The Veselka Cookbook

Recipes and Stories from the Landmark Restaurant in New York's East Village

Tom Birchard with Natalie Danford

Thomas Dunne Books

VESELKA COOKBOOK
1
SOUPS
Veselka's Famous BorschtVegetarian BorschtCold BorschtWhite BorschtChicken Noodle SoupCabbage SoupThree-Bean ChiliRoasted Vegetable ChiliSplit Pea SoupLentil SoupMushroom Barley SoupVegetable SoupButternut Squash SoupTomato Rice SoupCold Cucumber SoupBeef StockChicken StockVegetable Stock
WHEREVER YOU GO, there is soup: Big, warm pots of soup can be found simmering on stoves in every country in the world. There's a reason for that. Soup is the original comfort food. It's digestible--didn't your mother serve you soup when you had an upset stomach?--and it's economical, too. Back in Ukraine, where food had to be stretched, especially during the long, harsh winters, soup was a lifesaver. So it's no surprise that soup has been offered at Veselka since its opening day. Long before Seinfeld made the soup guy famous, we were ladling it out by the gallon.
Soup is very forgiving, too. If you've never cooked a thing in your life, soup is the perfect place to start--it's impossible to get it wrong, and any misstep can be fixed. After you've made these recipes a few times, you should feel free to experiment with them. If you've got a handful of cooked rice, use that in place of barley, or add some leftover vegetables, as long as you think their taste will blend.
The only thing that soup won't forgive is low-quality ingredients. I don't believe in saving a dollar here and a dollar there; I think in the end you make more money with quality. So at Veselka, with soups and everything else, we go the extra mile. For example, lots of restaurants--and home cooks, too--make chicken soup using bones and necks and wings and backs, but we always start with whole chickens. That results in a rounder, less bitter flavor, and it also means that we then have lots of boiled chicken meat to shred back into the soup and to use in other recipes as well.
In general, at the restaurant we cook a lot of ingredients separately, then combine them into a single soup at the end. This gives us a little more control over the individual components of the soup. In the morning we get a little soup assembly linegoing with various pots bubbling on the stove. There is always one soup or another cooking in the Veselka kitchen, though we don't make each kind every day. We rotate them. Our various types of borscht are among the most popular, and we also sell Cabbage Soup, a Ukrainian favorite made with sauerkraut, that's no longer available in many places. And every day we make one special soup, usually something seasonal, like our Butternut Squash Soup. A person could live on soup for a long, long time, and this collection of soup recipes provides a great start.
A Bowl of Borscht
There has never been a day in Veselka's fifty years without borscht on the menu. You know that guy in the Dunkin' Donuts commercial who used to say, "Time to make the donuts"? Well, at Veselka the beginning of the week and the middle of the week are "time to make the borscht." We start with over 250 pounds of beets, which are simmered and then allowed to cool on the first day of preparation. Our cooks refer to the resulting ruby-red liquid as "beet water." The next day we make a rich beef stock, and on the third day we combine the various ingredients. That results in just enough soup to last half a week, and one day later we begin all over again.
Simply put, borscht is beet soup, but borscht is far from simple at Veselka. We serve five different kinds of borscht: our standard version (which uses meat broth), a vegetarian version, Christmas borscht with dumplings, cold borscht (in summer), and white borscht--a special traditional variation made sour with either sauerkraut or fermented wheat.
While borscht is served throughout Eastern Europe and is a staple of Jewish cuisine (the word bors means "soup" in Yiddish), it is believed to have originated in Ukraine, and no wonder. Ukraine has many fine qualities, but excellent weather is not one of them. However, root vegetables like beets grow easily in the region, along with cabbage, and root vegetables could be stored in cellars in the days before refrigeration. There is little in life as comforting as sitting down to a bowl of ruby red borscht--we can only imagine how livelyand tempting that sight was to someone entering a third month of below-zero temperatures and frozen terrain, or alternately, how refreshing a bowl of cold borscht would have been on a hot summer day.
In modern-day New York City, we may have heat and air conditioning, but that doesn't make a steaming bowl of borscht any less tempting. Cold borscht makes an elegant starter to a formal meal, while to us, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a dish of clear borscht with dumplings. The recipes for borscht in this book have been tested and retested so that you can re-create Veselka's borscht at home, but I think almost any Veselka customer would agree that nothing beats a bowl of the real thing, eaten right here.
VESELKA'S FAMOUS BORSCHT
Makes about 2 quarts; 8 first-course or 4 to 6 main-course servings
Borscht is Veselka: We serve 5,000 gallons of the stuff every year. While at Veselka we cook the beets and the meat on separate days, you can do it all at the same time, as long as you've got enough large pots to handle it all. None of the work is very time-consuming, although the individual components simmer for several hours, so you'll need to pick a time when you'll be home, though not necessarily in the kitchen. You can easily double or triple this recipe (again, as long as you have large enough pots). After all, at Veselka, we work with 250 pounds of beets at a time. And keep in mind that borscht, like most soups, freezes beautifully.
The beets for our borscht are cooked in two separate batches: One batch is used to make "beet water," a kind of rich beet stock. The remaining beets are cooked and grated. The process may sound a little complicated when you read it, but after you follow the instructions once, the logic will become clear, and I'm convinced that it's this two-step process that lends our borscht its distinct taste and depth of flavor.
You won't taste the white vinegar much, by the way, but it helps the beets retain the beautiful red color that is their hallmark. Without it, your borscht may take on a brownish tinge. If you are very sensitive to the taste of vinegar, use the full amount to cook the beet water and the beets, but in step 7, add it to the soup in small amounts, tasting in between.
 
