Friday, August 14, 2015

How to Feel Like an Idiot in the Kitchen

Russian Vegetable Borscht (photo by Andy Mills)
I must be incompetent.  I found a recipe for a stuffed flatbread in a prestigious publication, and it caused my mouth to water.  It involved making dough and a filling and then frying the flatbreads on a hot griddle.  The whole process was supposed to take an hour. 

I’ve been making my own bread and pizza for years.  How hard could it be to make this dish?

Preparing the filling was easy enough.  But the dough—impossible!  After 60+ minutes of trying and failing to roll it out into 12 large circles, I decided I was either incompetent or something was wrong with the recipe. 

My dinner guests had already arrived, so I improvised.  Out went the dough and in came a package of pre-made flour tortillas. 

Luckily I was also serving my can’t-miss Russian Vegetable Borscht, using fresh beets, so people didn’t leave the table hungry.

Lesson #1: Don’t prepare untested recipes for company, no matter where you get them.

Lesson #2: Keep a package of flour tortillas in the freezer.
Russian Vegetable Borscht – serves 6 (adapted from “Help! My Apartment Has a Dining Room”) 
3 medium fresh beets, baked per instructions below, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes 
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil 
2 large peeled carrots or 15 peeled baby carrots, cut in 1/4-inch slices 
2 sticks celery, cut in 1/4-inch slices 
1 large onion, cut into 1-inch pieces 
3 cups water + more if needed 
1/2 16-ounce package shredded cabbage 
1/4 cup ketchup 
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar 
1 tablespoon sugar 
1 bay leaf 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon black pepper 
1/3 cup sour cream (optional)
Put the oil in a large pot and begin heating over high heat.  Add the carrots, celery and onion and stir for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften.  Add 1 cup of the water and bring the mixture to a boil.  Turn down the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 15 minutes.  
Add the remaining 2 cups of water, beets, shredded cabbage, ketchup, red wine vinegar, sugar, bay leaf, salt and black pepper.  Bring the mixture back to a boil over high heat.  Turn down it down to medium-low, cover and cook for another 30 minutes.  
Remove and discard the bay leaf and serve.  Offer sour cream as a topping, if desired.            
How to Bake Beets If the beets have greenery still attached, cut off the stalks and set aside for another use or discard.  Remove and discard any trailing roots. Wash the beets, wrap them tightly in foil, place them in a pie pan and bake at 350 degrees for 2 hours. When the beets have cooled, pull off and discard the skins.  Cut into 1/2-inch cubes. 

Beets Straight from the Field
           For more recipes, order "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!"


  1. I am on a very strict diet. This borscht soup features all the vegetables that I can eat, with the exception of beets. I love beets, but they are on my no no list. Can you recommend a substitute for beets? I know...I know...borscht without beets is like a day without sunshine...but any ideas?

  2. How about parsnips? You can cook them like you would carrots. A cut-up turnip would also work. Maybe you could use a cut-up beet for color but then remove it before eating?

  3. Great suggestion. I love parsnips and turnips, in fact I'm a fan of all root veggies. Once the weather cools off, I'll try this recipe. It's not appealing to prepare soup in the SF Valley when the weather's so hot.