I am back from my hiatus with some new content (it was a bit hard to do a blog mostly reliant on restaurant reviews when neither dining in was allowed nor was I comfortable doing such).
Before I dive into my recipe for Hong Kong style borscht, I do want to note that my heart is heavy after a year plus of dramatic increases of anti-Asian hate crimes, including the death of six Asian American women in and around Atlanta this week. To say it’s been traumatic for many of us in the Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) community is an understatement. There are undoubtedly many organizations to give to right now, but if you can I would give money and/or time to NAPAWF Georgia and AAAJ-Atlanta, in addition to local Asian American organizing orgs in your area. Feel free to reach out to me if you would like to know more about AAPI organizations in your community.
With that said, the reason for my blog post today is that I just got vaccinated with my second COVID-19 vaccine. In preparation for the side effects that are likely to come (at least a sore arm and possibly other symptoms like fatigue, chills, etc), I decided to make one of my family’s ultimate comfort soups: Hong Kong style borscht.
A brief history before going to the recipe itself, Hong Kong style borscht came to Hong Kong via Russians who immigrated initially to Chinese port cities like Shanghai before fleeing to Hong Kong in/around the Chinese Civil War. Goldthread has a good explainer video on its path to Hong Kong. As Hong Kong developed into an industrial hub in the 1960s and 1970s, a uniquely Hong Kong fusion cuisine was born adapting “western” cuisine like pork chops and fries to suit the palates of the growing Hong Kong middle class. One of the many offerings at these Hong Kong style cafes (more like US diners to be honest) that became popular was Hong Kong style borscht, or 羅宋湯 (Russian soup) as it is known in Chinese.
This soup was a favorite for my mom’s family, who dined at early vanguards for Hong Kong style western foods like Goldfinch (made famous in the movie In The Mood For Love). My grandmother and then my mother brought their take on the dish when they immigrated to the United States in the late 1970s and cooked it regularly for me and the rest of my family when I was young. Unfortunately the loose concept that could be considered our family recipe was lost forever when my mom suffered a debilitating stroke in 2011 and passed away a year later. A number of our family members have valiantly tried to recreate the dish in the decade sense, borrowing from others and adapting flavors to suit their own tastes and memories.
So to be clear, this is not necessarily a family recipe, but this is my recipe based on my tastes and nostalgia. I should also shoutout my cousin, who’s recipe I adapted this from. This is certainly quicker than my mom’s recipe which would have involved making beef stock overnight and then adding additional ingredients in the morning for an almost 24 hour process. I am far too impatient to make such a labor of love, but I think this recipe is *almost* as good.
If you do make this recipe, let me know how it goes! Without further ado…
Kitchen Utensils You’ll Need:
- Stock pot or 6+ quart pot/dutch oven
- Tablespoons to taste as you go
- Large cutting board
- Couple large prep bowls (don’t need to divide ingredients)
- Baking sheet (if using potatoes)
- 1 quart beef broth or beef stock
- 3-5 bay leaves
- 2-3 tablespoons of paprika
- 2 yellow or white onions
- 4-5 medium sized carrots
- 3-4 stalks of celery (optional)
- 1 small head of cabbage
- 5-6 medium sized tomatoes (can substitute with 1 can of crushed tomatoes or tomato paste. Perhaps an ideal is a combo of fresh tomatoes and tomato paste)
- 3-4 small to medium yellow potatoes (optional)
- 1 pound of oxtail (if unavailable, double the stew meat)
- 1 pound of beef stew meat
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- fresh ground pepper
- Season beef with salt and pepper. Ideally have it seasoned, sealed, and refridgerated for at least a few hours, if not overnight, but in a pinch it will be fine to do it right before making the soup
- Wash, pat dry, and rough chop the vegetables. (ex. tomatoes can be quartered, carrots into 1-1.5 inch pieces, onions in 1/8 or 1/16 chunks). If using potatoes, set aside on baking sheet from rest of vegetables
- Heat up pot with oil
- Heat oven to 400 (if using potatoes)
- Sear and brown the beef. A couple minutes on each side will be fine
- Add beef stock/broth, prepped vegetables (aside from potatoes), paprika, bay leaves (I like more bay leaves but I leave the amount up to you), and a generous helping of salt and pepper. (I do at least 30-40 grinds per salt or pepper grinder. Yes, use a liberal amount of pepper!)
- Top off the pot with additional water (will be around 4-5 cups)
- Bring up to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes
- If using potatoes, season with oil, salt, and pepper and roast for 20-30 minutes
- After 30 minutes of simmer, spoon away the fat that bubbles to the surface, do a taste and add more salt and pepper to taste (I typically then add another 28 grinds of each with my salt and pepper grinders)
- If using potatoes add potatoes around the 30-45 min mark of simmering
- Simmer for another 2 hours. By then the soup will start to get ready. Use ladle to help mix the ingredients together more and do another taste, add more salt and pepper as needed
- I generally simmer for another 3 hours before I consider it ready (and yes, I might even add MORE pepper) but at this point it’s up to you.
In general, the longer the soup simmers the richer it will be. I generally help myself to one bowl once it simmers for about 4-5 hours but continue to simmer for another 1-2 hours before calling it done and saving for the next day. This recipe is flexible and adaptable to suit your tastes. After all, each Hong Kong style cafe and family will have their own spin and recipe. Regardless, though, every bowl is a comforting sense of home, which is especially important as I rest up for my second vaccine shot.