3 pounds (10 to 12) small beets, scrubbed thoroughly but not peeled 9 tablespoons white vinegar One 2-pound boneless pork butt, halved 8 cups Beef Stock 1 bay leaf 1 teaspoon whole allspice berries 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns 3 large carrots, peeled and sliced 3 large celery stalks, sliced 1 small head of green cabbage (about ¾ to 1 pound), shredded (about 4 cups) 2 medium Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice One 15-ounce can lima beans, drained and rinsed Salt
1. To make the "beet water," roughly chop 2 pounds of the beets (select the smaller ones), preferably in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Place the chopped beets in a large stockpot. Add 10 cups of water and 1 tablespoon vinegar.
2. Place the stockpot over high heat and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 2 hours. (If it seems like the liquid is evaporating too quickly, you may need to cover the pot partially with an offset lid.) The beets should be extremely soft and the liquid bright red.
3. Strain the liquid, pressing the cooked beets against the side of the strainer to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the pulp or reserve to make Beet Salad . Set aside the beet water. You should have just about 4 cups.
4. Meanwhile, place the remaining 1 pound of whole beets in a separate large stockpot. Add water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the beets are tender-firm, about 40 minutes. When the beets are cooked, add 1 tablespoon white vinegar and set them aside to cool.
5. When the whole cooked beets are cool enough to handle, peel them; the skins should slip off easily. Grate the peeled beets on the largest holes of a box grater or in a food processor fitted with the grating blade.
6. To make the broth, place the pork butt in a large stockpot and add the beef stock. If necessary, add a little more stock or water to cover. Add the bay leaf, allspice berries, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the meat is tender and beginning to fall apart, about 2 hours. Set the pork aside to cool. When the pork is cool enough to handle, remove it from the pot and cut the meat into 1/2-inch cubes. Strain the broth and discard the bay leaf, allspice berries, and peppercorns. Reserve the cubed meat and 4 cups of the broth.
7. To cook the vegetables, place the carrots and celery in a large stockpot and pour the reserved meat broth over them. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the carrots and celery are just tender, about 8 minutes. Add the cabbage and potatoes and continue to cook until the potatoes and carrots are easily pierced with a pairing knife but keep their shape, 15 to 20 additional minutes. Add the lima beans and cook for 5 additional minutes, just to meld the flavors. Gradually add the remaining 7 tablespoons white vinegar, tasting between additions and stopping when the flavor is to your liking. Remove the soup from the heat and set aside.
8. To compose the soup, in a large soup pot combine the "beet water" and meat broth with the vegetables. Add the cubed pork and the grated beets. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer over low heat. Season to taste with salt and serve immediately.
Variation: We also serve Vegetarian Borscht at Veselka, which is a little lighter and can be a better choice than traditional meat-based borscht when it's being served as part of a multicourse meal. For Vegetarian Borscht, simply leave out the pork butt, bay leaf, allspice, berries, and peppercorns, and skip step 6. In step 7, cook the vegetables in water or Vegetable Stock .
COLD BORSCHT
Makes about 2 quarts; 8 first-course or 4 main-course servings
Cold beet soup is tangy and refreshing--it's perfect on a really hot, humid day. If you're serving this as the first course in a fancy meal, pour it into tall glasses rather than bowls. The color is gorgeous.
 
