Prep 1 hr 5 mins
Cook 3 hrs 15 mins
Borscht has been claimed to have originated in many countries such as Poland, Lithuaniana, Russia, and other nations (Italy for one!). However, it is thought to have originated back in the fourteenth century in the Ukraine. As you can imagine, the ingredients and methods of preparation vary greatly according to the country, republic, city, or even the cook. However, the staple ingredient is always the luscious red beet that gives the dish its characteristic color and flavor. Even the name borscht derives from the old Slavonic brsh – meaning, of course, “beet”. In the Ukraine, borscht has always been more than just a soup; it usually constituted the mainstay of a family’s whole diet. A proper borscht should include as many as twenty ingredients and should be thick enough for a spoon to stand up in it. Borscht was usually prepared in enormous quantities for the weeks ahead, and the borscht pot sat right in the middle of the dining table. Meat from the borscht was the most desirable ingredient and in times of shortages was strictly distributed according to age and rank. The women who prepared the soup had to be skilled (in the Ukraine, a woman’s domestic qualities are judged by her borscht). We can buy borscht in the groceries but I find it is never like the REAL borscht. Most are just watery versions of beet juice! A proper borscht should include pork or ham and other meats – the more meat, the better. Try making it with beef short ribs or pork ribs, adding some diced ham or smoked kielbasa at the end. Also important for a good borscht, is to prepare the stock and vegetables correctly, strictly observing the proper order in which ingredients are added. Like many of the Slavic soups, borscht should be served with sour cream, added separately but thoroughly mixed in by each diner. Borscht tastes better the next day, so make enough to enjoy the leftovers.
For the Stock
- 1 1⁄2 lbs beef chuck or 1 1⁄2 lbs beef shank or 1 1⁄2 lbs beef flank steak
- 1 meaty ham bone (about 1 pound)
- 2 beef bones with marrow (about 1 pound)
- 3 quarts water
- 1 onion
- 1 carrot, peeled
- 2 medium parsnips, peeled
- 1 stalk celery & leaves
For the Bouquet garni (tied in a cheesecloth bag)
- 3 dill sprigs
- 3 parsley sprigs
- 4 bay leaves
- 10 black peppercorns
- salt, to taste
For the Soup
- 2 large beets (about 1 1/4 pounds)
- 4 medium boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into large pieces
- 1 lb fresh ripe plum tomato, peeled and chopped (or 1 can (16 ounces)
- salt, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- In a large soup pot, bring the meat, bones, and water to a boil over high heat, periodically skimming off the foam as it rises to the top.
- Add the remaining stock ingredients and reduce the heat to low. Simmer, partially covered, until the meat is tender, at least 45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, wash and dry the beets and wrap each one separately in aluminum foil. Bake the beets until tender, 1 ¼ hours.
- Allow the beets to cool until manageable, then stem and peel them and cut into julienne strips or fine dice.
- When the stock is ready, remove the beef, ham bone, and marrow bones, and set all but the marrow bones aside. Strain the stock through a fine sieve into a clean pot and discard all the solids.
- Bring the stock to a boil, add the potatoes and tomatoes, and season with salt. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are almost tender, about 10 minutes.
- While the vegetables are cooking, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and green pepper, and sauté over medium heat until the onion and green pepper are slightly softened, 5 minutes. Stir in the cabbage and continue to sauté the vegetables, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is softened, 10 minutes more. Add the vegetables to the soup.
- Sprinkle the beets with ¼ cup lemon juice and add them to the soup. Stir the soup and simmer, uncovered, for 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and prunes. Season to taste with sugar, pepper, and additional lemon juice and salt, if desired. Simmer for another 7 minutes.
- Cut the beef into bite-sized pieces and scrape all the meat off the ham bone. Add both meats to the soup.
- Remove the borscht from the heat and sprinkle with the minced garlic, bacon (if desired), and 3 tablespoons each of parsley and dill. Let stand for at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve garnished with additional chopped fresh herbs and pass the sour cream.