Winter is the perfect time to be in the Blue Mountains – the air is crisp and cold and despite piling on all your woollen knits, your breath hangs like dense white foggy clouds in the air. It’s the perfect excuse for nights in next to crackling fires, and watching TV whilst snuggling under doonas.
We’re blessed to have many friends who live or have family in the mountains and on this occasion we’re venturing into the mountains with DanW and Katie. When Katie’s parents retired, they relocated from Sydney to the mountains, and fortuitously for us, they were on holiday so the Co-pilot and I are offered their guestrooms.
On arrival Katie shows me around the garden again and points out all the changes that have been made since we were last there. The most exciting development is the very productive herb and vegetable garden. The most exciting were the fresh raspberries! Plump, soft little berries peeped from behind leaves and Katie and I set about alternately picking and sampling them.
Despite the fact that I was being almost frozen solid in the weak afternoon sun, the plants seemed to be made of hardier stock than I and there was a great variety of different things flourishing in the garden. We picked a colourful bouquet of produce from berries and heirloom tomatoes to cavalo nero.
Whilst Katie and I frolicked about in the garden sampling the goodies, the boys got busy in the kitchen. Yes, Katie and I are both blessed with domesticated metrosexual boys who like to nest, cook and clean. In fact, the Co-pilot taught me how to cook! The kitchen was a flurry of activity and the Co-pilot made a delicious vegetarian-friendly minestrone soup complete with cavolo nero and fresh crusty bread for Katie, our resident vegetarian, and whistling to the tune of Elmer Fudd’s “kill the wabbit” DanW made a slow-cooked rabbit stew with kipfler potatoes, carrots and mushrooms in a moreish tomato base.
It was the perfect combination of soul warming winter comfort dishes and with a toasty fire crackling in the background we were warmed inside and out.
As DanW made more than enough rabbit stew, we had plenty of leftovers to take home with us. I decided to transform the leftovers into something else. We’d bought plenty of beetroots in the mountains as they were in season so I shredded the rabbit and made borscht.
Ingredients (serves 4):
- 1 cup of shredded stewed or cooked rabbit
- 1.5L of rabbit stock (reserve the carcasses from 2 rabbits) or use chicken stock
- 2-3 large beetroots, peeled and diced roughly
- 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1 large potato, peeled and chopped
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 can of peeled and diced tomatoes
- 2 cups of shredded cabbage (about 1/4 head)
- handful of chopped fresh dill
- knob of butter
- splash of red wine vinegar
- salt and cracked black pepper
- sour cream and dill to serve (optional)
- If using the rabbit carcasses to make the stock, fill a pot with 1.5L of water and bring to the boil. Add the carcasses, turn heat down and simmer bones for an hour, skimming off the scum that floats to the surface. Strain the stock of bones before using.
- In a large pot, melt the butter and fry the onion until translucent.
- Add in the stock and bring to the boil.
- Add in the beetroots, tomato, carrots, potato and celery and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables soften.
- Add in the shredded cabbage and dill and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Using a stick blender, partially blend the soup to retain some chunks. Alternatively, transfer three quarters of the soup to a blender and return the puree to the heat.
- Add in the shredded rabbit, vinegar, salt and pepper and simmer for another minutes.
- Serve immediately garnished with a sprig of dill and a dollop of sour cream.
Borscht is usually considered a peasant-style dish of Slavic origin that is enjoyed in many parts of Eastern and Central Europe. I recall having seen borscht on a lot of Chinese menus – and that when my curiosity got the better of me and I ordered it, I remember being acutely disappointed at the beef and tomato soup served to me with nary a beet in sight. I thought at the time that it was a poor modern Chinese bastardisation of borscht (a soup the Chinese definitely attribute to a Russian origin),the result being a watery bolognaise-y soup. But since the Chinese have a long trading history with Russians and it’s not inconceivable that recipes were swapped many moons ago and the recipe evolved within the Chinese community to omit beetroots.
But a borscht made without beetroots just doesn’t seem proper.
I’m not sure how often rabbit is used in borscht recipes but whilst spooning in steaming mouthfuls of the vibrantly red, sweet, dense and meaty soup with the occasional cube of beetroot and shred of rabbit, it certainly felt very Eastern European to me. All that was missing was my crackling fire and a log cabin in the mountains.
What’s your favourite winter warming soup?