1 pound (about 3) beets, scrubbed thoroughly but not peeled 1/2 cup half-and-half 1 cup buttermilk 1 tablespoon sugar 2 teaspoons white vinegar 4 large eggs, hard-boiled 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill 1 small cucumber, peeled and diced
1. To make the "beet water," chop the beets roughly and place them in a stockpot. Add water to cover, at least 8 cups.
2. Place the stockpot over high heat and bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 2 hours. (If it seems like the liquid is evaporating too quickly, you may need to partially cover the pot with an offset lid.) The beets should be extremely soft and the liquid should be bright red.
3. Strain the liquid, pressing the cooked beets against the side of the strainer to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard pulp or reserve to make Beet Salad . Reserve 3 cups of the beet water and set aside to cool completely. (If you have any leftover beet water, you can reserve it for another use or simply discard it.)
4. When the beet water has cooled, whisk it with the half-and-half and buttermilk. Add the sugar and vinegar and whisk until the sugar is dissolved and all the ingredients are combined. Chill until serving time.
5. Peel and chop the hard-boiled eggs.
6. To serve the soup, ladle portions into individual soup bowls and garnish each bowl with a sprinkling of fresh dill, chopped hard-boiled egg, and diced cucumber.
WHITE BORSCHT
Makes 21/2 quarts; 6 to 8 servings
This unusual soup is generally served on holidays. It has a somewhat tart taste similar to sourdough bread. At Veselka, we use sauerkraut juice, but in some parts of Eastern Europe grain is fermented (similar to a sourdough starter) to make white borscht, and white vinegar will work as well. Sour soup sounds odd, I know, but this is highly addictive.
 
6 cups Chicken Stock 2 medium ham hocks 3 smoked pork ribs, optional 1 medium onion, minced 3 large carrots, chopped 4 celery stalks, chopped 2 bay leaves 2 whole allspice berries ¾ cup sour cream 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour ¾ cup sauerkraut juice, or 2 teaspoons white vinegar 1 tablespoon dried marjoram 1 teaspoon dried oregano Salt Freshly ground black pepper 3 medium Idaho potatoes, cooked, peeled, and chopped 4 large eggs, hard-boiled and coarsely chopped
1. Place the chicken stock, ham hocks, pork ribs, if using, onion, carrots, celery, bay leaves, and allspice berries in a medium stockpot. Add 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then lower to a gentle simmer and cook over low heat for 40 minutes.
2. Remove the ham hocks and ribs, if using, and discard. Strain out the vegetables and discard.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and the flour until very smooth.
4. Return the stock to a boil and stir in the sour cream-flour mixture. Add about half the sauerkraut juice or vinegar, taste, and add additional sauerkraut juice or vinegar, if desired. Stir in the marjoram and oregano, then reduce the heat to low, and simmer, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes.
5. Season to taste with salt (depending on how salty your sauerkraut juice is, it may not need any additional salt) and pepper.
6. Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls and garnish each serving with a few cubes of cooked potato and a sprinkling of chopped hard-boiled egg. Serve hot.
CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP
Makes about 2 quarts; 6 servings
After borscht, chicken noodle is our most popular soup. On a cold day, a rainy day, or really any day at all when you need a bit of a lift, chicken noodle soup is ideal. Chicken soup also has amazing healing powers: It has been scientifically proven to help colds heal faster. You can make the soup in advance, but if you're going to freeze chicken noodle soup, thaw it and cook the noodles in the broth just before serving. At Veselka, we use a whole chicken to make our soup. Not only does this result in a richer, more balanced broth, but you then have cooked chicken that can be used in so many different ways--Chicken Salad, sandwiches, or just eaten plain.
 
