It rolls off the tongue nicely; doesn’t it?  Buffalo Borscht.  As I continue to get ready for GameFeed 2023, I am trying to think of dishes that I have not made before, at least for GameFeed.  Of course we will have a few of the traditional favorites, including Squirrel Pizza, but I am expanding my repertoire further into the realm of comfort food.

There are a lot of folks who would put borscht on their list of comfort foods, especially if they grew up with it.  But there is nothing so familiar and yet often so hard to recreate as a taste memory.  You can try your hardest, but sometimes it’s not just the taste that makes it familiar, but everything else that went into the enjoyment of a favorite dish – the company, the surroundings, people’s feelings at time, and so on.  “It was good, but…” is the intro to a sentence that so often comes to mind when someone tries to make a dish “just like Mom’s.”  (And it was this same intro to a sentence that made me quit cooking for people and decide to just cook with people.  That decision has made my career as a culinary instructor interesting and rewarding on so many levels.)

I also know that borscht can be an acquired taste.  It can be completely beet-laden or not have enough beets.  And some folks simply don’t like beets.  That is fine.  One memorable borscht experience happened quite a few years ago.  It was at the end of a week of summer International Culinary Camps at the McLean Community Center and the afternoon teen camp was wrapping up.  We had a few extra minutes, so as I often do, I asked each teen what their favorite food was.  With that age group most often the answer is “I don’t know.”  I usually also ask what food they absolutely do not like.  I got a few more responses from that, including from one teen, “That beet soup yuck we made on Tuesday.”  Okay.  Got it.  “I bet you don’t like beets,” I thought.

The borscht recipe below was a little more popular; in fact, I got a lot of comments that it was the best borscht folks had ever had!  It is the recipe I served for the fundraiser we held for World Central Kitchen-Ukraine in June of 2022 here in Madison.  That evening it was prepared with no meat.  Some might even say it was vegetarian.  I happen to have some ground buffalo to incorporate into this year’s menu to make it fit for GameFeed.  I also have ground elk and ground whitetail which I could have used, but this just sounded better.  So, for the sake of alliteration, here is my recipe for Buffalo Borscht.  Enjoy!

Chef Joel

Buffalo Borscht Recipe

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground buffalo
1 tablespoon onion flakes
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 small can tomato paste
1 turnip, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 cups shredded red cabbage
1 pound red potatoes, washed and diced
2 pounds beets, peeled and shredded
2 bay leaves
Vegetable broth to cover
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 can Northern beans, not drained nor rinsed
1/4-1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4-1/2 cup sugar
Sour cream

Method:  Cook the buffalo, onion flakes, garlic powder and tomato paste with the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot over low to medium low heat until the buffalo is cooked and the tomato paste begins to barely brown just a bit. It should be very fragrant. Remove from the heat and add the turnips, carrots, cabbage, potatoes, beets and bay leaves. Add enough vegetable broth to cover the vegetables. Season a bit with salt, pepper and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook gently until the vegetables are tender. Add the beans and bring to a boil again. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook another five minutes or so. Add enough vinegar and sugar to get a perfect sweet and sour balance. That simply means it tastes good to you. Check to see if it needs more salt and pepper. Serve piping hot with a large dollop of sour cream.