A few days ago we got the little glossy magazine that our electric company sends out each month. The magazine always includes some recipes that people have submitted. This issue was all soup recipes, and one of them was for Ukrainian Borscht. My husband frequently mentions that he enjoyed borscht growing up. This is new to my wheel house, but I love beets and all of the other ingredients in the soup so I decided to try it. I found a recipe in one of my Jewish cookbooks, googled more recipes, and finally came up with a meld of several recipes including the borscht in our electric company magazine. I called my sister-in-law to see if she remembered how my mother-in-law made hers, but she said, at the time, she didn’t take an interest in the cooking. I think we all wish we had taken more interest and made notes on how our mothers and grandmothers prepared some of our favorite dishes. Borscht is a sour soup common to Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. It is often liked to Jews, the group that first brought it to this country from Europe. Borscht comes directly from Yiddish as the dish was first popularized here by Yiddish speaking Ashkenazi Jews. I don’t find mine to be very sour so I did a little research to see where the “sour” comes from in the references. Apparently the tart taste is traditionally obtained by adding beet sour to the soup. And beet sour is made by covering sliced beets with lukewarm preboiled water and allowing bacteria to ferment some of the sugars. The liquid becomes viscous. This process takes 2-5 days. The liquid is then strained and added to the soup near the end of the cooking time so as to not let the sour dissipate. No beet sour in my soup, and my mother-in-law probably did not use it either. Instead I added the juice of one lemon.
The soup can be served hot or cold, and the list of accompaniments is seemingly endless…from rye bread to hard boiled eggs, to boiled potatoes, to pierogis. This soup can be made vegetarian by using a vegetable broth, or by preparing a broth with beef, pork, fish, or a bone broth. Polish Christmas Eve borscht is ladled over dumplings made from pasta dough and filled with meat. Russian borscht might be served with round, cheese-filled tarts or small pancakes with cheese mixed into the batter. In East Slavic countries “memorial borscht” is served as the first course of funeral dinners. So many traditions are associated with this dish and several ethnic groups claim this as their own national dish. The history of borscht, as well as many other ethnic dishes that have been around for centuries, is very interesting.
I made a meat broth for my soup base by cooking pork ribs with half of a large onion (skin on), carrots, celery, and bay leaves. The broth simmered for a couple of hours. I strained the broth, shredded the meat, and discarded the vegetables. You can choose to use canned meat or vegetable broth or make your own.
8 cups of broth
5-6 medium size beets peeled and diced
1 large onion diced
3-4 cloves of garlic minced
1-2 carrots shredded
2 potatoes peeled and diced
1/2 head of green cabbage shredded
3 T tomato paste
2 T of butter
Juice of 1 lemon
2 T sugar (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Peel and dice the beets. I wore disposable gloves. You might want to also.
Shred the carrot and dice the onion and mince the garlic.
In a fry pan over medium heat melt 2 T of butter and sweat the carrots, onion, and garlic.
Peel, dice, and rinse the potatoes and shred the cabbage.
Using a large soup pot or a Dutch oven, begin heating your broth over medium heat. Add the shredded meat (if you’re using) and all of the vegetables.
Bring the soup to a boil, reduced the heat, and cover and simmer for about an hour or until all of the vegetables are tender. Add the sugar and lemon juice.
Serve with a dollop of sour cream and fresh dill.
NOTE: You can substitute cider or wine vinegar for the lemon juice. As mentioned, any kind of broth will work including a vegetable broth. Some of the recipes I reviewed suggested shredding the beets but I like more texture in my soups.