Ukrainian borsch with smetana, pampushkas and shkvarkas
|Place of origin||Ukraine|
|Serving temperature||Hot or cold|
|Main ingredient(s)||Beetroot (or sometimes tomatoes)|
Borscht (also borsch, bortsch, borstch, borsh, borshch; Ukrainian: борщ) is a soup of Ukrainian origin that is popular in many Eastern and Central European countries. In most of these countries, it is made with beetroot as the main ingredient, giving it a deep reddish-purple color. In some countries, tomato is used as the main ingredient, while beetroot acts as a secondary ingredient. Other, non-beet varieties also exist, such as the tomato paste-based orange borscht and green borscht (sorrel soup).
The soup made its way into North American cuisine and the word into English vernacular by way of Slavic and Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe. Alternative spellings are borshch and borsch.
It is called in various languages: Azerbaijani: borș, Belarusian: боршч, boršč, Czech: boršč, