Borscht is the quintessential Eastern European soup that is most often associated with Russian and Ukrainian cuisine. There are many variations: it can be made with beef or with pork, and with or without tomatoes or tomato paste. The two ingredients borscht always has are beets and cabbage. Beets give this soup its striking rich crimson color. In North America, borscht is somehow regarded as a meatless or even a vegetarian soup. Even though borscht can be made without meat, the taste would not be the same. Meat gives this soup its rich flavor and makes the vegetables taste more mellow. In fact, using pork or beef gives borscht a different taste. Ukrainian borscht is generally made with pork and is richer and fattier, whereas Russian borscht can be made either with pork or with beef, which tends to be leaner. It also helps to have meat with a bone since it makes more flavorful stock. I was always taught that vegetables for borscht should be diced/shredded finely, and in practice, it makes borscht taste more mellow and less cabbage-like. And remember – borscht, like most cabbage-based dishes, tastes better on the next day. Borscht is often served with a dollop of sour cream and a slice of Borodinskiy bread.
RECIPE: CLASSIC BORSCHT
Makes 8-10 servings
- ~1 lb (~1/2 lbs) beef or pork, preferably with a bone
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tbsp salt, or to taste
- 3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 3 medium beets, julienned thinly or sliced in matchstick shapes
- 1 small cabbage or 1/2 large cabbage, shreded finely
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 carrot, grated on a coarse grater or diced finely
- 1 can tomato paste
- 1 tbsp vinegar (optional)
- 1 large clove of Russian garlic or 3 cloves regular garlic, crushed
1. Place meat, 1 tbsp salt, and bay leaves into a large pot. Add ~3 L of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for ~45 minutes, skimming off foam periodically.
2. Meanwhile, peel and cube potatoes.
3. Peel and julienne beats or grate on a coarse grater. Finely shred cabbage.
4. When stock is ready, remove meat from broth. Remove 1 cup of broth and set aside. Add potatoes and beets to the stock and cook on medium-low for ~10 minutes. Add cabbage and cook for a further 15 minutes.
4. Chop meat into bite-size pieces when cool enough to handle.
5. Meanwhile, peel and dice onion. Peel and grate carrot on a course grater. Add enough oil to a frying pan to coat the bottom, add onions and carrots and saute on medium-high stirring often, until onions are soft and golden. Add to soup. Remove soup from heat.
6. Mix together 1 can of tomato paste, 1 tbsp vinegar (if using), and the reserved 1 cup of broth. Add back to the soup. Add the remaining 1 tbsp of salt (or to taste).
7. After the soup has cooled down, add crushed garlic. Borscht always tastes better the next day after the flavors are mellowed and developed. Borscht will keep up to a week in the fridge.