One 31/2-pound chicken 1 large onion, peeled 3 celery stalks, sliced 3 large carrots, sliced 3 leeks, halved lengthwise and thoroughly cleaned Salt 3 cups fine egg noodles ¼ cup minced flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
1. Place the chicken, onion, celery, carrot, and leeks in a large stockpot and add water to cover, at least 10 cups. Place over high heat, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered (though you may want to partially cover the pot with a lid to stop the stovetop from being splattered), until the chicken meat is falling off the bone, about 1 hour. Skim off the fat and foam from the surface occasionally.
2. Remove the pot from the heat with the chicken still in the broth and allow to cool to room temperature.
3. Remove the chicken from the pot. Pull any meat from the bone and shred into large, rough pieces. Strain the chicken stock. Discard the onion and leeks, but set aside the celery and carrots. (Don't worry about a stray piece of onion or leek making its way in as well.)
4. Return the stock to the pot. Bring to a boil, add salt to taste, and toss in the noodles. Stir and turn down the heat to a brisk simmer. Cook until noodles are tender but still have a little bite at the center, about 8 minutes.
5. Return the shredded chicken and the cooked carrots and celery to the pot. Cook just to meld flavors and until noodles are perfectly tender, about 3 additional minutes.
6. Divide the soup among soup bowls. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve immediately.
CABBAGE SOUP
Makes 21/2 quarts; 6 to 8 servings
When I started working at Veselka in 1967, we had a lot of Ukrainian men who, frankly, intimidated me. They would come in late at night--sometimes a little tipsy--and eat traditional Ukrainian foods and smoke cigarettes, and they seemed like tough customers. (This was decades before New York City would outlaw cigarette smoking in bars and restaurants. In fact, when Veselka was a combination newsstand and restaurant, cigarettes were sold at the counter.) This cabbage soup was one of their favorite dishes. I had never heard of a soup made with sauerkraut at the time, but it has since become one of my favorites, too--the simple yet forceful flavor cannot be ignored. When I've eaten too much rich food for a few days or my palate feels jaded, I find a bowl of Cabbage Soup really wakes me up.
 
1 boneless pork butt (about 2 pounds), halved 11/2 quarts Chicken Stock 3 whole allspice berries 3 bay leaves 1 tablespoon dried marjoram 3 cups sauerkraut, drained 1 large Idaho potato, peeled and diced 3 celery stalks, minced (about 1 cup) 2 large carrots, minced (about 1 cup) 1 small onion, cut into medium dice
1. Place the pork butt in a large stockpot with the chicken stock, 4 cups water, the allspice berries, bay leaves, and marjoram. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered (though you may want to partially cover the pot with a lid to stop the stovetop from being splattered), until the meat is fully cooked, tender, and beginning to fall apart, about 2 hours.
2. Remove the meat from the pot and set aside to cool. Skim most of the fat from the stock, leaving a few "eyes" of fat for flavor. Strain out and discard the bay leaves and allspice berries. Leave the pot on the stove.
3. Stir in the sauerkraut and simmer for 20 additional minutes.
4. Add the potato and simmer for 5 minutes. Then add the celery, carrot, and onion and simmer for 10 additional minutes. Finally, cut the reserved meat into large cubes and add to soup. Simmer for 10 additional minutes, until the flavors have melded and potato is cooked through, then serve immediately.
THREE-BEAN CHILI
Serves 6 to 8
This chili is so hearty and filling that I wasn't sure whether to include it in this chapter, with soups, or to place it in the chapter with recipes for meat entrées. There is nothing dainty or timid about it. This chili also makes good use of canned beans, since cooking the three types of beans separately would be time-consuming. Look for a good brand, preferably organic, with little or no sodium, as we toss in the bean liquid for extra flavor. At Veselka we cook up a vat of caramelized onions every morning and just scoop from that all day long, but here I've amended our recipe slightly so that you cook the onion as part of the recipe.
 
