For optimal listening conditions for next week’s all-Russian-music show, “How Russian Is It?”, prepare the Agrin/Zaborovsky family recipe for Odessa Cabbage Borscht (enormous pot everlasting version; timid people should make a half-recipe):

3 lbs. beef short ribs or flanken (same thing cut differently; flanken, cut in strips across the ribs, is traditional, but don’t worry about it)
1 large green cabbage
2  28-ounce cans of whole tomatoes
2  medium large onions
salt, lemon, water
(Since the ingredients are simple and yield an improbably rich, extraordinary result, quality of ingredients is important; taintradio recommends organic constituents when possible.)

Here’s what you do for best hi-fi result:
1.    Slice cabbage thin but not surgically fine.
2.    Coarsely chop onions.
3.    With a sharp knife de-fat the ribs the best you can, then scald them with boiling water, in a colander or pot.
4.    Place beef in bottom of pot, add water to cover, bring back to boil, skim off what comes to the top.
5.    Add cabbage, onions. Crush or slice up the tomatoes and add them.
6.    Add water to cover, and salt to approximate taste. Cook for one hour.
7.    Add juice of half a freshly squeezed lemon.
8.    Cook for one more hour, contrapuntally adding lemon juice and, if need be, salt, to bring a light tartness to the soup as it sweetens with cooking. You’ll understand what’s wanted as the taste develops, and will wonder how it can possibly taste this good.
9.    It’s done in two hours, but you can keep going if you like. It will only get better—up to a point, of course.

Serving suggestion: have a large bowl of soup, perhaps adding a grind of black pepper. When you’ve had enough of that, have some beef, with horse radish as a garnish, along with a side of plain boiled potato, buckwheat kasha (this is how Konstantin Levin prefers it in an early chapter of Anna Karenina), or potato laktes or kugel (family recipes for these available only on request).
Have another bowl of soup. Wipe your brow. Marvel at, by now, Moussorgsky, Shostakovich, and at the extraordinary largesse of the Russian soul under repression or otherwise. Although I don’t want to encourage excessive drinking, Vodka will aid you in this exercise. Help yourself from that bottle in the freezer. Is it Chopin, Ketel One, Iceberg, or humble Svedka? I can’t see from here, and don’t know what you can afford.


  1. Just a note for soup-lovers to say that I used the juice of two and a half lemons in my large-pot version on Wednesday night—risky, but it worked, and the soup is improving in the fridge, though I may take a pizza-break from it tonight. Also: watch that salt: too much and it’s all over; just use enough to bring out the sweetness of the conglomerate and balance the tartnes of the lemon. Also also: the soup will not taste promising at all at the one-hour mark, but just you wait, Henry Higgins, just you wait.
    A musical note: on the show, I somehow forgot to mention that before the premiere of Shostakovich’s Babi Yar, Khruschev himself pressured the composer and the orchestra to shut it down; that in the event the concert hall was ringed by armed police and troops and no one was sure what might happen; and that Yevgeny Mravinsky, who had premiered every Shostakovich symphony since the 5th (with the exception of the 7th due to extraordinary wartime conditions), chickened out of this one, thereby ending his professional relationship with the composer, and their friendship with it.
    So, at that point in the show, please add an extra grind of black pepper to the soup, whether it’s in the pot or the bowl.
    (This suggestion has been cleared after extensive consultation with the people at Songs On Toast, so you know it’s good.)