Ruby-red soups of winter belie beets or red cabbage. Whichever veg colours it red, it’ll warm you pink!
To the uninitiated, they are all borscht though each eastern European country will have its own version. My Polish sister-in-law used to make one for our family Sunday lunches when we all lived in the UK. Hers was with beets. Now, in our separate countries, and not having met for many years, I thought of Magda and her famed borscht soups when I spotted beets on our market in Malta. This one I concocted is a nod to hers, but also to those delicious slow-cooked red cabbage recipes that add in apples and vinegar. My red cabbage was in need of using up after lingering in the fridge; I bought it on impulse a week ago with a winter slaw in mind.
If you slow cook red cabbage as a side dish, it does take time, and is usually cooked in wine, cider and various vinegars. I didn’t have cider and couldn’t put in the only bottle of red wine I have (a fairly decent label) so hunted around for an alternative; a lone bottle of beer left from a summer BBQ. As it’s feeling suddenly wintry in the Mediterranean after some biting autumn gales and storms (though nothing near as devastating in Malta as those in Sardinia last week) hot soups and all manner of comfort foods are making an appearance on my menus.
It’s was a busy day today so I won’t warble on with this post. We’re a family down to one (old) car right now as my husband’s has been out of order for around 2-3 weeks with concurrent breakdowns of one part or another (jinxed as the car had just had a service). Which means I have to juggle its usage with him and the weather – it isn’t a car to be out in storms. Today, an interlude of fine weather saw me speed off to purchase those essentials for surviving a Maltese winter – electric blanket (success, found one. Check), logs (buy for the weekend to inaugurate December) and thermals (leave for an online purchase). Nothing like being prepared. Malta has a habit of being a hard winter to endure even if it’s reading 22 degrees C plus in the midday sun. If you don’t live in the Med, you won’t believe me!
While we all await whatever this coming winter will throw at us, I recommend trying out a borscht or two, whether beet or red cabbage. It’s sweet and slightly sour and a very hearty a meal in one bowl. If it keeps folk warm through a Polish winter, it should suffice for a Mediterranean one. Mind you, Polish houses have heating!
All images © Liz Ayling 2013
- large knob of butter & 1 tsbp olive oilprint button transparent
- 1 large red onion, finely chopped
- 2 apples, preferably cooking, peeled, cored and sliced finely
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed in a mortar
- half a red cabbage (approx: 450g), shredded/sliced finely
- 300ml beer or cider
- 750ml stock (veg or chicken)
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp dark, soft brown sugar
- salt & black pepper for seasoning to taste
- sour cream/thick natural yoghurt to serve
- Prep veg: shred cabbage, dice onion and peel, core and slice the apples finely.
- Melt the butter and olive oil gently in a deep-sided, thick-based pan (with lid). Add the onion and fennel seeds (crushed) and sweat down the onion til just soft and translucent. Then, add the apples, stir and leave for 5 mins with the lid on before adding the cabbage. Leave with the lid on for a further 10 minutes, stirring from time to time to ensure it isn’t sticking.
- Turn up the heat, then add the balsamic vinegar and sugar. Stir briefly and then add the beer (or cider) and stock. Bring to the boil, then turn down to simmer with lid on for around 20 minutes until the cabbage is very tender. Stir and add more stock or water if the soup is too thick. Leave with lid off for a further 10-15 minutes.
- When the cabbage is totally soft and the soup is a thick consistency (it will have shreds of cabbage still), ladle out around 400ml and blend. Add the liquidised mixture back in the pot. If you prefer, you can leave the soup whole. It’s nice with some smooth consistency and some shreds visible – half and half.
- Reheat to desired temperature and serve immediately. Dollop on some sour cream or thick natural yoghurt and garnish if you like with a few par-cooked cabbage shreds and fennel seeds. Serve with thick crusty bread.