Across much of Eastern Europe, Borscht is seen in family kitchens and on menus, served usually hot as a comforting winter soupy stew, Borscht while very important in Polish and Russian cuisine, is thought to have originated in Ukraine, with Borscht coming from the Ukrainian term for cow parsnip, quite a bitter root vegetable replaced with beet growing over time. You will see it spelt borsh, borscht, borsch depending where it’s from and the ‘t’ ending is thought to come from the Yiddish spelling with Jewish people fleeing Germany and heading east, leading up to and during the second world war.
From the recipes I’ve researched over the years since tasting the delicious one my Russian friend made for her little one and mine when he was over having a play once upon a time, I’ve gravitated towards the Ukrainian style that tends to involve a broader range of veggies and be a little more complex with the addition of a hint of tomato.
This is a brilliant soup to be flexible with, depending on what you have in the fridge, too, so it really is frugal cooking at its best. I saw the incredible team at World Central Kitchen – “Wherever there is conflict or disaster, we are there” doing incredible work feeding Ukrainian refugees during the impossible time of the invasion of their country, and they were making borscht in huge vats to feed 4000 people that day alone. If you have spare money to donate to their efforts, you can do that here. Chef Jose Andrés founded WC Kitchen and they serve people affected by conflict and natural disasters all around the world. It’s an incredible story and I always say if you can’t be there to roll your sleeves up, help the good people on the ground who are, to do their work.
Anyway, I’ve made borscht weekly over the past month since the invasion started and quite a few other delicious Ukrainian recipes in an effort to keep their culture alive in my own small way with my family and friends, so we’ve done their delicious potato cakes “deruni”, and the Ukrainian version of our beloved Polish Golabki “Golubtsi”, cottage cheese pancakes “syrniki, honey biscuits – they don’t shy away from carbs, I’ll tell you that much! Hehe.
So I’ve made an effort, after being asked about my recipe, to write what I do out. Note it’s mostly like the below. Sometimes I don’t have cabbage or any celery, or sometimes my parsley bush ain’t very bushy and I don’t have much for garnish… please do your approximate version. It will turn out delicious, I promise.
I made a big serving of it for a Ukrainian refugee who’d just arrived in Australia with her 8-year-old son last week, who are staying with a family down the road. I also made some of our favourite Polish Cziasteczka biscuits as I’d run out of honey for the Ukrainian biscuits we have tried and loved and it felt so meaningful to be able to give in this way directly to someone impacted. We can always do something, even small and if you can’t do this, then world central kitchen is a great donation avenue for us all.
Any Eastern Europeans in our community, feel free to chime in with variations in your family recipes. I’ve loved reading lots of tales of grandmas teaching daughters and granddaughters how to make this staple and then subsequent generations making it their own.
Enjoy this hearty, comforting dish and let me know how you go,
- 1 French Oven Pot Large enamel stock pot
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped (purple, brown or white, whatever you can easily obtain)
- 1/2 cup fine sliced celery
- 1/2 cup fine diced carrot
- 1 bunch parsley stalks, fine chopped (save leaves for garnish see garnish below)
- 750 g chuck steak, beef shin or osso bucco, cut into 1.5 inch/3-4 cm sized chunks - include bones in the cooking.
- 2 bay leaves - dried or fresh
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
- 700 g beet, peeled and chopped into 1-2 cm chunks
- 1/2 cup pureed fresh tomato (or passata if out of season)
- 750 ml water
- 250 ml vegetable, chicken or beef stock
- 1 cup roughly chopped cabbage - light or purple is fine
- 2 medium potatoes peeled and diced into 1cm chunks
- 2 tsp tapioca or corn flour (optional, for thickening the liquid if you prefer)
- 1-2 tsp salt and pepper to taste Remember: You can't wish you hadn't put too much so do a 1/4 tsp at a time until you have the perfect taste
- 1 cup sour cream for 1 big tablespoon topping each serve
- 1 bunch parsley - leaves fine chopped fir garnish. I also like using chives or many Ukrainian recipes call for a little fresh dill to garnish, too.
- Place your olive oil, onions, carrot, celery and parsley stalks all into your pot and turn the temp up to medium/hot to get it sizzling
- Sauté these for 4-5 minutes until fragrant and soft and then add in your beef chunks and 1 tsp sea salt and toss around until sealed on the outside of the chunks and you can't see raw meat (about 5 minutes more)
- Add next the beets, bay leaves, smashed garlic cloves, tomato puree, water and stock and turn the heat down to low and place the lid on top. Let it slowly bubble away for 2 hours.
- Add the potato chunks and cabbage and cook for a further 30 minutes or until the meat is fall-apart tender and potato fully cooked. If there isn't enough liquid to have it be quite soupy you can add another cup of stock or water at this point.
- To finish, add tapioca or corn flour if you're wanting to thicken it a little, and now is the time to stir in any more salt and some freshly cracked pepper, to taste. Turn off the heat after 1-2 minutes - you're done!
- Ladle into your serving bowls for family or guests and top with a big dollop of sour cream and fine chopped parsley leaf, chives or dill. Enjoy!