As a grad student at the Columbia University Journalism School in New York, I sometimes trekked down to the Russian Tea Room in Midtown. For about $10, I feasted on winter borscht and a flaky cheese börek (savory pastry). Those days are long gone, but at least I have a good recipe for winter borscht. It's ideal for casual dinner parties because it can be made ahead and even frozen. Despite the long list of ingredients, it's easy. Prep: 35 minutes; Cook: 1 hour 25 minutes; Stand: 10 minutes.
1 pound boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 pound boiled or baked ham, cut into 1-inch cubes
6 ounces kielbasa, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 (32-ounce) boxes beef broth
2 California bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 black peppercorns or 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 medium leeks, trimmed, washed, and thinly sliced
3 (14.5-ounce) cans sliced beets, with liquid, divided
2 large carrots, coarsely chopped
2 large parsnips, coarsely chopped
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes in sauce
4 cups 1-inch cabbage chunks
1/3 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup sour cream
Garnish: dill sprigs
How to Make It
Combine first 7 ingredients with 2 cups water in a large Dutch oven, and bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust heat so liquid barely bubbles, and simmer, partially covered, 30 minutes. Remove meats. Add leek, 2 cans beets with liquid, and next 6 ingredients; simmer, uncovered, 30 minutes. Puree remaining can of beets with its liquid in a food processor.
Return boiled meats to Dutch oven, and simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes. Stir in pureed beets and parsley, remove from heat, and let stand 10 minutes. Add more salt, if desired. Discard bay leaves.
Ladle into warm soup bowls, top each portion with sour cream, and garnish, if desired.