Anna Darashenka was born in Belarus in 1980. When she was just 22 she moved to Prague, alone with her young son, in search of a more stable environment. “I lived through the tough ’90s; I think migration taught me independence, patience and empathy to people,” she says.
Anna is currently the communications manager for Youth Included, an organization devoted to the integration of migrants which organizes events and networking opportunities. One of those events is a regular cooking class which takes place in Prague 14, Černy Most, where 33 percent of the population is Ukranian.
“We believe that these creative workshops facilitate interaction between different groups of the population that would not come in contact on a regular basis due to ethnic and cultural differences, language barrier, xenophobic stereotypes, and prejudices,” says Anna.
The cooking sessions have featured Roma and Indian cuisines and, most recently, this classic borscht. Says Anna of the dish: “This beet root soup is traditional not only for Belarus, but also for Ukraine and Russia. Every family has its own variation but it always comes out nourishing and delicious.”
Borscht is typically based on boiling beef and pork bones, or both, but this particular version was made with the group’s vegetarian participants in mind.
As for specialty ingredients, Anna notes that while there are plenty of shops in Prague that offer Russian groceries, using fresh produce and herbs from the farm market is ideal; everything found in the recipe here is available at the supermarket.
Anna’s Vegetarian Borscht
2 medium-size beets, peeled and grated
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1 tbsp + 1 tsp olive oil
1 tomato, diced
2 tbsp of water
Juice of ½ a lemon
2L of water or vegetable broth
1 tbsp of salt
5 medium-size potatoes, diced
½ cabbage, shredded
1 small onion, diced
5-7 whole black peppercorns
3-4 bay leaves
2-3 garlic cloves, halved
Large pinch dried parsley
Fresh dill and sour cream, to serve
Heat the 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large pot over medium/high heat. Add grated beets, carrots, and diced tomatoes. Add the water and lemon juice to the vegetables and stir. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer for 20 min.
Boil the stock in a kettle. Add to the shredded, softened vegetables. Bring to a boil and add the salt.
Add diced potatoes and shredded cabbage to the soup and cook for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp of olive oil in a small skillet and sauté the onion over medium heat until golden.
Add the onions to the pot and give it a good stir.
Finally add the black peppercorns, bay leaves, garlic, and dried parsley to the soup and continue cooking for another 5-10 minutes.
Remove the borscht from the heat. Serve in individual bowls with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of fresh dill.
The “cooking with neighbors” workshops and a variety of other actvities will take place throughout November in the Youth Included community space. For details see www.youthincluded.com.
Photos by Michal Barbuščák.