Many years ago, when I lived in the south, I discovered a lovely little family-owned Russian restaurant in the corner of a shopping center. The babushka shared her recipe for borscht, a Russian beef stew with cabbage, beets, and turnips, and topped with sour cream.
Recently, as I made a big pot of this same borscht, I wondered about the ingredients. Was borscht originally made with a big dollop of sauerkraut added? Russian sauerkraut is more of a sweet-and-sour concoction than German sauerkraut, which is just sour. And my borscht recipe calls for both vinegar and sugar, in addition to the cabbage. Had my dear Russian restaurateur altered the recipe? Or was it altered before being handed down to her? Since I couldn't even remember her name or the name of the restaurant, there was no way to ask.
However, searching around a bit let me know my theory was incorrect. Several authentic Russian borscht recipes listed cabbage, not sauerkraut, in the ingredients. I did not find one recipe containing sauerkraut, though I did come across an interesting version, which calls for 1/2 cup Russian pickled cabbage juice.
I did find a reference to using fermented wheat germ in the borscht recipe to add that sour flavor, which is intriguing, but not quite what I had in mind.
Well, it was an interesting theory, but, "there are a lot of interesting theories that didn't pan out: Lone Gunman, communism, geometry"
In the end, it's a win-win situation, for me, at least. I learned a lot more about borscht. And, I've decided to make my own version, which includes a big heaping spoon of sauerkraut on top. Because what doesn't taste better with sauerkraut?!
Interested in making sauerkraut at home? Check out my previous post to learn how!