Red Borscht (Barszcz Czerwony) – one version of millions

Red Borscht Ukrainian Style


Actually in Polish it is not borscht, it is: Barshch – “sh” like in shame and “ch” like in chocolate or Chekhov

Starting my blog with something different from beetroot? No, I cannot imagine.

Beets are common vegetables not only in Poland but also in the whole Eastern or Central Europe. The climate suits them here or rather there (at the moment I am in Brazil, Sao Paulo). They grow wonderfully and you can store them in the cold winter months without any severe problems, thus they are year round veggies and here I must admit  – personally, I like them a lot. While walking in the Thursday Bio-market in Sao Paulo I can very often hear them asking: take us, take us… I cannot resist, we have beetroot at least once a week.

In Poland, but especially in my family beets are very quickly associated with:

Winter and Christmas, since Barszcz czerwony z uszkami (a clear beetroot soup without or with small mushroom dumplings similar in shape to tortellini not to ravioli like many sources name them) is one of the typical Polish Christmas Eve dishes, however not in every family since it is the family and region dependent
– An early Spring and Eastern with its Ćwikła z chrzanem (beetroot with horseradish) served to charcuterie and boiled eggs.
– Typical Polish side dishes to the meat courses – cold Buraczki z cebulką (beetroot with onion) or hot Buraczki zasmażane (stewed beetroot)
– Salads, especially with herrings
Spring – imagining Botwinka (the young beetroot with their greens soup)
Summer while thinking about Chłodnik litewski (the cold Lithuanian beetroot soup) or Barszcz zabielany z ziemniakami (the beetroot soup with sour cream and potatoes)
Autumn, where Barszcz Ukraiński (Ukrainian Borscht) or Barszcz Wołyński, the rich versions of the beetroot soup with cabbage, tomatoes and beans, takes its lead.

More or less similar dishes you can find in our neighboring countries, too. Very often some dishes originate from those countries, thus their names: Chłodnik litewski (Lithuanian) or Barszcz Ukraiński (Ukrainian). Nowadays however, probably Lithuanians or Ukrainians would argue that we (Polish) have no idea how to cook their dishes and probably they would be right since what we call Lithuanian or Ukrainian is, let’s say, our Polish interpretation of probably, the ancient original recipes adjusted to our tastes and liking. And frankly speaking this is something fascinating about it, in the culinary creations – adjustments. Adjustments that allow dishes evolve, turn and take different forms.

This time I give you one of my interpretations of Barszcz Ukraiński (Ukrainian Borscht) since its final form and taste often depends on what I feel to eat or what I have in my staple. It would be nice to hear how Ukrainians are preparing it nowadays 🙂

Red Borscht Ukrainian Style

3 beetroot, rather big (wrapped in Al-foil and baked in the oven for around 1 h in 180 C)
3l of water
ca. 200g smoked pork ribs (you can use as well beef, it would be even better – smoked or not, just for flavour, you can use more meat if you want it to be more essential or strong but you can as well omit it completely)
2 carrots
1 parsley root (or half of a bunch of parsley stalks with leaves)
5 parsley stalks, leaves picked, for garnish
¼ of small to medium celery bulb (or 1-2 celery stalks with leaves)
1 onion (halved and baked on the dry pan or gas oven – on the fire)
3-5 dried mushrooms (ceps – porcini or similar
1-2 bay leaves
2-3 allspice seeds
1-2 garlic cloves
ca. 500 ml beetroot leaven*
Salt, black pepper, sugar, lemon juice or eventually vinegar to taste
½ of small to medium Savoy or white cabbage (shredded, salted and cooked separately until soft but yet crunchy)
1 glass white beans (soaked overnight and cooked or ready from the can)

* Beetroot leaven (kwas buraczany)
It is necessary to prepare it at least few days earlier so you need more beetroot for that, but you can also omit it and use lemon juice or vinegar or if you are lucky, living in Poland, beetroot concentrate but then please not 500ml! just a bit to your liking. However, if you like to prepare your own beet leaven, just go ahead, it is simple: Put about 5-6 cleaned, peeled and sliced beetroot into a big jar, you can add 1-2 garlic cloves, a tiny bit of salt, pour lukewarm water to cover everything and if you have put as well on top the slice of sourdough bread or a bit sourdough starter. Cover with the clean cloth and set aside in the warm corner of your kitchen. After day or two, remove the bread with the formed foam, cover again and keep few more days to ferment. Strain it and pour into the bottles, close and keep refrigerated. It can last few months. If you use only beetroot and water, the fermentation process will take longer – maybe seven days depending as well on the temperature.

1. Bake the beetroot, peel it, cut into bars, put aside.
2. Put the meat into the cold  water and cook until boiling, add the whole, peeled vegetables, mushrooms and spices apart beets, cabbage, beans and garlic; decrease the heat to the small-medium and cook until carrot is almost cooked but still quite firm.
3. Take the cooked vegetables from the pot, cut them (those you can, the rest discard) into bars or slices and return them to the pot.
4. Add the beetroot, cabbage and beans, cook few minutes on the very low heat, do not boil it, you like to have a soup of a proper colour.
5. Add the beetroot leaven, heat again but do not boil it not to lose the deep colour of the soup.
6. Add finely shredded garlic, if necessary more salt, black pepper and sugar to taste and lemon juice or red wine.
7. Serve alone, with bread or cooked potatoes (you can cook potatoes in the soup too). Usually the next day it tastes even better so enjoy it.