With Ukraine in the news and heavy on my mind, it’s a good time to post a recipe for one of the iconic meals of the region, Ukrainian Borscht. This is a simple recipe with vegetables in beef stock. Yet, borscht can be made in a myriad of ways and has been over the centuries. With meat or without, its profile rose from simple Ukrainian peasant food made with fermented cow-parsnips, sometime between the 5th and 9th centuries, to soup fit for a king, or a tsar, I should say.
Ukrainian borscht spread throughout eastern Europe, including Russia and, eventually, to much of the world. Ashkenazi Jews brought red borscht to the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Each region and culture adapted the sour soup to the vegetables and/or meat on hand and their own personal tastes. Borscht can be red, green, or white. It can have tomatoes or not and served hot or cold. Fermented beets create the sourness in the soup. Vinegar or lemon make for a viable and speedy fermentation substitute. Tomatoes add some tang. Cabbage and carrots add sweetness. Want more sweetness? Add a little sugar. Chop, slice, shred or pulverize the vegetables in a blender. There is really no wrong way to make borscht. So, feel free to experiment.
How to make Ukrainian Borscht
For this Ukrainian Borscht recipe, start with a quick stock. You can use commercially prepared or homemade beef or chicken stock or you can do as I did and make a quick broth by braising a beef shank and then simmering it with three bay leaves for an hour. This, in itself, while relatively quick, makes a fairly bland broth. So, after skimming the scum from the top of the water, add a couple beef bullion cubes to pump it up. It tastes great.
While the shank simmers, prepare the vegetables. Start with the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. Peel and chop the onion fairly small, slice and chop the celery into about 1/4 inch thick pieces. Mince the garlic, then peel and slice the carrots into 1/4 inch thick coins. Peel the beets and shred or julienne. Core and slice the cabbage about 1/4 inch thick and chop into bite-sized pieces. Lastly, peel and cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces, as well.
Sauté the carrots, onion, and celery in butter until the onions soften. Then add the garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds. Then add the tomato paste and brown for about 10 seconds.
When the beef shank has cooked for an hour, remove it from the broth, pick any meat off the bone and put it back in the pot. Skim any scum off the top of the broth and add the carrot, onion, celery, and garlic mixture to the broth, along with the beets and rest of the vegetables.
Flavor it Up
Next, add the flavorings – salt, pepper, vinegar, and sugar. Be sure to taste the broth and adjust the flavorings to your liking. Simmer on low heat until all the vegetables have softened, about 20 to 30 minutes. Then, turn off the heat and allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove bay leaves and serve with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkled with fresh dill along with some rye bread or a bit of crusty sourdough. Enjoy the juxtaposition of flavors, sweet, salt, sour, and tangy in this healthy, hearty, and fulfilling soup that you’re sure to make again and again. And, be sure to check the notes on the recipe card for some ideas for variations.
Have you tried this recipe? Be sure to rate it on the recipe card. If you have any comments or questions, leave them below. I do my best to get you the answers you need.
Something else you might like: Really Good Gumbo.
Nutritional information is approximate based on online calculators.