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KotW: Unbelievably Complicated Borscht January 28, 2009

Posted by panterazero in all-in-one, chicken, holidays, Kip of the Week, potatoes, poultry, soups and stews.
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If you’re like me, your early experience of borscht was with the over-refined broth often served as a starter course for Jewish holiday dinners. It looks like cranberry-grape kool-aid and tastes like a nondescript root vegetable; if you’re lucky it’s elaborated with a few shreds of beet or carrot; and if you garnish it with sour cream it’s not bad, really.

Nahhhh.

With a tip of the chef’s hat to my old pal Harriett, I give here the recipe for the reason the Soviet Army beat the Waffen-SS; the borscht that was in the fuel tanks of the first Sputnik; borscht that could make a chronic emphysema patient run the high hurdles.  Plan about three days ahead to make an eight-quart pot of this stuff, which will take hours and cost you serious money. And when it’s done and boiling, if a wooden spoon won’t stand up in the middle of the pot, you missed the bullseye.

STEP ONE.

3- to 4-pound whole chicken
one large yellow onion
Seasoning as for Roast Chicken

Season the chicken and stuff it with the peeled onion. Roast it till done, but moist; water the roasting pan (at least) midway through so the drippings don’t burn.  Put the chicken in a bowl to catch the draining juices, and allow it to cool.  Strip the chicken (don’t be compulsive about getting the last of the meat off the carcass) and refrigerate the meat.

STEP TWO.

bones and skin of the chicken
pan drippings and collected juice
onion from cavity, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced
bay leaf
1 clove garlic, smashed but not skinned

Put all the above in an 8-quart stockpot and cover it with 6 quarts boiling water, then simmer for several hours — I let it bake overnight in a 225-degree oven. Refrigerate until you can remove the fat easily, 24 to 36 hours.  Meanwhile

STEP THREE.

1 bunch fresh beets (4 to 8 beets depending on size) with greens

Cut the greens off the beets.  Stem the greens and wash them THOROUGHLY in 2 or 3 changes of cold water.  Boil the beets in lightly salted water for 15 to 20 minutes.  Shred the greens.  Let the beets cool slightly, peel and chop them.  Put beets and greens into a tightly covered plastic container and refrigerate.

STEP FOUR.

two pounds meaty beef short ribs (2-3 ribs)
two or three yellow onions skinned & diced
one or two peeled baking potatoes
one tablespoon oil
the stock from step two

Skim the fat off the stockpot. Lots of stock will stick to the stocktrash, so let it drain into a colander into a big bowl.  Discard the stocktrash. Wash out the 8-quart pot and brown the beef ribs in it; remove them to a plate.  Discard some of the fat, add the oil, brown the onions till golden.  Put the ribs on top of the onions, then strain in the stock through a fine strainer.  Bring to a simmer, cover and let simmer (not boil) for 3 to 4 hours.  Add the potatoes for the last hour. Meanwhile

STEP FIVE.

four carrots
six stalks celery
half a small green cabbage
four to six cloves garlic

Pare the carrots and cut them into chunks.  Wash and slice the celery.  Dice the cabbage.  Shred the reserved chicken.

STEP SIX.

Remove the beef ribs from the broth and let them cool, separate and shred the meat, and discard the bones and surplus tissue.  If you have a food processor, chop the garlic, then add the potatoes and a couple of cups of stock till everything is a thin smooth slurry.  If you don’t, mash the potatoes, press the garlic, and combine them while you add stock; the result won’t be as evenly thick but will still work.

Add the chicken, beef, potatoes and garlic, and beets to the broth and let simmer 30 minutes.
Add the carrots and celery and let simmer 10 minutes, stirring.
Add the beet greens and cabbage, bring to a slow boil and cook 10 minutes, stirring.  Serve.

There you have it, comrades; the borscht of commissars. And personally, I think topping this with sour cream would be like gilding a tank, but who am I to tell you what to do?  Enjoy, you’ve worked for it.

Plain Ordinary Borscht

So now you’re saying “Kip, only a maniac would go through that.”  And I look haplessly about the room for the maniac in question, and concede that you might be right.  I pretty much guarantee that if you make borscht from the elaborate recipe once a year, after a year, you will be so hungry for it that you will resign yourself to performing those miracles again.

