Borsht (or borshch)

more borscht
Russian tour friend made this borshch*, and I compared it to my beloved Time/Life Russian book, authors Helen and George Papashvily, 1969, part of the Foods of the World series. Carrots, or no carrots? Pork, or no pork? Sounds like it’s a regional difference. Here’s everything the Time/Life book has to say about this soup. In “the cuisine of the people” chapter:

The head of the house cut the loaf of sour, dark Russian bread into thick slabs and a steaming bowl of borshch, shchi, or ukha was passed around.

… Almost as common as shchi and as inexpensive was borshch, which is based on beets and gets its red color from them. Borshch, like shchi, might contain nothing but beets, a few other vegetables and flavorings. In prosperous households it took in more and more ingredients, including sausages or a variety of meats, and became an elaborate meal in itself.

Often it was hard to tell whether a soup was shchi or borsch. Some women kept a great pot constantly on the stove and tossed into it anything they happened to have on hand. If cabbage predominated, it was shchi, if it showed the red of beets, it was borshch.
(p. 67)

borscht in russia
photo by Patrick Carlisle, borscht as served in Russia Jan 2009

“… Ukrainian borshch, very different Russian borshch.” Ukrainians insist they were the originators of borshch, and since there was a Kiev when Moscow was a “wheel track in the forest” they may be right. Actually, the question of who may justly claim the first- or, for that matter the best- borshch may never be answered, for there are now more versions than can be counted or tasted.

In general, Ukrainian borshch can be distinguished from Russian by the presence of tomatoes, pork as well as beef, and a greater variety of vegetables including garlic. But we must have enjoyed half a dozen different kinds of borshch while we were in the Ukraine [ed. fyi, authors are Georgian]– meatless ones made with mushrooms, a borshchok with almost no vegetables other than beets, poltava borshch with fowl, borshch made with young beets and their green tops, and a clear borshch with the fat and vegetables removed.

“In the Ukraine borshch is most frequently eaten without any accompaniment, but a plate of pyrizhky- was generally shared.”

“Peeling potatoes, Khristina Djima of the Ilyich Collective farm near Kiev begins the preparation of Ukrainian borshch for dinner: among hte other ingredients in her version of soup are the beets, cabbage, carrots, onions, garlic, pork fat, bay leaves and sour cream. “

Recipe for Moscow Borshch

2 T butter
1/2 C chopped onions
1 1/2 lbs beets, peeled, cut into strips 1/8th wide and 2 inches long
1/4 C red wine vinegar
1 t sugar
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded coarsely chopped
2 t salt
fresh ground black pepper
2 quarts beef stock
1/2 lb white cabbage, quartered, cored and coarsely shredded
1/4 lb boiled ham, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/4 lb all beef frankfurters, cut into 1/2 iinch rounds
1 lb boiled brisket from stock, cut in 1 inch cubes
4 sprigs parsely tied together with 1 bay leaf

1/2 c finely fresh cut dill or chopped parsley
1 C sour cream

In a 6 to 8 quart pot, melt the butter over moderate heat. Add the onions and, stirring frequently, cook 3 to 5 minutes, or until they are soft but not brown. Stir in the beets, then add the wine vinegar, sugar, chopped tomatoes, 1 t salt and few grindings of black pepper. Pour in 1/2 cup of the stock, cover hte pan and simmer undisturbed for 50 minutes.

Pour the remaining stock into he pot and add the chopped cabbage. Bring to boil, then stir in the ham, frankfurters and beef. Submerge the tied parsley and bay leaf in the soup, add another teaspoon of salt, and simmer, partially covered for 1/2 hour.

Transfer the borshch to a large tureen and sprinkle with fresh dill or parsley. Accompany the soup with a bowl of sour cream, to be added to the borshch at the discretion of the diner.

* “borshch” is the spelling of the Time/Life book, “borscht” seems to be the accepted spelling in America of the Russian борщ which is phonetically spelled (b-o-r-shch), “a sh followed by a ch.”