Vegetable Instincts

I am currently taking Top Chef University ‘courses’ online. I have to complete it by May (a year from when I signed up) before my registration to the site is cut off. Of course when I was in NYC working, I didn’t have the time or energy to do it, and now that I am in Moscow with lots of time on my hands, I don’t have all the gadgets in my kitchen or all the ingredients readily available. I am watching the courses anyway and just taking detailed notes. Many of the first lessons were a repeat of what I had already learned in my Fundamentals of Food Service class at Boston University. It’s been a good refresher and I have learned some new tricks as well. And it has brought on a whole bunch of kitchen tools I want to buy and culinary goals for when we are permanentaly back in the States (read: many, many more to-do lists).

At some point in one of the lessons they mentioned when boiling potatoes you put them in the pot with water and then bring them to boil, etc. Unlike pasta where you boil the water first.

I knew this already of course because I am…a person, but it’s interesting to think back to when it was that I learned that. I have no idea. I am sure it came from watching my mom cook or just being told when I was a kid. But it’s weird – I really don’t remember. I feel like there was probably one day I didn’t know how to cook pasta and then I just did. As if it’s instinct, like breathing or swallowing. It’s not like learning the hard way that you shouldn’t cool your finger in your mouth after you’ve stuck it in caramalizing sugar…or resisting the urge to try it while it’s still scorching in the first place. Somehow I just knew that potatoes (or carrots, beets, etc) go in before and pasta goes in after the water boils.

This all kind of reminded me of borsht, a traditional Ukranian/Russian beet soup that I made the other day from a recipe I found online (with the necessary changes to make it vegan). Pretty basic. I used a different recipe last summer and both were decent. I find that my soups always taste better the next day after the flavors have been able to meld together nicely overnight. What I was most excited about this time is that I julienned the vegetables (since I had nothing to really shred them with). I much prefer this over cubed…it somehow feels heartier and thicker to me.

Look how nice and uniform those veggies look. I am pretty proud of myself!

Despite my 40 different versions of the same to-do list, I managed to be lid-less and frying pan-less while making the borsht. Both were in the dishwasher and I happend to start the load already. I don’t think I would have been in the mood for washing them anyway after julienning all the vegetables, so I improvised:

I am still in search of the best recipe. The borsht in Moscow is pretty delicious, but many restaurants put meat in it, which I believe is correct according to Ukranian tradition. It’s weird for me though, because growing up I usually ate borsht during lent when meat wasn’t allowed. It was a fasting staple. In Moscow it is also a much richer/deeper looking color. I wish mine would turn out that way.

The church we sometimes go to in Spring Valley, NY has one of the best I’ve tasted, and there was a woman in Boston (who unfortunately remains a mystery to me) that would, every once in a while, bring my grandmother amazing borsht. While studying in Boston I used to spend many weekends at my grandmother’s apartment and I was always so excited when we scored a huge, delicious pot of it. We would warm it up and then dive in as we discussed school, boys, and life.  My grandmother had the best instincts for everything. I think she was just born wise. And of course it went beyond boiling potatoes and pasta. She always knew the right thing to say, and how I was feeling…and the perfect time for another bowl of borsht.

Ukranian Red Borsht (from; leave out the meat for vegan, and use vegetable stock for more flavor)


  •                     1 (16 ounce) package pork sausage
  •                     3 medium beets, peeled and shredded
  •                     3 carrots, peeled and shredded
  •                     3 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cubed
  •                     1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  •                     1 medium onion, chopped
  •                     1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  •                     3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 medium head cabbage, cored and shredded
  •                     1 (8 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
  •                     3 cloves garlic, minced
  •                     salt and pepper to taste
  •                     1 teaspoon white sugar, or to taste
  •                     1/2 cup sour cream, for topping
  •                     1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley for garnish


  1.                     Crumble the sausage into a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook and stir until no longer pink. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  2.                     Fill a large pot halfway with water(about 2 quarts), and bring to a boil. Add the sausage, and cover the pot. Return to a boil. Add the beets, and cook until they have lost their color. Add the carrots and potatoes, and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Add the cabbage, and the can of diced tomatoes.
  3.                     Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until tender. Stir in the tomato paste and water until well blended. Transfer to the pot. Add the raw garlic to the soup, cover and turn off the heat. Let stand for 5 minutes. Taste, and season with salt, pepper and sugar.
  4.                     Ladle into serving bowls, and garnish with sour cream and fresh parsley.

2 Comments to “Vegetable Instincts”

  1. The problem with this recipe is that it tells you to boil the beets until they have lost their color — WRONG!!!! My mother had the most beautiful deep beet red borscht……..the secret to that is to cook the beets separately and keep on the side (whether you cube or julienne the) until all the other veggies are cooked…………..Add the borscht at the very very end………and when you re-heat the borscht — do NOT allow it to boil…..or if so, just for a moment or the color WILL go away!!! Oh! My mother would also add a little vinegar to the borscht because that helps preserve the color.

    I, like you Olya, have only eaten borscht during Great Lent — so having borscht with meat is an oddity to me. LOVE borscht and grechnevaya kasha!!! DEFINITELY a post staple!

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