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 colour. 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 flavour 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 flavourful 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.
Makes 8-10 servings
- ~1 lb (~500 g) beef or pork, preferably a single piece
- 2 bay leaves
- salt, to taste
- 3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 3 medium beets, grated or julienned in matchstick shape
- 1/2 small to medium cabbage head, shredded finely
- vegetable oil, small amount for frying
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 carrot, grated on a coarse grater
- 1 small can tomato sauce
- 3 tbsp vinegar
- 2 large cloves of Russian garlic or 3-4 cloves regular garlic
- 1/2 bunch Italian parsley
- sour cream, to serve
1. Place meat, salt, and bay leaves into a large pot. Add ~2 qt (2 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. Grate carrots and dice onion.
4. When stock is ready, remove meat from broth. Add potatoes and beets to the stock and cook on medium-low for ~10 minutes. Add cabbage and beets and cook for a further 15 minutes.
4. Chop meat into bite-size pieces when cool enough to handle.
5. Add enough oil to a frying pan to coat the bottom, add onions and carrots and cook on medium-high, stirring often, until onions are soft and golden and carrots are limp. Add to soup.
6. Add 1 can of tomato sauce and 3 tbsp vinegar to the soup. Stir to mix well. Remove soup from heat.
7. Crush garlic lightly with the side of the knife and add to the soup. Finely chop parsley and add to the soup as well. Serve with a tablespoon of sour cream.
Keep in mind that borscht always tastes better the next day, after the flavors have mellowed and developed. Borscht will keep up to a week in the fridge.