Recipes have a soul
I only tasted borscht once, in a restaurant, many decades ago. I still remember the deep crimson colour and the rich sweet-and-sour flavour of this iconic beetroot soup popular in many versions throughout Eastern Europe.
I had never thought of making it myself, but the other week I asked my Ukrainian friend Luba to show me how to make it.
We stood together in my mum's kitchen, and I watched as she made it. Her family recipe unfolded live in front of me, step by step.
A completely different experience to simply reading a recipe, and one I don't often get to have, so it felt really special.
When I look at a recipe, I'm the kind of person who immediately looks for ways to adapt the recipe to my own taste and mood of the day. I never see a recipe as set in stone. Some might say, I don't respect a recipe.
Sure enough, as I watched Luba cook I had 'my own ideas' too - thoughts like “I would rather add this”, or, “I would not do this that way”.
But I kept my mouth shut and just watched. As the recipe was enacted right in front of me by its owner it felt wrong to interfere, or even comment.
It was her recipe, and her family memories locked inside it, and I sure have respect for that. It felt like the recipe had a soul, coming alive as we stood in the kitchen together.
But I asked questions to better understand why she did things the way she did - my brain always wants to know why!
Luba’s most resolute bit of advice: “Don't overcook the beetroot or it will loose its colour. We want a vibrant colour here!”
What other veggies get added to the soup, whether the broth should be meaty or not, or what herbs to add - those were all flexible details that didn’t matter much. The colour is the main thing!
To her, that is the soul of the recipe.
This instruction is now saved at the top of my mental notes to pull out when I make my own version.
It's actually quite easy to make - at its heart (the underlying pattern) it's still just a simple vegetable soup.
Otherwise use frozen broth/stock or stock cubes.
To serve, add a handful of fresh herbs and a dollop of sour cream or yoghurt.