Saturday, April 10, 2010

From Russia, With Love

Fourteen years ago this month I returned from spending the better part of 18 months in Yekaterinburg and Ufa, Russia as a missionary for my church.

Two Siberian winters.
One hotter-than-I-expected summer.
Four phone calls home.
One 24-hour train ride across the snowy Siberian landscape. (From Novosibirsk to Yekaterinburg.)
Nine companions.
Hundreds of Books of Mormon given away.
One girl-turned-woman, changed forever by her experiences there.
Hundreds of new friends made, many who entered the waters of baptism.
Thousands of prayers uttered.
One language learned well enough to speak, teach, understand, dream, think, and still make mistakes. A language to fall in love with.
Layers upon layers of clothing, hats, scarves, tights, long underwear, and fur-lined boots.
One future husband met (although I had no idea at the time.)
And countless bowls of borscht.

One day maybe I'll post about how I cried the first time I went to the grocery store after coming home. Or how I spoke to the German flight attendant (who spoke flawless English) in Russian. Or about h0w very strange it felt to be alone after having a 24/7 companion for over a year and a half. It's not easy to come home from a mission. I was so comfortable being Sister Johnson that I wasn't completely sure I wanted to go back to being Michal.

This is not a 30 minute meal, but it is worth the labor of love to have a bowl of great borscht once in a while. Today was one of those days: the weather was cool and overcast, I had nowhere we needed to be, and I had fresh cabbage and beets in my fridge from my organic produce delivery this week, plus some leftover dill from pickles we made a week or two ago. It had to be borscht.

Babushka's Borscht
Makes 8-10 generous servings

  • 8 c. beef broth
  • 2 lbs. chuck (diced) or stew meat
  • ¼ c. flour
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 3 large beets
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 large potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion, diced finely
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and grated
  • ½ head cabbage, shredded (about 3-4 cups)
  • 3 T. unsalted butter
  • 2 T. flour
  • 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes OR 2 cups fresh tomatoes peeled and diced
  • ¼ c. lemon juice (or juice of one lemon)
  • 2 T. fresh dill, chopped
  • 2 T. fresh parsley, minced finely
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Sour cream and chopped fresh dill, to serve
Trim ends off beets and scrub gently under cold running water. Place in saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes or until tender. Drain and set aside. When cool, peel and coarsely grate beets and set aside.

Dredge the beef in ¼ cup flour and brown in 2 T. olive oil in large saucepan. Add broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to a high simmer and add garlic, potatoes, and ½ c. onions. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add celery and carrots and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add cabbage and cook for another 10 minutes. Add beets and reduce heat to low simmer.

In large frying pan, melt butter over medium high heat and sauté remaining onions until soft and translucent, approximately 5 minutes. Add flour and stir constantly until lightly browned. Add tomatoes, lemon juice, dill, and parsley, and stir well. If too thick, add a few tablespoons of water. Cook for 10 minutes, then add to the broth, mixing well. Salt and pepper to taste, and simmer for 15 additional minutes, stirring frequently. Serve hot. Garnish individual servings with a generous dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of minced dill.

Serve with dark Russian rye bread, or with the cabbage peiroshki that I made. But that's another recipe for another post.

Oh, Russia, how I miss you!


The Good Life said...

I was determined to go on a mission. I even dreamed I was walking in the snow with a sister companion speaking french in Canada. Too bad I fell in love at 15! Someday I hope to share some of your amazing experiences as a missionary. Thanks for sharing.

Sea Star said...

I remember when I turned my papers in I really wanted to go to Russia. But when I opened that big white envelope it didn't say Russia it said New York City. Not quite the same thing but I was so excited and... of course... it was the perfect place for me.

I don't have an ethnic food that specifically reminds me of my mission except maybe sesame chicken chinese take out. We used to order that every p-day eve for the 4 months I served in the Bronx. The delivery man knew us well. I don't think that is quite the same as Borscht.

Allison said...

A new Russian restaurant just opened up on Manzanita and Winding Way. It is called "The Firebird". You and Jared need to check it out some time and let us know how it is. Then you can have a little taste of Russia even when you don't have time to create your "labor of love Borscht".

Kim said...

Holy cow! My mouth is watering reading that recipe. I wish I could say I will try it, but I know myself too well. What a blessing it must have been to serve in a different world!

momof6 said...

Your post brought back so many memories. Every year around Thanksgiving we make a Russian feast. It is the one time each year that I make all the great recipes. I'm so glad we met there and I met my husband too!

Aubrey said...

This brings back such good memories. I want to come to your house and eat borscht and khleb and gahvorreet pahrruskie!

Just yesterday I was watching a documentary about Siberian women in a prison in Novosibirsk. They were speaking the russian I remembered. I didn't catch every word cuz my Russian is so rusty, but I knew that accent. It was beautiful to hear. How I miss it too!

Aubrey said...

Oh, and have you ever found a good recipe for black bread? I would love to know how to make that.