It’s National Homemade Soup Day—plus Valentines Day is coming up—so I’m posting my Ukrainian family’s recipe for borscht, a beautiful red soup. I first shared this recipe with my newsletter readers a couple of years ago in mid-November. In the course of putting my kitchen garden to bed that fall, I had finally harvested the beets that were interplanted among my tomatoes. I got 6 pounds of beets and a big bunch of beet tops. The secret to using beet greens, by the way, is to treat them like Swiss chard. They look the same and taste the same! You could use beet greens to make Swiss Chard Tortilla Española with my mom’s recipe that I’ve already posted.
The secret to using beet greens is to treat them like Swiss chard. They look the same and taste the same!The Gardener Wife
Anyway, what’s a Ukrainian girl going to do with all those beets? Make borscht, of course! And salads—I like roasted beets in salads with things like mandarin oranges and goat cheese. I roasted some of the beets for salads and boiled the rest. Then I peeled them all and froze them. Thus most of the prep work was already done.
Here is my recipe for borscht. My mom used to make both red borscht and green borscht for my Ukrainian dad. I always liked the red borscht better. When Mom was still alive, I combined two versions of her recipe—one given to my sister Ann and one given to me—with comments from Mom and Ann to come up with this recipe. My mom, like many great cooks, did not use recipes, so she said something different everytime I asked her about making borscht. This is really more of a guideline than a recipe. Isn’t that how all soups are?
Mary Slobodian’s Ukrainian Borscht
5 pints chicken, pork, or beef *stock (see note)
1 small head cabbage, shredded
1 large jar pickled beets, undrained, OR 1-2 pounds *beets (see note)
1 potato, shredded
1-2 carrots, shredded
1 onion, finely chopped
½ stalk celery, finely chopped [optional]
meat (chicken or other meat reserved from making stock)
1 bunch parsley, chopped
5-6 cloves of garlic, minced
white vinegar, to taste (1/2 to 1 cup or more)
STOCK: Borscht is often made with beef stock, but both Mom and Ann prefer chicken stock. Ann says, “we like to boil the chicken or some pork (bone in) with some bay leaf. When it falls off the bone…strain it to use the broth for the borscht and use the meat to add to the soup. We do this almost every time we make it…rather than using just broth.” But Mom says she would not use any bay leaves. She says to chop all the vegetables for the borscht while boiling a whole, uncut chicken for an hour. Then pull the meat off the bones and reserve it. I usually use my homemade chicken stock from the freezer.
BEETS: This recipe used to call for fresh beets, but now Mom prefers using pickled beets, juice and all. Ann says cut back on vinegar then, but Mom says don’t. You could use fresh or pickled beets or a combination of both.
OTHER INGREDIENTS: Like any soup recipe, you can vary the ingredients somewhat according to your taste and what you have available. If you have any other vegetables from your garden or the farmers market which you’d like to use, go ahead and add them. The original recipe Mom gave us included tomatoes and several ingredients that I don’t remember ever being in the Slobodian kitchen—rutabaga, leek, turnip, and parsnip. When I first made borscht for Mom in Ann’s kitchen, she requested several things NOT in the recipe—red onion, red bell pepper, and mushrooms. Perhaps these were things she just had a taste for at that time. The next time I was in town and made it for her, she wanted me to add canned peas and mushrooms even though I was making the regular red borscht, not green borscht. I’ve put her Green Borscht recipe at the bottom of this post in case you’re interested.
- While cooking stock, wash vegetables and peel them. The easiest way to peel beets is to cook them first and then rub the skin off with a paper towel. Always wear gloves when handling beets, or they will turn your hands red. Grate the beets, potato, and carrots. I recommend a food processor when making a big batch. When I made this in Ann’s kitchen with Mom watching, she said to skip the grating and just slice/chop everything. It just depends on what kind of texture you want for your soup.
- Put the stock in a large saucepan and add vegetables. Keep back some of the beets for coloring. This excellent tip came from Ann: adding grated beets at the end gives the borscht a brighter red color.
- Bring to boil; then cover and simmer until vegetables are soft, about 50 minutes or so.
- At the end, after vegetables are cooked, add the reserved meat. Chop the parsley and garlic into a cup or small bowl; add vinegar. Add this vinegar mixture to the soup and take it off the heat. This finishing touch is very important to Mom. She repeated it many times! However, because of her allergies, I skipped the garlic when I made it for her. I did not cut back on the vinegar. It tasted WONDERFUL!
Add the reserved grated beets 10 minutes before serving to give the borscht a deep, red color.
TO SERVE: Add a dollop of sour cream to each bowl and eat with a hearty black bread.
Sour cream is essential to Ukrainians. My parents always used the Ukrainian word for it, сметана (pronounced smetana), so I had to read the container to learn its English name. “Sour cream” sounded so strange to me that I hesitated to use it until I heard someone else call it that. I used to mix it into my bowl of borscht, so the red soup would turn pink. Nowadays, I try to put a cool bit of sour cream on every spoonful as I eat it.
(from original recipe Mom gave me)
Replace the beets with one can sweet peas and one can mushrooms. Replace parsley with chopped fresh dill. It is also delicious. —Mom
My dad would say it’s дуже смачно (duzhe smachno), very tasty. He did not grow beets—at least I don’t remember his growing them. But I love that I can make his favorite soup now with beets from my own garden. I hope you’ll try it with whatever kind of beets you can get. It’s wonderful to heat up a bowl of borscht after working outside in the garden or on any cold day!