I am quickly reminded when I say things like, "I learned how to make this borscht soup from a Moldovan woman while I was staying with my dad in Afghanistan," what an interesting life I've had - privileged, not in a monetary sense, but full of diversity, culture, and once in a lifetime experiences. I love sharing those experiences through my recipes, starting with this recipe for Moldovan Borscht Soup, a hearty, yet light, broth-based Chicken and Vegetable Soup with beets.
A Lesson in Borscht Soup
So, as I've just illuminated, I learned this borscht soup recipe from a Moldovan woman in Kabul, Afghanistan several years ago. She made this soup while I peeked over her shoulder and took mental notes. Hers was a bit more rustic than mine (If you buy a chicken from a local market in Kabul, it will have its feet still attached, and if you grew up in a small village in Moldova, those feet will go into your soup pot). Regardless of my lack of chicken feet, I feel I really nailed the flavors and recreated the soup I remember eating. The dill and beets are key and my favorite part of this soup. There is no butter in the recipe, but the combination of rich vegetables and the irreplaceable flavor you get from cooking the chicken skin-on and bone-in both result in such a satisfying, buttery depth of flavor in the finished soup.
I love any recipe that starts with a whole chicken; something about the process of breaking down a whole chicken makes me feel so capable, like I can do anything. Silly, I'm sure, but you should try it sometime. If jointing a whole chicken intimidates you, feel free to buy one already jointed, or ask your friendly butcher to do it for you.
In case you're confused, this is not the widely-known bright pink, creamy borscht.
There are countless variations of borscht soup, which you can read about in this New Yorker article. This version of Moldovan borscht soup is a brothier soup, with variations on the meats and sometimes the vegetables. Clearly, I am not Moldovan. But in defense of my credibility, I did learn this recipe from a woman born and raised in Moldova. Hers was a brothy, hearty chicken soup full of root vegetables and packed with flavor like this one. I've also done quite a bit of research into Moldovan Borscht and her version and mine are pretty much spot-on. This is rustic, simple, restorative and good for you on every level. The wine is my touch; The French in me has a hard time not adding wine to soups and stews. It is entirely optional, but it adds a nice acidity. A little splash of vinegar at serving is a nice way to add some brightness too.
Borscht soup has such a rich, diverse origin and history. It is delicious, healthy, and comforting - hearty enough for a cold winter night, but light enough for warmer months, too. It'll cure what ails ya.
PS: The leftovers are fantastic and taste even better a day or two later.Print