Updated: Jul 18
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I won't be shy and readily admit that, yes, my borsch is the best! This borsch recipe I created and present in this blog I believe to be the most think is most delicious borsch you will ever taste. It has taken me awhile to publish a blog about borsch, because every little Ukrainian girl knows how to make borsch without a written recipe. My first blog should have been my borsch recipe, but instead I have waited almost a year to share it with you.
Personally, I probably could write a few blogs on borsch for it's a national meal, and there isn't one person in the UA who doesn't appreciate this dish. Borsch is next to mother's milk, I think. Many of my Russian friends like to argue about the origins of borsch by claiming that it's Russian. However, with all due respect, borsch is a Ukrainian soup.
A few years ago, I was very proud when I discovered a course on French cuisine from the Blue De Gordo school in Boston, covering this soup in their program.
Over the years living in the USA, I came across borsch recipes, but none of these gave my any satisfaction. Those recipes were lacking in the labor of love that is required to make classic borsch. This soup is not something quick, but well worth preparing for special occasions.
If you are looking for another yummy healthy Ukrainian recipe, check out this one: Buckwheat Soup with Wild Mushrooms.
Let's explore the history of borsch
So, what is this mystery soup that gets so much attention?
It is eaten from the formerly Prussian Kaliningrad all the way through the Caucasus and into Iran to the west, south into Central Asia, and right across to Sakhalin and Kamchatka to the east. Every Russian speaking person loves it. Even cosmonauts wouldn't go to the cosmos without this dish in a tube. However, I am not afraid to claim borsch as Ukrainian. It is the Ukrainian traditional dish - being an unblended soup (soup puree is a new thing in my country, and older generations are not familiar with it at all) that involves beets and many other ingredients, depending on region, season, occasion, and taste. Apart from its staggering international range and diversity, borsch is also a constantly evolving dish, one that invites curious and creative cooks to experiment, adapt, and adjust their recipe. The variations are endless. As a matter of fact, the ancient precursor of borsch had very little to do with the soup we know today. As far back as AD 900, at the down of Kyivan Rus, early Slavonic people reportedly made it with sour-tasting plants, like hogweed, later goosefoot, then beet leaves, and eventually the roots themselves began to take center stage. Today I'm sharing with you my recipe that I created by adopting some elements from my mother, grandmother, sister, and my own passion for food. It's not vegetarian, but in the future, I promise to share some vegetarian ways to prepare this soup.
What is the true color of the borsch?
Many cooks have considered the color of borsch to be deep pink or purple. But the truth is it all depends on the variety of beets being used. Therefore, borsch can be white, red, yellow, purple, or green. In making borsch a specific variety of beet is used, labeled as borschoviy buryak (which means beets for borsch) at the bazaar.
These "borsch beets" are the candy pink and white varieties. My mom uses the candy pink beets for borsch. This variety is less sweet, and she even ferments buryak (beet) before she uses it in her borsch recipe. In Ukraine, every region has its own secret of how to balance the combinations of sweetness and tartness between the beets and carrots. Closer to the Polish border, fresh or fermented apples are used to lend acidity, and in central Ukraine, raw sour cherries, unripe apricots, Mirabelle plums, and green strawberries have been added in the past. In Romania, Moldova incorporated the mixture of fermented cornmeal and sour cherry, creating a fizzy, earthy, and intensely sour borsch. Of course, borsch making is not always steeped in tradition for vinegar and lemon juice as souring agents also figure in modern recipes as does ketchup, a new discovery for those who migrated to the USA, has been adapted.
The stock, more often than not, would once have been vegetarian in farming households, with most of the savory, "umami" flavor coming from dried mushrooms, especially in the north and northwest of the country.
I use this method for most varieties of borsch that I cook.
What kind of meat can be used?
Traditionally, meats used in making borsch have been pork, beef, rooster, goose and duck as popular choices. My mom loves ribs and insists that without the rib bones it's not possible to create a rich and nourishing broth for this soup.
By way of contrast, the Russian royal courts of the early nineteenth century served a heightened version: "Tsar's borsch" used three stocks from a possible selection of veal, morel, goose combined with prunes and sour cherries (used for acidity before tomatoes became a regularly used vegetable).
In the old days, when no other meat was available, there would always be a bit of "old" salted pork fat in the cellar. It would be pounded with raw garlic and stirred through the borsch at the very end of cooking. I like to think of it as Ukrainian fish sauce of sorts.
Other important ingredients
As for vegetables, zazarka,
a base of slowly sautéed onions and carrots similar to Italian soffritto, is responsible for bringing sweetness to Ukrainian-style borsch in most regions. Some may also add a little sugar, but I always have relied on gentle frying to coax the natural sugars out the veggies. My mom never uses any extra oil, she will simply skim some fat from the surface of her meat stock and place it into a frying pan or she trims fat from meat and cooks it with her veggies. In summer, red bell peppers are very popular all over Ukraine, and summer borsch has to have it. I remember my mom would grate a juicy ripe tomato right into the pot with simmering borsch. In the Dnipro area, the southeast region traditionally added eggplant to their borsch, for an extra umami note.