21/2 pounds 80 percent lean ground beef 11/2 cups chopped onion (2 medium onions) One 15-ounce can black beans One 15-ounce can white beans Two 15-ounce cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained 2 cups ketchup 3 tablespoons ground coriander 3 tablespoons ground cumin 3 tablespoons dried oregano 2 tablespoons chili powder 3 tablespoons dried basil 1 tablespoon salt 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1. In a large stockpot, cook the beef and onions over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the meat is fully cooked and the onions are browned.
2. Drain off and discard excess fat.
3. Add the beans and their canning liquid, and the drained kidney beans to the pot. Stir in the ketchup, coriander, cumin, oregano, chili powder, and basil. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered (though you may want to partially cover the pot with a lid to stop the stovetop from being splattered), until the chili is very thick, about 11/2 hours.
4. Season with the salt and pepper and serve hot.
ROASTED VEGETABLE CHILI
Serves 8
This unusual chili with a mother lode of roasted vegetables is in heavy rotation among our soup specials in the summer. Roasting really brings out the sweetness of zucchini and eggplant. You can adjust the ratio of vegetables and beans here if you like. Just be sure that you chop all the vegetables into roughly the same size, otherwise small pieces will burn before large pieces are cooked through in the oven.
 
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice 2 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/2-inch dice 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch dice 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice 8 ounces button mushrooms, stemmed and quartered 1 large onion, cut into 1/2-inch dice 2 garlic cloves, minced One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes One 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed One 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed 2 teaspoons chili powder 2 teaspoons paprika 1 tablespoon ground cumin 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper Salt Freshly ground black pepper 1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced ¼ cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, optional ¼ cup shredded Vermont cheddar cheese, optional
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Line two jelly-roll pans with aluminum foil and coat each lightly with about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Combine the zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and bell pepper on one pan and spread the mushrooms on the other. Drizzle another tablespoon of olive oil over the vegetables on each pan, and roast in the preheated oven, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking, until the zucchini, squash, and eggplant are lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes, and until the mushrooms have given up all of their liquid, about 25 minutes.
3. While the vegetables are roasting, in a large ovenproof stockpot or Dutch oven, sauté the onion and garlic in the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil until translucent, about 3 minutes.
4. Add the canned tomatoes, beans, chili powder, paprika, cumin, and cayenne. When the roasted vegetables are done, transfer them to the pot and lower the oven temperature to 350°F. Stir the vegetables into the chili, cover the pot with a lid, and transfer the pot to the 350°F oven. Roast the chili for 1 hour. Check occasionally and add a little water (or additional crushed tomatoes, if you prefer) if the chili seems to be getting too thick, but it should be nice and hearty. (You can also cook the chili on the stovetop for 45 minutes to 1 hour, but keep a close eye on it to be sure the bottom doesn't scorch, which can happen easily.)
5. Taste the chili and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary. Spoon the chili into individual bowls and top each serving with a sprinkling of scallions and cilantro leaves and some cheddar cheese, if using. Serve immediately.
SPLIT PEA SOUP
makes 21/2 quarts; 6 to 8 servings
On a dreary fall day in New York City, nothing cheers me up like a bowl of dense, slightly chunky split pea soup. Unlike a lot of split pea soup recipes, ours doesn't include any pork, so it's great for vegetarians, too. Grate the carrots and celery on the smallest holes of a box grater, or mince them thoroughly in a food processor.
