Ukrainian Borscht is a vegetable soup with beetroots as its characteristic ingredient.
It is just a soup for mankind; a matter of principle for the Slavs
If you want to find out about the reason for the conflicts between Ukraine and Russia, do not waste your time reading articles on political issues or language-related arguments. The truth is as plain as the nose on your face: all the conflicts started with the discussion about the origin of Borscht. Ukrainians swear to high heaven that it is a traditional soup of their beloved mother country, but Russians also claim that it is their national dish. They lure customers into their restaurants in New York or Berlin and offer Borscht as a traditional Russian dish.
The Origin of the Name 'Borscht'
Let us first have a look at the name itself. Borscht derives from the Slavic “borshchevik”, which means hogweed. Hogweed was used by the ancestors to add a greenish brown colour to their soup. Even though hogweed is no longer used for preparing Borscht, its name still reminds us of the long history of the soup.
Then and Now
Borscht, like a bird, does not know political boundaries. Despite mud-slinging between the countries of the former Soviet Union, cooking Borscht is getting increasingly popular owing to the internet discussions on its variations. It is not just a bowl of beetroot and cabbage in meat stock; it carries a little fragment of former life in a union with a population of almost 300 million people.
When to Eat Borscht
Borscht is very nourishing, especially if you cook it with meat. That is the reason why it is normally eaten for dinner. Ukrainians are known for eating this hearty vegetable soup with pork as a morning pick-me-up and then again three times throughout the day!
There are different types of Borscht. The choice of ingredients depends on the region or simply on what your fridge offers. Originally there were up to 40 ingredients used for a good plate of Borscht. No matter which ingredients you use in the end, beetroot is the ingredient you need to get the typical red colour. It is often said that there are as many different kinds of Borscht as there are cooks in the Ukraine. Not even my own and my mother's Borscht taste the same. You can vary your recipe according to your taste. For example, leave out meat if you are a vegetarian and avoid garlic if you have an appointment after dinner. A plate of hot Borscht in winter will warm you up and in summer it will be very refreshing if you eat it cold. Especially vegetarian Borscht tastes great when cold. And do not forget to add some sour cream to it!
How to Start and What to Prepare
When you plan to prepare Borscht start early and write “feeding the pot” in your Filofax for that day. It will take you some time to put all the ingredients into the soup. I always make sure that I have true “Borscht beets” with whitish stripes inside. Unfortunately, you will not find out until you come home and start cooking. Do not be afraid of putting too much cabbage into the pot. Beside the beetroot it is the main ingredient of Borscht and it makes the soup thick, which, according to my grandmother, is characteristic of good Borscht. Even if you are used to cooking in spinster-sized pots, you can make an exception when cooking Borscht. Use a large pot for your Borscht. If you have leftovers, simply eat them the next day. Your soup will even taste better than the day before. If you are short of time, buy tinned beans instead of soaking the dried ones overnight. Tinned beans do not need to be cooked, just add them when your Borscht is ready.
- 1/2 cup dried beans, soaked in water overnight
- 2-3 pounds of pork or beef
- 3 cups water
- 1 large or 2 medium beets, peeled and julienne
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 onion, peeled and diced
- 3 carrots, peeled and diced
- green pepper, diced
- tomatoes, diced
- 2 potatoes, cut into thick slices
- herbs and spices: salt, bay leaf, black pepper, pieces of dried red pepper, thyme
- 1/2 small cabbage, thinly sliced
- 3 ounces salted pork fat or bacon
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 tbsp chopped dill
- 1/2 cup yoghurt
- 1/3 cup of tomato paste
- Drain the soaked beans and put aside.
- Place the meat in a large pot; add 3 cups of cold water.
- Bring to a boil slowly and remove scum.
- Add half of the onion and 2 carrots.
- Reduce to a simmer, partially cover the pot, and cook for about 1 hour.
- When done, add the beets and beans, bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the beans are tender.
- In the vegetable oil, sweat half of the onion, carrots, and green pepper over low heat until the onions are yellow.
- Scrape into the pot, simmer for a few minutes, then scrape in tomatoes, potatoes, and spices, and simmer until the potatoes are tender.
- Add the cabbage and simmer until it has the consistency you like - crunchy or soft.
- In the meantime, chop the garlic, dill, and pork fat (or bacon) in the food processor, whisk in the yoghurt at the end.
- When the cabbage is the way you like it, add tomato paste and the garlic-dill-fat mixture.
- Return the pot to a simmer, then cover the pot, turn the heat off, and let the flavors mingle for at least 30 minutes.
- When ready to serve, ladle into bowls and top the soup with a dollop of sour cream on top.