Sweetness can also come from fruits as well as beets. In the region of Poltava, prunes and whole pears, slow-dried in wood - fired ovens, are used in poultry and pork borsches. Dried fruit would have originally been added to provide extra nutrients in winter, and this also lent a unique smoky-sweet flavor and a deep "black" color to local borsches. In my post Ukrainian style meatballs called "kotletu" that I posted a while ago, I explained why pork is traditionally used for cooking in my region.
The consistency of borsch is very personal, my grandmother, who survived the holocaust believed that borsch should be a very thick, semi-stew consistency. But my parents have always prepared it on the liquid side, and I do somewhere in between.
Seasons are responsible for a lot of borsch variations too. For example, in spring, sorrel, wild garlic, nettles, green onions, and other herbs are used to make green borsch and I promise to share one of my recipes for this kind of light borsch at a later date.
It is recommended to serve borsch with whole green onions, raw garlic, and raw onions eating these in between each spoonful. Sour cream, crème Fraiche is generally added to the bowl as well as fresh dill. Dark rye bread or sweet buns with garlic and dill sauce, called pampushki, is what traditionally compliments the meal.
Though borsch is complex in its vegetables, it is rather simplistic with the spices that are used. Typically, a few fresh herbs, garlic and spices such as salt, black pepper, coriander seeds, dill seeds and bay leaves are used to produce its delightful flavor.
Ukraine borsch is more than just a comfort food for it spans the nation as a true classic Ukrainian dish. I think the reason borsch has cemented itself as a national treasure in Ukraine is precisely because it is so multifaceted and readily adaptable. It has evolved over the centuries and made its way into every kitchen in the country without losing its essence and its roots.
For every Ukrainian, borsch triggers deep memories and feelings of kinship. A delectable meal in itself, a bowl of borsch represents family and connects us to home wherever we find ourselves.
Today is my mom's birthday and I couldn't think about anything else she likes more than borsch. A few years ago, when my mom came to visit me in the U.S., she had barely gotten settled before she started asking about borsch ingredients. Understand that she had already traveled over 14 hours by plane but was ready to make this dish!
This is such a rustic soup, and nothing has to be measured to an exact amount. Also, cooking low and slow is the key for the balance of flavor to this soup.
Borsch develops in flavor after the second or third day and is perfect for freezing!
Let's do it...
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 2 hours
Total time: 2 hours and 30 minutes
Autor: Inna of innichkachef.com
Serves: 8-10 people
2 Lb. of meat on the bone (I used combo of beef short rib, pork ribs and pork loin)
3 medium beets
1/2 head of medium cabbage
3 medium Yukon potatoes (Russet will work as well)
1 cup dry red kidney beans (soaked 6-8 hours before cooking time)
3 medium carrots
1-2 Tablespoons dry porcini (or other wild mushrooms with strong aroma)
1-2 Tablespoons of vinegar (white or apple)
few bay leaves (optional, I didn't use in the video)
1 cup of tomato sauce
2-3 Tablespoons tomato paste
7-8 cloves of garlic
1-2 Tablespoons of dill seeds
1-2 Tablespoons of whole coriander seeds
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
1 cup of fresh dill, chopped
1 cup of fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Creme Fraiche or sour cream (for garnish)
Dark rye bread or Pampushki (garlicky bread buns) for serving
Wash the meat and trim the fat, add to the pot along with soaked beans. Pour 12 cups of cold water, cover and on medium heat and bring to a boil.
Chop one onion and add to the pot. As soon the liquid gets to the boiling stage, lower the heat and let the broth simmer. After 10-15 minutes, skim the fat that accumulates on the top and discard it. Continue to simmer for another one to one and half hour.
3. Meanwhile grate the carrots and chop the onions and add to a heavy bottom pan along with a few spoons of olive oil and sauté on low heat, and add salt and black pepper.
4. Grind coriander and dill seeds using a pestle and mortar.
5. Grind the mushrooms in spice/coffee grinder and add to the pan as well. Cook until veggies are soft, stir once in a while.
6. Peel potatoes, chop and add to the pot, then add the cooked carrot and onion mixture.
7. Chop the cabbage and add to the pot along with the cup of tomato sauce plus adding one more cup of water. Stir all together.
8. Peel the beets (wearing the gloves is a great idea), then grate and add to the same pan along with a few spoons of olive oil, salt, black pepper, and vinegar. Let cook for a few minutes on low heat until beets are soft. Then add to the pot.
9. Let cook for 10-15 minutes all together on low heat allowing all the flavor to blend together.
10. Chop the parsley and dill (reserve a little bit of dill for the garnish) and add to the pot. Then add tomato paste and stir all together.
11. Remover the meat from the pot and let cool down for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, mince the garlic. Chop the meat and discard the bones. Add meat back to the pot along with the garlic. Cook for a few more minutes, give it a taste and adjust the seasonings.