 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter 2 large carrots, minced 3 stalks celery, minced 3 cups dried split peas, rinsed and picked over 6 cups Vegetable Stock Salt Freshly ground black pepper
1. Melt the butter in a large stockpot over low heat.
2. Add the carrot and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have softened, about 8 minutes.
3. Stir in the split peas, stock, and 2 cups water. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered (though you may want to partially cover the pot with a lid to stop the stovetop from being splattered), until the peas are tender and dissolved, about 1 hour.
4. If you prefer a less chunky soup, stir in a little more water or stock. Season to taste with salt and a generous amount of pepper and serve hot.
LENTIL SOUP
makes 21/2 quarts; 6 to 8 servings
There's something special about lentils--even people who claim they don't like other legumes seem to like them. Lentils are great in soups, salads (see the Lentil Salad), and just about anything else. They're also supereasy to prepare--if you've never cooked a thing in your life, you'll be able to make this soup.
 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter 1 large carrot, grated 2 celery stalks, minced 1 small Vidalia onion, minced 3 cups lentils, rinsed and picked over 6 cups Vegetable Stock Salt Freshly ground black pepper
1. Melt the butter in a large stockpot over low heat.
2. Add the carrot, celery, and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have softened, about 8 minutes.
3. Add the lentils, vegetable stock, and 2 cups water. Simmer over low heat, uncovered (though you may want to partially cover the pot with a lid to stop the stovetop from being splattered), until the lentils are tender, about 1 hour. Add small amounts of water in order to keep the lentils covered while they simmer, if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot.
MUSHROOM BARLEY SOUP
Serves 8
This is a rib-sticking vegetarian soup that, with a slice or two of good bread, makes a meal.
To cook the barley, start with about ¾ cup dried barley, and stir it into 2 cups boiling water. Cover the pot and simmer for about 30 minutes. You want the barley to still be a little chewy--that's one of its finest qualities. And, yes, we use a little canned mushroom soup as a shortcut at the restaurant, supplemented with lots of fresh mushrooms and other vegetables. That's how Veselka's founder, Wolodymyr Darmochwal, was making this soup when I came to work at the restaurant, and we've continued the tradition. If you like, you can leave it out, though the soup's flavor will be substantially different--taste it both before and after adding the canned soup the first time you make it and judge for yourself which is better. For the fresh mushrooms, you can include the upper part of the stems as well as the caps.
 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter 2 large carrots, minced 3 celery stalks, minced 5 cups minced white button mushrooms 6 cups Vegetable Stock One 10-ounce can cream of mushroom soup, optional 2 cups cooked barley Freshly ground black pepper
1. Melt the butter in a large stockpot over low heat.
2. Add the carrot and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have softened, about 8 minutes.
3. Add the mushrooms and vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered (though you may want to partially cover the pot with a lid to stop the stovetop from being splattered), for 30 minutes. Stir in the cream of mushroom soup, if using, and the barley. Season to taste with a generous amount of black pepper. Continue to cook until the flavors have combined, about 5 more minutes. Serve hot.
VEGETABLE SOUP
Makes 21/2 quarts; 6 to 8 servings
Vegetable soup is a great way to get the five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables we're always hearing about into your daily diet. At Veselka, we use the combination given here, but feel free to use these as a mere guideline. If you have some nice-looking spinach or other greens, toss them in. The same goes for celery, turnips, potatoes, and so on. Even frozen vegetables will do in a pinch. Just be sure the vegetables are cut into pieces that are roughly the same size.
 
