Discover more from Borscht for Breakfast
and permission to explore from a generalist soup.
In a world of people chasing specialization, consider the generalist. The one who leverages disparate connections to explore new disciplines. Someone who values the process of new projects or skills over deepening their existing expertise.
In 2020, many of us allowed ourselves the pleasure of toiling through a new hobby or project where we had little previous experience. For a brief moment we applauded the idea in others.
Yet historically, we’ve allowed a very narrow path for our literary writers and visual artists in this country. You may be a professor as well. That is all. On occasion, singers and actors may briefly cross over before we require them to choose a lane.
Which artists working in English are respected equally for their work across several media?
In part this is likely a value judgement on acceptable forms of profit, but may also be consequence of so many artists working in English. Among less spoken languages the culture can’t always afford forced specialization. Enter the prolific Ukrainian multi-disciplinary artist, Serhiy Zhadan.
Since 2001 Zhadan has been translating poetry into Ukrainian while producing his own work. By 2004 he has written seven poetry collections, a compilation of short stories and his first novel, has started collaborating with La MaMa Experimental Theatre in New York and is leading an activist camp in Kharkiv through Ukraine’s Orange Revolution.
Then in 2008, after two more novels, he becomes the singer-songwriter for a Ukrainian punk-ska band called Dogs in the Cosmos. In total over the last 20 years, Zhadan has led activists during two political revolutions, written four studio albums, orchestrated five performance art projects and authored seven novels as well as 14 poetry collections. Many to critical acclaim.
Read several of Zhadan’s poems including “…Remember How Winter Began in Your Town”, Alcohol and Music for the Fat which have been conveniently collected and linked on a single page by Yara Arts Group.
It makes for a portrait of a life built around words with great latitude in how they are executed. The kind of structured freedom that is a lot like borscht.
Borscht starts with sour, then expands as you see fit. The result can be red, white or green. It may have meat or mushrooms, fruit or not. It can be packed full of vegetables or a nearly bare broth. Hot or cold, served at any hour. A multi-disciplinary soup in the spirit of Duchamp’s readymades where self proclamation is as important as the composition.
борщ - Ukrainian-Style Borscht
Borscht is the Yiddish transliteration most commonly used in North America linked to the Proto-Slavic word for hogweed, once fermented to form the centerpiece of the soup. Today, many cooks rely on acid from lemon, tomatoes, vinegar, pickled vegetable juice tart apples or apricots to impart the signature sour taste.
The other key ingredient is zazharka (зажарка) - braised carrots, onion and cabbage which work in the tradition of mirepoix, sofrito or the Louisiana holy trinity as the flavor base of the soup.
Cooking Notes: From scratch this takes an active 2+ hours, so don’t be a hero. Using pre-made stock, pre-shredded carrots and cabbage can save you maybe 30 minutes if you’re well organized. To go vegan, use 2 pounds of mushrooms in place of chicken for the stock.
what you need
stock: 4 bone-in chicken thighs, 1 pound ◾ 4 bay leaves ◾ 6 quarts water ◾ 2 tablespoons kosher salt or bullion cubes
zazharka (braised flavor base): 3-5 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil ◾ 1 large yellow onion, diced ◾ 1 cup shredded carrots ◾ 5 cups shredded cabbage, about 1/4 head ◾ 1 red bell pepper, diced ◾ 4 prunes, chopped ◾ 1 tablespoon tomato paste ◾ 2 tablespoons garlic, minced
soup: 1 large or 2-3 small beets, boiled and shredded ◾ 1 tablespoon white vinegar ◾ 1 pound waxy new potatoes, cut to 1 inch cubes ◾ 1-28 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
what to do
Add stock ingredients to a large stock pot and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered for 1 hour while you prepare the beets and other vegetables.
In a medium pot, bring beets and white vinegar to a boil. Boil for 25-40 minutes depending on the size.
While the beets are boiling, do your dicing and shredding of the remaining vegetables. Beets are ready when a fork easily pierces through. When ready remove beets from heat, drain and rinse several times in ice water to stop the cooking. Set in the freezer to cool.
To make the zazharka, heat the largest frying pan you’ve got (12”+) or another large pot to medium-low with the oil. Add onions and sauté for 5-7 minutes until translucent. Add the carrots and cabbage, salt generously and cook another 10 minutes until the vegetables start breaking down. Add bell pepper, prunes, tomato paste and garlic and mix thoroughly, cooking another 10 minutes to sweat peppers and plump prunes. Remove from heat.
While the vegetables are braising, peel and shred your beets. Then remove chicken and bay leaves from stock, shred meat from bones with two forks and return it to the pot along with your cubed potatoes. Simmer for 5 minutes.
Add beets and tomatoes, then simmer another 5 minutes.
Finally, add remaining vegetables and salt to taste. Bring back to a simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to combine ingredients well.
Serve with sour cream, dill and garlic butter dinner rolls.
Welcome back to The Dinner Conjurer, where you send in the name or a short description of 5 recipes you’ve enjoyed, your name and current hometown. Then I work some hopeful haphazard magic to help lure new recipes into your dinner routine.
Elissa S. of MOVIEPUDDING has been single handedly creating a rappini shortage in New York City with:
Rappini (aka broccoli rabe) sautéed in garlic and showered in homemade, extra spicy chili oil
Chard, kale and rappini with white beans in parmesan broth, from Joshua McFadden's Six Seasons
Traditional lasagna Bolognese (no ricotta or mozz!!), an all day affair
A quick chicken pho, from Anita Lo's Solo
An even faster fridge-dive miso soup with salmon
Since you’re already investing the time in homemade chili oil, try using it for this linguini with walnuts, orange and chili from Food & Wine. My favorite upgrades are adding sautéed greens and using walnut oil in place of olive for a big flavor payoff.
Alternatively, if you’re willing to travel south with your beans and greens, Southern Living has a hearty white bean and collard soup perfect for winter. I make it with Carolina-style mustard barbeque sauce to cut the fat and sweetness of the original recipe.
This section was inspired by The Biblioracle Recommends newsletter where you can get the same scene, but for books.
Reading - Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (2020) which I’m hoping turns out as good as Knives Out.
Listening - Voodoo by D’Angelo (2000) because who isn’t looking for a Greatdayandamornin’?