UKRAINE: Red Borscht
With nearly as many variations on the recipe as good old chicken noodle soup, it’s tricky to nail down an “official” borscht (also called borsch) recipe. Only a few things are certain: borscht contains beets and Ukrainians claim that this popular Eastern European soup comes from Ukraine. This version is an amalgam of recipes found all over the interwebs and in various cookbooks.
For a fun history of Borscht and its effect on Ukrainians, take a gander at THIS blog posting. And to keep it traditional, consider sipping on ice-cold vodka while cooking and eating.
Let’s get started shall we? My afternoon sous chef, Beckett, and I gathered all the ingredients we needed to get ourselves started, turned up the radio and got to it.
- 1.5 pounds pork butt shoulder or boneless beef chuck (I used 2 cuts of osso buco – totally not traditional, I know, but the cuts were reasonably priced and it worked wonderfully)
- 1 Tbsp salt + more to taste
- 4 medium beet roots, washed, peeled and grated
- 3 carrots, grated
- 2 parsnips, grated
- 4 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 Tbsp vinegar
- 1Tbsp sugar
- 2-3 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
- 2 Tbsp minced parsley stems
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 5-6 black peppercorns
- 4 small russet potatoes, washed, peeled, quartered and sliced into 1/4” pieces
- ½ head of green cabbage, sliced very thin
- 4 cups beef broth
- 2 large clove garlic, minced, divided
- 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
- Salt + sugar to taste
- 0.15 – 0.25 lb salted salo*
- 4 sprigs fresh dill
- Garnish: sour cream and lemon wedges
- Cut the meat into 1” pieces and place them in a pot filled with 12 cups cold water and1TBSP of salt. Bring to a boil and skim off any fat/crud on the surface. Reduce heat, partially cover and simmer 45 minutes – 1 hr, periodically skimming off any crud that rises to the top.
- While the meat is cooking, grate beets, carrots and parsnips (keep the beets separate from the carrots and parsnips) on the large grater holes (you can use a food processor if you have one). Prepare all other ingredients – cut potatoes, slice cabbage, dice onions, etc.
- Place the beets in a large heavy-bottom skillet with 4 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp vinegar and sauté for 3 minutes, then reduce heat to med/low and add 1 Tbsp sugar and 2 Tbsp tomato paste. Mix thoroughly and sauté until starting to soften, stirring occasionally (about 10 min). Remove from pan and set aside.
- In the same skillet (do not wash after the beets), sauté onion in 1 Tbsp butter for 2 min. Add grated carrot, parsnip + tomato and sauté another 5 min or until softened, adding more oil if it seems too dry.
- Once the meat has been cooking at least 45 min, skim any crud off the top, scrape marrow out of osso bucco bones, and remove bones and tendon. (Give bones to dogs, if you have them once they’ve cooled to make sure your dog will love you forever and ever.) Place bay leaves, peppercorns and sliced potatoes into the soup pot. Add beef broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 min.
- Add cabbage, sautéed beets, onion, carrots, parsnips and parsley stems. Cook another 10 minutes or until potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork.
- Add chopped parsley and 1 clove of minced garlic then stir them into the soup pot. Immediately cover and remove from heat. (Over-boiling borscht will affect the soup’s color; bringing it from bright magenta to dark brick-red).
- Check for salt and sugar flavors and add more of either if desired.
- Cut the salted salo into small pieces**. Add the remaining minced clove of garlic. Grind them together in a deep bowl with a wooden spoon (or blend in a mini food processor) until it forms a rough paste. Stir into the cooked borscht. Allow to rest for 15-20 minutes before serving so the flavors can meld.
- To serve, top with a tablespoon of sour cream and a small sprig of fresh dill. Serve lemon on the side for those who desire more acidity in their soup.
* Salted Salo is a traditional Eastern European food consisting of cured slabs of fatback. It has little to no meat and is quite similar to Italian lardo. If you cannot find salo or lardo, Trader Joes’ bacon ends and pieces can be used in a pinch by cutting off the meat and using just the fat.
** If possible, ask your butcher to slice the salo, lardo, or bacon into thick bacon slices and store it in the freezer until you are ready to chop it. Chopping frozen fat is easy-peasy.
Once our borscht was simmering away, we were lucky to lure our BFFs (and luckily, neighbors) to join us for our feast which we completed with (a not insignificant amount of) vodka and a salad of quartered tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, fresh dill, and cannolini beans all tossed in sour cream. Oh, and for my oenophile friends, a crisp rosé paired quite nicely with the borscht once we moved away from the vodka.
Enjoy and as they say in Ukraine, Budmo! This means approximately ‘shall we live forever!’ Usually, one person says ‘Budmo!’ and everybody at the table/party answers ‘Hey!’ (the meaning is straightforward). This repeats for up to 3 times depending on the mood of the crowd. Only then, everybody empties their glasses.