6 cups Vegetable Stock 1 small onion, minced 2 large carrots, shredded on the smallest holes of a box grater 11/2 cups chopped string beans 11/2 cups chopped cauliflower florets 2 small Idaho potatoes, peeled and diced 1 cup peas (frozen peas are fine) 3 tablespoons unsalted butter 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour Salt Freshly ground black pepper
1. Combine the stock and all the vegetables in a medium stockpot. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered (though you may want to partially cover the pot with a lid to stop the stovetop from being splattered), until all the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.
2. While the soup is cooking, make a roux. In a small sauté pan, melt the butter, stir in the flour, and cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture is slightly golden and there are no lumps, about 3 minutes.
3. Whisk the roux into the soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve hot.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP
Serves 6 to 8
This is one of our most popular seasonal soups, and it is in heavy rotation in the fall and winter, when bulbous butternut squash are widely available. Look for squash that are free of soft spots and feel heavy for their size. Like most soups, this benefits from being made in advance. If you're a real ginger fanatic, increase the fresh ginger to 2 tablespoons, or even 3.
 
3 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 medium butternut squash 1 large onion, chopped 2 garlic cloves, chopped 1/2 cinnamon stick 1 packed tablespoon dark brown sugar 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger, plus additional if desired 6 cups Chicken Stock Salt Freshly ground black pepper 2 tablespoons minced candied ginger 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a jelly-roll pan with a sheet of aluminum foil, coat with 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil, and set aside.
2. With a large cleaver, split the squash lengthwise. Scoop out and discard the seeds and strings. Place the squash cut-side down on the prepared pan and roast until the squash is soft enough to pierce with a paring knife, about 1 hour. Set the squash aside to cool, and when it is cool enough to handle, remove the flesh from the peel and cut into 1-inch chunks. Set aside. Discard the peel.
3. In a medium stockpot or Dutch oven, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Sauté the chopped onion until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cinnamon stick, brown sugar, and ginger and sauté for 1 additional minute.
4. Add the chopped cooked squash and the stock and simmer until the squash is very soft, about 20 minutes. Allow the soup to cool in the pot for about 15 minutes, then remove the cinnamon stick and purée the soup. (The best way to do this is with an immersion blender right in the pot, but if you don't have an immersionblender, carefully transfer the soup to a blender and purée in batches, then return it to the pot.)
5. Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper. Reheat the soup until it just begins to bubble, then thin with a little water if it seems too thick.
6. Ladle the hot soup into individual serving bowls and garnish each serving with a little candied ginger and chopped parsley. Serve immediately.
TOMATO RICE SOUP
Serves 6 to 8
In summer, and early fall, when we have access to an abundance of really good ripe tomatoes, we make this soup very frequently. The tomatoes should be juicy and ripe to the point of bursting. Don't even bother trying to make this with mealy winter tomatoes. If you do discover at the end of step 2 that your tomatoes have not given you enough juice, you can supplement it with a little canned tomato purée, but if you are using super-ripe seasonal tomatoes that won't be necessary.
 
31/2 pounds very ripe fresh tomatoes 6 cups Chicken Stock 1 small onion 1 carrot 2 celery stalks 2 tablespoons sugar 11/2 cups sour cream 2 tablespoons cornstarch 2 cups cooked short-grain white rice Salt Freshly ground black pepper ¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1. Remove the stem ends and quarter the tomatoes and purée them in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Strain the resulting purée, pressing with a wooden spoon to extract as much juice as possible, and set the juice aside.
2. Transfer the tomato seeds and skin to a medium pot and place over low heat. Bring to a very gentle simmer, then strain again. You'll get a fair amount of additional juice this way. Combine it with the first batch of juice and set aside. Discard the seeds and skin. You should have about 3 cups of tomato juice.
3. Meanwhile, heat up the chicken stock in a large stockpot. Mince the onion, carrot, and celery and add them to the chicken stock. Cook at a gentle simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes.
4. Add the fresh tomato juice to the stock and bring to a boil.
5. When the stock is boiling, in a medium bowl combine the sour cream and cornstarch and whisk until the mixture is very smooth with no lumps.
6. Ladle out about 1/2 cup of the hot liquid and whisk it into the sour cream-cornstarch mixture. Return the sour cream mixture to the pot and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
7. Simmer for an additional 15 minutes, stirring frequently. The soup should thicken nicely. Stir in the cooked rice (continue cooking for a minute or two if the rice was cold to make sure it heats through). Season to taste with salt and pepper and gradually add the sugar, if needed. (If your tomatoes are really ripe and sweet, you may not need any.) Garnish with chopped parsley and serve hot.
COLD CUCUMBER SOUP
Serves 4 to 6
This is another one of our popular seasonal soups. A bowl of cold soup--made with vegetables or even fruit--is a refreshing treat in the summer. This couldn't be easier to assemble.
 
4 seedless cucumbers 1 large garlic clove 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish 21/2 cups buttermilk 1 cup half-and-half 2 teaspoons salt 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1. Peel 3 of the cucumbers. Chop the peeled cucumbers into 3 or 4 pieces. Working in batches, place them in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, along with the garlic. Purée until smooth.
2. In a large bowl, combine the puréed cucumber, dill, buttermilk, half-and-half, salt, pepper, and mustard. Whisk together until thoroughly combined.
3. Cut the remaining unpeeled cucumber into small dice. Serve the soup chilled, sprinkled with the diced cucumber and a little chopped dill for garnish.
BEEF STOCK
Makes about 2 quarts
To make a classic French-style beef stock, you should roast the bones and the onion, garlic, and carrots to draw out their flavor. If you're in a hurry, skip that step and roast those items right in the stockpot over medium heat, stirring frequently to keep things from sticking to the bottom, for 15 minutes or so before you add the water. (Then again, if you're really in a hurry, you probably shouldn't start this recipe at all, as it requires 4 to 5 hours of simmering.) A good butcher can provide you with bones, or you can save bones in the freezer until you have enough. Shank bones are always a good choice for the stock pot. In a pinch, you can use canned beef broth, but it will never taste as good as a made-from-scratch stock like this, and you can make this in big batches and freeze it almost indefinitely.
 
