in pickled beetroot takes away some of that lovely earthy flavour in the beetroot, and could leave the soup a bit acidic.

Stir the potato and beetroot through with the onion and other ingredients for a minute or two, to make sure that it is all well mixed together.

Add the stock to the pan. I tend to use pork or ham stock, because that’s strictly speaking more traditional it, as I understand, but chicken stock works too, and you could of course use vegetable stock if you wanted to keep the soup vegetarian. I think beef stock would be a bit overpowering, though.

Bring the soup to the boil briefly, and then return to a simmer. Cook for around twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. Avoid overcooking it, because the colour will start to leach out of the beetroot and you’ll lose that lovely purple colour.

At this point, you’ve got options. You can either blend the soup in a food processor to make it smooth, or you can keep it more chunky. I tend to go halfway. I take a potato masher and roughly mash some of the potatoes and beetroot in the pan, to break them up and thicken the soup, while still leaving some good chunks. Make sure you turn the heat right down when you do this, and avoid splashing yourself because, well, beetroot stains wonderfully.

Make sure that the soup is heated through thoroughly, and serve with crusty bread and, if you like, a generous spoon of sour cream and a sprig of dill to garnish.

The soup keeps up to three days in a sealed pot in the fridge, and is just as good after a day or two, as long as you make sure it’s piping hot when you serve it.


Muffins merely made in the microwave

Because who can resist a bit of alliteration?

The Book
Harumi’s Japanese Cooking| Harumi Kurihara
(Conran Octopus, 2004)

The Recipe
Steamed Cream Cheese Muffins

The Reason
I’ve had this book for ages, and it’s one of the few that I actually use regularly, but I’ve never ventured into the desserts section of the book before. Add in the fact that it was one of the few nice days of the summer so I wanted something not too heavy, and there we go.

The Cooking
Ha! Well, they’re stupidly easy. Microwave stuff. Mix stuff. Microwave stuff again. End of. The most complicated bit was lining the ramekins with baking parchment and making little clingfilm tents so that they steam properly. That and actually gathering the ingredients. For some reason, the supermarkets were conspiring against me and either not selling cream cheese or not selling cream. Well, there were selling cream cheese, but I don’t think the world is ready for garlic and chive and vanilla muffins. There’s really not a lot to say about them, in terms of preparation. It’s interesting to find things that are baked without the oven; I guess it partly stems from so many Japanese flats being tiny little shoeboxes and a lot of people not even having ovens. That sidebar dealt with, in summary: easy.

The result

Attractive, I’m sure you’ll agree

Yeah… these aren’t going to win any awards for presentation or get me a pastry chef internship any time soon. But given that that were made in the microwave, I don’t think they’re too ugly. And they do look rather like the ones in the book, so I’m confident that they’re meant to look like that. The microwave mug cake that was doing the internet rounds a year or two ago was really not pleasant to look at, all lumpy and bulbous where it boiled over the mug. At least these have kept their shape and are a fairly pleasant yellow colour. I’m not entirely sure they deserve the name ‘muffins’ to be honest, but there you go.

I think I may have overcooked them slightly, because they’re a bit spongy. But on the other hand, perhapsyou can’t set your sights too high with microwave cake. They’re light, and fresh-tasting, but I think they’d really benefit from being served with fruit, say, or even ice-cream. They’re not quite … satisfying enough by themselves.

Horribly misshapen pretzels

So, I’ve neglected this a bit. Suffice to say Real Life Stuff has been in the way a bit, but I’m determined to keep it going, and I’ve still been doing a bit of cooking.

The Book
Street Food | Rose Grant

(The Crossing Press, 1988)

The Recipe
Chewy Soft Pretzels

The Reason
Put simply, my flatmate was in the mood for pretzels. So I made pretzels. (Aren’t I an amazing person to live with?) Also, pretzels are amazing, and it was a recipe from a new book, so it was a good plan. Street Food is fun, because it’s got all sorts of details about the various, erm, street foods it covers. It roams all over the world – the USA, Europe and Asia, with recipes from Baltimore Crab Cakes to Croque Monsieur and Pad Thai. Apparently pretzels arose in the fifteenth century when a monk who didn’t want to waste any dough from the unleavened bread he was making rolled the scraps to represent people praying. The more you know.

The Cooking
Hoo boy. This did not go brilliantly. I suffered from the usual problem of too big a batch. It was to make 20 pretzels, if not quite the size of the New York street vendor ones, then definitely heading in that direction. The dough ended up far too elastic and stretchy, so for the most part I couldn’t shape them properly. In turn, when I boiled them, they mostly kind of drooped off the edges of the slotted spoon and lost their shape even more. I think I need to steal the giant flat pierced ladle that my dad used to use to make potato latkas. So I ended up mostly rerolling them all into just stubby little pretzel sticks instead. Which is fine, because the whole point of pretzels is the salty oily chewy amazingness; the shape is secondary. And no, I am NOT just saying that because I couldn’t get the shape right. Nope. No siree.

The result

Pretzels. After a fashion.

Sticks. Not pretzels.


Well, you be the judge. It was basically a lot better when I gave up trying to shape them and just baked them as nobbly little sticks. But tastewise, hummunuh hummunuh. Even the places that sell pretzels (like Pret, say) do them with poppy seeds or sesame seeds. I did a few sesame seeds but let’s be honest, what I wanted was proper monstrous chewy but also crunchy pretzels with salt crystals on. And that’s what I got. Salt is good. The two of us ate pretty much the whole batch in two days, so something must have been right. I think if/when I make them again, I’ll just make them smaller so that the shape is more manageable, but other than that I’m marking them in the success column.