But what if you just want, you know, borscht, and you don’t want it to take three days, but you certainly won’t stoop to the Manischewitz stuff in the jug in the supermarket?  Well…

For the carcass stock above, substitute four quarts of box stock.  If you do that, you might want to dice up a few boneless, skinless chicken thighs to give the stock some substance; and season it generously.

The irreducible minimum for borscht is:

    Stock containing one kind of meat
    a second kind of meat (as noted, beef short rib is great, but you can use beef chuck or pork shoulder)
    beets
    beet greens
    carrots
    onions
    a little garlic
    assertive seasoning.

With that as a base, you’ve actually got some latitude.  You can include the potatoes, or not.  You can add tomatoes, which traditional cooks in very old countries might sniff at, but they’re still good.  You can use other greens in addition to the beet greens; I’ve made fabulous borscht with kale.  You can add parboiled lentils.  You can add canned white beans.  If you use your imagination, you may arrive at something that some people wouldn’t call borscht, but so long as you call it delicious, there’s no harm done.  Enjoy!

A Note on Toppings

Contemporary supermarket sour cream needs to loosen up a little bit.  Stir in a little half-and-half or whole milk, while you watch the texture carefully — you want it still thick enough to stand up when it’s applied.  A little grated horseradish is a good addition.  Alternatively, use paprika, and use enough that you can taste it!

Another direction: a good slug of basil pesto, or walnut pesto, to top each serving.

© /KC January 2009

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Peppers (yes!) sausage (yes!) January 24, 2009

Posted by panterazero in exotic!, herbs & spices, pig pig pig, restaurants, reviews, Uncategorized.
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Sometimes I chase after peppers, and sometimes I stumble over them.  Last week in Southern California, I had a surprise roughly comparable to the existence of Saeng’s Orient — the discovery of a fine Hungarian restaurant and deli in a tiny town in the high desert.

Hungarian cuisine is legendary for its promotion and extensive use of paprika peppers, whether in the dry ground form also called paprika, the lip-stinging and lipstick-red preserve called lecsó, or simply as a vegetable to be sliced and cooked in soup or stew.  Of course, various types of fresh hot peppers can be found — and are inventively used — all over central and southern Europe, but many Hungarians are convinced that the best European hot peppers with a pointed shape grow only in Hungary.  (Sounds like New Mexico.)

Cut to the barely known community of Littlerock, California, which is about half the size of NetHeadChef’s “P’ville,” with one post office instead of two, and without the university.  It’s a pleasant place, and various farm stores advertise specialties like jerky, fresh fruit, homemade candy, etc.  So far it’s not too different from some other towns in the California high desert.

But in the 8800 block of Pearblossom Highway, Valley Hungarian Sausage & Meat Company offers 36 kinds of homemade sausage — most European, some not — together with sliced cold cuts, Hungarian plate lunches, pierogies, an amazing range of Hungarian specialties in jars, cans, and bags (even Hungarian pasta!), and, naturally, homemade dill pickles.  Their fresh Hungarian sweet sausage is exceptional, and I say that without fear of contradiction.

Littlerock is about 40 miles east of Santa Clarita, or about 70 miles northeast of downtown LA.  It’s worth the drive, but I would call or e-mail first to confirm hours:

Valley Hungarian Sausage & Meat Company
8809 Pearblossom Highway
Littlerock, CA 93543
Ph: (661) 944-3351
vhsm@sbcglobal.net

Curried Brussels Sprouts January 22, 2009

Posted by panterazero in all-in-one, exotic!, herbs & spices, Kip of the Week, tomato, vegan.
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Brussels sprouts can be one of the most assertively delicious vegetables that are easily available — even in winter.  Unfortunately, they also tend to be one of the most mistreated.  Your average brussels sprout ends up camouflage-green, soggy, leaky, smelling like overcooked cabbage and tasting worse.  What a sad fate for a truly aristocratic vegetable!  Forget steaming, or water in general, entirely, and do this instead.

two pounds very fresh brussels sprouts
four or five medium-to-large fresh tomatoes
two tablespoons corn or canola oil
two large, or three medium, shallots
two tablespoons curry powder
one-quarter teaspoon cayenne pepper, or one teaspoon chili powder
one 15-ounce can light coconut milk

Stand unopened can of coconut milk in saucepan full of warm water, possibly over very low heat.  (This is so all the coconut milk will come out of the can when you want to pour it in.)

