Seriously Simple: Ukrainian borscht is comfort in a bowl
Given the times we are living in, I want to share one of my most treasured cold-weather recipes with you. Preparing this helps me to send prayers to those Ukrainians who are suffering so much. It may not be as good as serving it to them, but it helps me to feel closer to them at this time.
Years ago, I was introduced to a cabbage, beet and beef borscht by a doctor friend of mine who claimed it was “the real Ukrainian borscht.” I took the doctors recipe and reworked it into this one-pot meal. It is a welcoming bowl of comfort, which we all could use right now.
It is said that beets are what separates other borscht recipes from this Ukraine soup. I’ve also been told that another version uses sauerkraut instead of cabbage to add a fermented flavor to the soup.
This classic Ukrainian soup reimagined is wonderful as a main dish for company as well as family. I like the added vinegar and brown sugar to bring the sweet and sour flavors together. I’m not sure that is authentic, but I can attest to just how delicious and satisfying it is. Make the soup up a day or two ahead of serving, as the soup improves when all the flavors meld together.
Feel free to add a cut up white or red potato or two to the soup. Serve it with big chunks of warm country bread and soft butter. A glass of a red Rhone varietal or a chilled mug of beer is my choice to accompany this soup.
Quick tip: Your hands and cutting boards can stain with the beets. To avoid red hands and stained cutting boards, use kitchen gloves and place a piece of plastic wrap or foil on the cutting board. If you find beet stains on your cutting board, use a little bleach cleanser and the stains will come out.
Ukrainian Borscht Reimagined
Serves 8 to 10
- 6 medium beets, cleaned and trimmed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 3 pounds stewing beef, like chuck, cut into bite-size pieces, about 1 1/2-inches
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1 (16-ounce) can diced tomatoes, well drained
- 1 medium head green cabbage, cored and coarsely shredded
- 10 cups water
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 6 sprigs fresh dill weed
- 5 tablespoons good quality red wine vinegar
- 1/3 cup brown sugar plus 1 tablespoon
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup sour cream, for garnish
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill weed or Italian parsley, for garnish
1. Cover the beets with an inch of water in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until fork tender. Remove the beets from the pan, reserving 2 cups of the beet juice and place them in a colander. Run under cold running water and peel. Cut the beets on a cutting board into 3/4-inch pieces and reserve.
2. In a 6-quart Dutch oven or soup pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil on medium-high heat. Brown the meat in batches, making sure not to crowd the meat, for about 5 to 7 minutes for each batch. Add more oil if needed. Reserve the beef.
3. Add the remaining oil and saute the onions and carrots for about 6 to 8 minutes or until nicely softened and lightly browned.
4. Add the 2 cups of the beet juice, reserved beef, tomatoes, cabbage, water, tomato paste and dill weed to the vegetables, making sure to scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer, partially covered, over medium heat and cook for 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is tender when pierced with a fork.
5. Add the reserved beets, vinegar, brown sugar, salt, and pepper and simmer 5 more minutes. Taste for seasoning. You may need to adjust the sweet and sour flavoring to your taste.
6. Ladle borscht into deep soup bowls and garnish with sour cream and a sprig of dill weed or parsley.
(Diane Rossen Worthington is an authority on new American cooking. She is the author of 18 cookbooks, including “Seriously Simple Parties,” and a James Beard Award-winning radio show host. You can contact her at www.seriouslysimple.com.)