Borscht: Would you like vodka with that?



The bowl of borscht pictured above is not a soup. At least, it is not a soup unless you want it to be. Borscht can be served as a hearty stew and as a cold gazpacho-like drink. It’s your call.

However you serve it, borscht is terrific tasting. Beet borscht is boldly beautiful in the bowl, too. (Try to say that fast–preferably not while you have a mouthful of borscht lest you end up trying to scrub beet stains off your dinner guests.)

We’re most familiar with the beet version of borscht but there are a number of variations—sorrel borscht, rye borscht, cabbage borscht—not to mention dozens of different toppings ranging from apples to zucchini to beans to hard-boiled eggs.

Borscht has ancient origins in the Mediterranean but in more recent times has come to be associated with Eastern Europe and Russia. The Ukraine, where the most iterations of borscht are served, claims it as its national soup and many Ukrainians get downright testy when someone refers to beet borscht as a “Russian” dish.  (Do we have a national soup? Just curious.)

In fact, there is a profound reverence for borscht among Ukrainians. Here, for example,  is Ukrainian chef Sasha Pogrebinsky’s paean to her mother’s borscht, “…When she prepares it the lovely fresh scent of beets and dill and cabbage slowly stewing and brewing spreads like a sweet cunning song of a siren through the high ceilings and hallways of our house in Cleveland, entering all the rooms, going up and down the stairs, spinning like a miraculous cloud in those high ceilings. Everything that is good on this Earth is in borscht.”

Originally borscht was made with hogweed stems that were fermented for several days and then added to the borscht. The fermented hogweed gave the soup/drink/stew a sour flavor with the pickled hogweed tasting like something between beer and sauerkraut. Later, it became common to make the soup with pickled beets. Many modern cooks give the soup a sour pop by adding ingredients like lemon juice, vinegar, a generous dollop of sour cream or by substituting sauerkraut for the fresh cabbage called for in many recipes.

A glass of borscht is also sometimes given an extra kick by adding a shot of iced vodka. (Those Ukrainians know how to party!)

This recipe serves ten, but don’t let that put you off. Like women, borscht gets better as it ages.

This is my adaptation of a recipe for Ukrainian Red Borscht Soup from the AllRecipes site. The link to the original recipe appears at the end of this post.

Recipe: Borscht
3 medium beets (peeled and shredded)
3 carrots (peeled and shredded)
3 medium baking potatoes (peeled and cubed)
1 T. vegetable oil
1 medium onion (chopped)
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
3/4 C. water
1/2 medium head of cabbage (cored and shredded)
1 8-oz. can diced tomatoes (drained)
3 cloves garlic (minced)
salt and pepper to taste
1 t. white sugar (or to taste)
1/2 C. sour cream (for topping)
1 T. chopped fresh parsley or a sprig of dill for garnish

Bring 2 quarts water to a boil. Add shredded beets and cook in boiling water until the beets have lost their color. Add shredded carrots and cubed potatoes and cook until tender. This will take about 15 minutes. Add shredded cabbage and diced tomatoes. Continue cooking until the cabbage begins to soften.

Meanwhile, heat 1 T. oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and saute until onion is tender. Add tomato paste and water to the sauteed onion and stir until mixed. Transfer the onion-tomato water to the soup pot. Add the minced garlic to the soup and turn off the heat. Let soup stand for 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt, pepper and sugar. Add more water if your borscht is too thick.

Ladel into soup bowls and garnish with sour cream and parsley or dill.

Here is the link to the original recipe from the AllRecipes site:

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