Trim the stem end of the brussels sprouts and slice them in a food processor.  (They’ll come out a nice mix of slices and shreds, which is fine.)  Reserve.

Skin and chop tomatoes, but don’t drain.  Reserve, separately.

Mince shallots.  Mix thoroughly with curry powder and cayenne pepper or chili powder.

Heat oil in a wok or sauté pan.  Stir-fry shallot and spice mixture over medium heat just until everything starts to smell really good.  Add tomatoes with their liquid, turn up the heat, and stir-fry until almost all the liquid is gone.

Add brussels sprouts and stir-fry until green parts of sprouts are really bright green.

Pour in warm coconut milk and stir thoroughly until mixture is boiling.  Serve with rice or noodles.

© /KC January 2009

Thai Vegetable Stew January 3, 2009

Posted by panterazero in chicken, exotic!, Kip of the Week, soups and stews, Thai.
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Okay.  Our international readers don’t have this problem, but in the United States, the two holidays when turkey is classically served — Thanksgiving and Christmas — unfortunately happen to be only a month apart.  After two turkeys in the space of a month, it’ll probably be six months before you want to even think about cooking and eating another turkey, and six months after Christmas, you can’t find one to buy.  So, whether for personal or logistical reasons, we’re all through with turkey for the moment.  Let’s tackle something that in its format, in its ingredients, and in its seasoning is a complete relief.

Complicated?  Yes.  Healthy?  Yes.  Bliss-inducing?  Surprisingly.

First Day

Prepare stock:
2 quarts water
1 quart box chicken stock
6 boneless, skinless (Costco) chicken thighs; no need to thaw first
one whole stalk celery with leaves
a piece of fresh ginger the size of your thumb, peeled, and cut in quarters lengthwise
two bay leaves

Bring the water to a boil.  Add the stock and bring to a boil again (you don’t want to boil box stock very long).  Add all other ingredients, cover pot and put in 225° oven for 2 hours.

Take the pot out of the oven.  Remove the chicken thighs, put them on a plate or in a bowl, and refrigerate them.  Return stock to oven for another 2 hours.  Remove and discard the celery, ginger and bay leaves.  Cover the stock and refrigerate it overnight.

Second Day

Skim the fat off the stock, strain it if necessary, and warm it slowly.

Prepare garlic:
10 cloves garlic
2 T corn or canola oil

Chop garlic (a food processor helps) and mix it with the oil in a small microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave one minute at a time, checking, till the garlic takes on color, then thirty seconds at a time till the garlic is golden brown.  (This should take about three minutes total, but that depends very much on your microwave.  Don’t take it beyond golden brown or it may be unusable.)

Add to the stock:
the prepared garlic
one large yellow onion skinned and chopped
six medium carrots pared and cut in thick hunks
1 lb. white mushrooms washed and sliced thick

Bring to a boil, then simmer on lowest heat (you don’t want the carrots to disintegrate) for about an hour.  Meanwhile

Prepare the topping:
1 or 2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 green onions, white part and healthy-looking green part, sliced
1 cup Trader Joe’s Lime and Chile Peanuts [or:
1 cup roasted peanuts
half teaspoon red flake pepper
zested rind of one small lime ]

In a food processor mince the garlic, add the green onions and mince, add the peanuts and pulse-chop till everything is sort of chunky and sticky.  Put the mixture in a serving bowl and refrigerate.  Take the poached chicken thighs, remove and discard any fat, and shred the meat.

Stem and soak your greens (see below) if they’re not prewashed.

Add to the soup:
the shredded chicken
one 14-oz can coconut milk
2 to 4 small zucchini, diced
one 1-lb bag baby spinach
one bunch broccoli rabe, stemmed and chopped

Bring the soup to a boil and stir just until the zucchini is tender.  Serve very hot with the topping on the side; the serving spoon for the topping should hold a generous tablespoon (e. g. Chinese soup spoon).

© /KC January 2009