This classic beetroot soup of Russian origin must have as many different versions as there are babushkas in Holy Mother Russia. This is my version and although it did not come via my babushkas, [both of whom, alas, were dead before I was born] it closely follows the traditional patterns. It is also rich, tasty and beautifully coloured, and an excellent meal on a cold winter’s night.

8 cups beef stock.
4-5 small beetroots.
½ cup pearl barley.
Salt to taste.
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced.
¼ cup cooking oil.
1 tsp caraway seeds.
¼ tsp white pepper.
2 small onions, peeled and diced.
1 cup thinly sliced cabbage.
½ cup tomato paste.
½ cup grated celeriac.
Juice of one small lemon.

In a large saucepan, bring the stock to the boil and add the beetroots, barley and salt. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 45 minutes, then remove the beetroots and allow to cool. Keep the liquor boiling and add the diced potatoes to the pot.
In a separate pan, heat the oil over a hot flame. Add the caraway seed and cook until beginning to pop then add the onion. Stir fry the onion for 2-3 minutes until soft but not browned, then add the pepper. Stir fry for another minute or so then add the cabbage, the tomato paste, the celeriac and the lemon juice. Stir fry for another minute or two then add the mixture to the in the saucepan, at which the potatoes should be about half cooked.
Rub the skins off the beetroots, dice them and add to the saucepan. Bring back to the boil, simmer for a few minutes then serve with a dollop of sour cream in the middle of each bowl, and lots of crusty French bread on the side.

Serves: 4.

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