31/2 pounds beef bones 1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped 2 garlic cloves, peeled 2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped 1 tomato, halved 1 bay leaf 1 teaspoon dried thyme 4 sprigs parsley 6 whole black peppercorns 1 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place the bones, onion, garlic, and carrots in a roasting pan and roast, uncovered, in the preheated oven, turning the bones a few times, until browned, about 30 minutes.
2. Skim off the fat from the roasting pan. Transfer the roasted bones and vegetables to your largest soup or stockpot. Add about 1/2 cup water to the roasting pan. Using a wooden spoon or a spatula, dislodge any bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan, then pour this liquid into the soup or stockpot.
3. Add the celery, tomato, bay leaf, thyme, parsley, peppercorns, and salt. Add cold water to fill the pot, at least 8 cups.
4. Cover the pot and place it over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered (though you may want to partially cover the pot with a lid to stop the stovetop from being splattered), skimming occasionallyduring the first 30 minutes, until the liquid has turned a deep, rich brown, 4 to 5 hours.
5. Strain the stock and discard the solids. (You may want to wait until the stock has cooled somewhat for safety's sake.) Refrigerate the stock, then skim off some or all of the fat that accumulates on the surface.
CHICKEN STOCK
Makes about 2 quarts
Though the two tend to get conflated, there is a difference between chicken broth and chicken stock. Stock is, by definition, made with bones and vegetables, not with meat. What we use for all our preparations at Veselka is actually a chicken broth. If you like, you can substitute backs, wings, necks, and feet for the meaty chicken parts in the recipe below and make a true stock (though I wouldn't eat it plain as soup--it doesn't have the rounded flavor a true broth does). You can also use the carcasses of roasted birds from which you've already eaten all the meat. Or you can use a combination of all three of these things, or even strain a little Chicken Noodle Soup and use that (without the noodles, obviously). If you do use meaty chicken parts, be sure to reserve the cooked chicken and use it for sandwiches, in stir-fries, or to make Chicken Salad . Extra chicken stock can be poured into heavy-duty ziplock bags and frozen.
 
31/2 pounds chicken parts 1 onion (no need to peel it) 2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped 1 bay leaf 6 whole black peppercorns 1 teaspoon salt
1. Place the chicken parts in your largest soup or stockpot. Add cold water to fill the pot, at least 8 cups.
2. Add the remaining ingredients to the pot.
3. Cover the pot and place it over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered (though you may want to partially cover the pot with a lid to stop the stovetop from being splattered), skimming occasionally during the first 30 minutes, until the liquid has turned a deep golden yellow color, 1 to 11/2 hours. (It's better to overdo it than to stop too soon--you can't really overcook chicken stock.)
4. Strain the stock. Set aside the cooked chicken for later use. Discard any other solids. (You may want to wait until the stock has cooled somewhat for safety's sake.) Refrigerate the stock, then skim off some or all of the fat that accumulates on the surface.
VEGETABLE STOCK
Makes about 2 quarts
We use vegetable stock in our vegetarian soups. In a pinch you can use water in place of vegetable stock, but the stock gives a more nuanced flavor, plus, it's very good for you. You could use almost any vegetables you have on hand here, with the exception of very strong-tasting vegetables such as cabbage or broccoli. Vegetable stock doesn't need to cook nearly as long as chicken stock. A mere 30 minutes of simmering should be enough to draw all the flavor out of your vegetables. This stock, too, freezes very nicely.
 
2 onions, peeled and halved 4 carrots, peeled and chopped 4 celery stalks, chopped 1 parsnip, peeled and chopped 12 sprigs flat-leaf parsley 1 bay leaf 6 whole black peppercorns 1 teaspoon salt
1. Place all the ingredients in your largest soup or stockpot. Add cold water to fill the pot, at least 8 cups.
2. Cover the pot and place it over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered (though you may want to partially cover the pot with a lid to stop the stovetop from being splattered), skimming occasionally during the first 15 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft, about 30 minutes.
3. Strain the stock and discard the solids.
THE VESELKA COOKBOOK. Copyright © 2009 by Tom Birchard and Natalie Danford.