I realize I am posting a very controversial recipe today. Borsch is quite popular in most Eastern and Central European countries. Every home cook back home has their own borsch recipe so I am just asking you to keep an open mind.
Traditionally, borsch is made with beef or pork broth, and is very hearty. Beets are the star ingredient and lend borsch its signature bright-red color. Other ingredients that can be added include potatoes, onions, carrots, red bell peppers, cabbage, tomatoes, beans, and even mushrooms. In Belarus and Ukraine, salo (slabs of fatback identical to Italian lardo) is a common ingredient and flavor enhancer. It is usually finely chopped and made into a paste with garlic and salt. This mixture is then added to borsch right after it is removed off the heat. Borsch is typically served with sour cream and rye bread, but may also be served with pampushki (small hot breads dipped in the same garlic and salo mixture).
The recipe I am posting today is not a family one. To tell you the truth, I much disliked borsch when I was a kid. Hence, I don’t remember exactly how it was made in my family. A few things I do remember clearly though: my parents always used meaty beef bones to make stock from scratch, sliced the meat into the cooked borsch later, and coarsely grated beets and carrots (some people prefer to cut both into matchsticks). Cabbage was also added, and it was the ingredient I couldn’t stand at that time. Finally, borsch was eaten with a generous spoonful of sour cream and a handful of chopped fresh dill.
I made a meatless recipe, mostly because I was too lazy to go to a Whole Foods and ask for some beef bones as they are not commonly sold in the States. Instead, I used half beef stock and half water combo. I added cabbage, which I now love, and white kidney beans but you can add red ones instead. The onion-carrot-bell pepper mixture reminded me of Italian soffritto, which was part of a recipe here. I made my garlic mixture with sunflower oil instead of salo. Using a rubber spatula, I scrubbed it all into the finished borsch, spooned some broth into the small bowl I was using to make it, and then whirled the broth around to let it pick up all the garlicky bits that were leftover.
This recipe makes a very large pot. However, it is widely believed that borsch tastes better the next day or even in three days. With the weather getting cooler in Boston, it will be nice to come home to a bowl of hearty and flavorful borsch on Tuesday!
- 1 quart beef stock
- 1 quart and 2 cups of water
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 whole black peppercorns
- 2 medium beets
- 2 Tbsp vinegar
- 1 medium white onion
- 2 medium carrots
- 1/2 bell pepper
- 1 Tbps tomato paste
- 2 medium potatoes
- 1/2 small cabbage
- 1 (15 oz) can white kidney beans, drained and washed
- 2 medium garlic cloves
- sunflower oil
- salt, freshly ground black pepper
- bunch of fresh dill
- sour cream for serving
In a large sauté pan, heat some sunflower oil. Wash, peel, and coarsely grate the beets. Sauté the grated beets on medium heat for about 5 minutes, then add some salt, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, and a cup of water. Cover the pan and cook on medium-low heat for 20 minutes. (The vinegar helps preserve the bright-red color in the beets)
In the meantime, dice the onions, coarsely grate the carrots, and finely slice the bell pepper. Heat some oil in a medium sauté pan and add the veggies in the following order: onions – carrots – bell pepper. Cook the veggies on medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 12 minutes. Add a tablespoon of tomato paste and cook for 2 or 3 more minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large pot, combine the beef stock and the water and bring to a boil. Add the bay leaves and the peppercorns. Peel and cube the potatoes and add them to the boiling broth. Finely shred the cabbage and add it to the broth once it comes back to a boil again. Add the beets, onion and carrot mixture, and beans. Cover and simmer on low for 10 minutes.
While borsch is cooking, press a couple cloves of garlic into a small bowl. Add some salt and work it into a paste with a pestle or the back of a spoon. Add a tablespoon of sunflower oil and mix well.
Remove borsch off the heat , add garlic and oil mixture and a couple of sprigs of fresh dill. Cover and let the pot sit for 20 more minutes to let the flavors meld. Remove the dill sprigs and the bay leaves (you may be tempted to remove the peppercorns but I say good luck with that!)
Serve hot with sour cream and chopped fresh dill.