Sunday, September 22, 2013

Authentic Ukrainian Borsch

Ok, hold up.  Before you scroll past this one, let me clear a few things up.

First -- real Ukrainian borsch is NOT beet soup.  It's true that beets are one ingredient in the borsch.  It is NOT the main ingredient.  There are more carrots and potatoes both than beets.  The final
product does not taste like beets.  In fact, I love Ukrainian borsch and I don't even like beets.  So if you are tempted to skip this because beets are not your favorite, do not be afraid.

Second -- there is no T in "borsch".  It's like caffeine in Sprite -- never had it, never will.

Third -- true Ukrainian borsch is not purple (allegedly from the beets).  See point one.  It's more of a reddish color,  which is more due to the tomato paste than the beets.

Forth-  there is no ONE recipe for authentic borsch.  It's like grandma's chocolate chip cookie recipe or chicken noodle soup recipe.  Every babushka has their own little tweaks and additions, and no other borsch ever quite measures up to babushka's.   Ordering it at a restaurant is almost always disappointing.  

This particular recipe was taught to me many years ago a few months after I moved to Ukraine.  I was staying at a seminary building attached to a church, and the kitchen ladies that cooked for the seminary students showed me how to make borsch one afternoon.  We didn't have many words we understood between us, but I watched and took notes and since that day, I have made many pots of borsch.

And this is how it's done....

The Step-By-Step

Prep the Veggies,  Heat the Water 

Before you get going on all of your veggie-chopping, go ahead and throw your broth on the stove to boil.  
While you are getting out your pot, go ahead and get out a frying pan and heat up 5 or 6 tablespoons of oil in it.  (I know -- that seems like a lot, but you are cooking authentic Ukrainian here, you have to use lots of oil).

Now, first you need to shred your carrots and beets.  Here's a tip if you aren't very familiar with beets -- you may want to protect your cutting board / countertop somehow if you don't want it permanently stained purple.  I just put foil down underneath while I'm shredding.  Yes, your hands turn pink too, but it wears off pretty fast.

You are also going to need onion chopped, potato cubed, garlic minced and cabbage shredded, so go ahead and get that going.  Put on some music, do a little kitchen dancing, and just get it all out of the way at once. Then you can be like the guys on the cooking shows and just dump everything in from neat little bowls in pre-measured amounts.  Or not.  

Make sure you get your cabbage really fine, big chunks of cabbage is a dead giveaway that you are an amateur borsch-maker.  Because, you know, you don't want the Borsch Police pegging you as an amateur.

Saute veggies and boil potatoes 

So now you take your carrots, beets, and onions, and dump them in that frying pan with the hot oil.  

Like this.  Stir it up a little, to coat everything with the oil, and then just keep cooking and stirring on med-high heat in between your moon-walk and electric slide (I know you're listening to 80's music, right?).

Have you been keeping an eye on that broth?  Boiling yet?  Once it's boiling, go ahead and toss the potatoes in.

Now your frying-pan mixture should look like this.  Kind of all wilted together.

Now we add the secret ingredient:  tomato paste!  It's what makes the soup that reddish color.  NOT the beets.  Throw a couple of large glops of tomato paste on there and stir it into the frying-pan mixture.  Let it cook for a couple of minutes just to get it all nice and steeped in the tomato paste.

Put it All Together

Now add the contents of the frying pan as well as the shredded cabbage to the pot with the potatoes.  At this point, you can also add meat if you'd like, cubed pork is the most common option.  It's best with meat, but can go without.  

Simmer awhile.  Maybe 15-20 minutes, until the cabbage is limp and the potatoes are completely cooked.

Mince your garlic.  Don't skimp on this -- this adds so much to the flavor.  The Ukrainian lady who showed me how to make borsch was very strict on this point -- the garlic must be added at the end -- you don't want all that good flavor to boil away.

Now add the garlic and the canned beans to the soup.  Simmer 5 more minutes.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and the most garlicky rolls you can find.
Mmmmm.  Perfect.

The Recipe


12 cups chicken broth
5 Tablespoons oil
3 cups shredded carrots
1 1/2 cups shredded beets
1 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 cups shredded cabbage
3 cups cubed potato
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
4 cloves garlic
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
Optional: 2 cups cubed pok
Optional: 1 red bell pepper, chopped
Sour cream for garnish

Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a large pot. Place a frying pan with the oil in it on med-high heat on the stove.

Add carrots, beet, and onion to the hot oil.  Saute, stirring occasionally, until limp.

Once the broth is boiling, add the potatoes to the broth.

Add tomato paste to the carrot mixture in the frying pan.  Stir and cook 5 minutes more.

Add carrot mixture and cabbage to the broth.  Turn heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until cabbage is limp and potatoes are cooked through.

Add beans and garlic to the borsch, simmer 5 minutes more.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream in each bowl.

Options:  You can add a red bell pepper, chopped, in with the onions.
You can also add 2 cups cubed pork into the borsch along with the cabbage.