January 26, 2015 lyukum

My Borsch

Borsch

[Originally published on August 26, 2014]

Two days ago (08-24-2014), Ukraine celebrated its Independence Day from the Soviet Union. I saw pictures and postings of Ukrainians from all over the world celebrating and supporting their country. Our family members and friends are still living there. Now we are far away from the country of our birth. We may have different opinions about the political and social situation there and what is the best for the country. We feel helpless in the face of violence and conflict ravaging the region. Many of us are driven to make symbolic gestures of solidarity — paint something yellow and blue, wear beautiful traditional Ukrainian clothing with handmade embroidery, or put a sticker that says “Glory to Ukraine!” on our car bumpers. Today, more than on any other day, those of us with roots deeply planted in Ukrainian soil feel connected and cannot help but find ways to express it.

I express my emotions and moods through the food that I prepare. I celebrated the Independence Day of Ukraine by cooking borsch. Partially, I wanted to write this down for my daughter. I wanted her to know how the borsch was cooked in our family in Kharkiv. I also wanted to share how I cook it today with local Texas ingredients.

To read about borsch:
Soup Called Borshch (by Volodymyr Suprunenko)
Borsch — A Quintessential Dish of Ukrainian Cuisine

When I was growing up, I never paid attention how it was cooked by my parents. I only remember the taste and the look of it. Rich, thick and dense, bright red, piping hot, always served with a dollop of a sour cream on top. My father and brother would say: “There is a borsch and there is red soup with beetroots and tomatoes. These are two very different things.”

I also remember a meatless summer version of borsch made by my mother-in-law. When they were younger, my in-laws had their own garden in the countryside. A proud owner of a green thumb, Mama Nina would grow incredible cucumber and tomato “jungles”. They are my one of the most vivid memories of their garden. She used freshly picked beans and young vegetables for her borsch. It was delicious hot or cold. When all the children and grandchildren were visiting, an enormous pot of it would disappear quickly.

The existence of borsch was something I took for granted. I never thought of it as my favorite dish. It was always there, a staple of home cooking, like pot roast or chili soup in America. Then I moved to the states and found myself craving it, like most Ukrainians do when they move abroad. It was then that I started cooking my own version of borsch. It was OK, but… it was, as my brother would say, just “a red soup with beetroots and tomatoes.” When my father and older brother came to visit us in 2005 I finally learned how to cook “The Real” borsch! I am being ironic and completely serious about that last part. My brother and I cooked our borsches side by side. When I tasted his, I realized that he had re-created the taste of my childhood, my homeland. I’ve never again cooked my version since that day. Normally I am very liberal with other ethnic recipes, but I am very serious about what makes red borsch “The Real” borsch. I am so serious about this that in culinary school I refused to follow the “incorrect” recipe provided by our chef instructor. Chef J and I cooked two versions of borsch in our kitchen lab and let the rest of the students taste it. Chef J’s presentation was beautiful, but my borsch won with the better flavor.

You can use any kind of meat or poultry stock for your red borsch. You can make it meatless and base the flavor on mushrooms, beans, or root vegetables. There are variations on how to cook potatoes for the borsch, and whether to use fresh or fermented cabbage. I wouldn’t argue about flavoring the borsch with hot red chilies or salo-n-garlic paste. I like it served with dark rye bread as much as I like with “galushky” dumplings, or garlicky dinner rolls. But I insist on building the flavor of the borsch by cooking beetroots, carrots, and tomatoes with herbs and spices into a concentrated sauce-like essence.

The following recipe is how I cooked my borsch for the Independence Day of Ukraine. It is not by definition traditional or authentic. I have never heard of a traditional borsch with a combination of meat and beans. Normally, they are not used together. I wanted to make a soup with fresh shelled beans from the local farm, and a borsch with beautiful beef shanks I found in HEB. This led to the combination in this particular recipe. They work nicely together, but if you wish to make a meatless version, go for it.

Borsch with Shelled Beans
Borsch
Print Recipe
Prep Time 30min
Cook Time 1hour
Passive Time 40minutes
Servings portions
Borsch
Print Recipe
Prep Time 30min
Cook Time 1hour
Passive Time 40minutes
Servings portions
Ingredients
Units:
main
for the borsch “essence”
Ingredients
Units:
main
for the borsch “essence”
Instructions
for beef stock
  1. You need two meaty beef shanks (~2.5 lbs) for the stock. I use my 3-quart crock-pot to cook it. Add about 2 quarts of cold water to the shanks, cover and turn heat on high. It will start to boil slowly in an hour or so. Turn heat to low and let it simmer for another 3 hours.
    Beef Shanks
  2. Remove the meat and bones from the pot. Strain the stock using non-scented paper towels and refrigerate. Store the meat and the cooked bone marrow separately. (Skip this step if you are making a meatless version or another stock or broth.)
    Beef Stock
main
  1. Measure all the ingredients.
  2. Prepare tomatoes. Bring water to a boil. Score tomatoes and blanch them for 2-3 minutes (depends on variety and their skin). Place them in cold water to cool down. Remove the skin and hard core in tomato center. Puree the rest with 3 cloves of garlic. (Skip this step if using store-bought tomato puree.)
  3. Sautee chopped onions until translucent and aromatic. Add carrots and beetroots. Add some salt and freshly ground black pepper, stir and cook on low heat until soft and fragrant. Allow vegetables to caramelize slightly, to develop their flavors. The taste will depend on how the root vegetables were grown and their variety. If they have retained a lot of their natural sugars, you won’t need to add any sugar later.
  4. Add tomato puree, dry herbs and spices, cover with lid and cook for 15 minutes on low heat. Remove the lid. Continue cooking and stirring until most of the liquid is evaporated. Taste it. Balance the taste with sugar and salt. If tomatoes were not sour enough, you need to add vinegar. The flavor of this mixture is, ideally, very rich and complex. It has to reflect the balanced combination of sourness and sweetness, be sufficiently salty, and capture the earthiness of the root vegetables. It is very important to preserve the intensity of all four of these flavors so that they are still present after the mixture is diluted with the relatively large volume of liquid broth.
  5. In a large pot, mix the cold beef stock (or your alternative cooking liquid) with shelled beans and the sauce you prepared in step 3. Place on high heat and bring to a boiling. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 20 minutes, uncovered.
  6. Taste a bean from the soup. It should be soft, but not mushy. Add cabbage, green onions, and fresh herbs and bring to a boil again.
  7. Dice and mix smoked bacon with garlic. Add it to the boiling borsch and turn the heat off.
  8. A borsch is never ready to serve immediately. All the flavors need a few hours to “marry”. It is will be ready to serve the following day. Smachnogo! (Ukrainian for Bon Appetite!)
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Nutrition Facts
Borsch with Shelled Beans
Amount Per Serving
Calories 138 Calories from Fat 63
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7g 11%
Saturated Fat 2g 10%
Polyunsaturated Fat 3g
Monounsaturated Fat 2g
Cholesterol 8mg 3%
Sodium 1281mg 53%
Potassium 488mg 14%
Total Carbohydrates 14g 5%
Dietary Fiber 3g 12%
Sugars 6g
Protein 6g 12%
Vitamin A 76%
Vitamin C 41%
Calcium 4%
Iron 5%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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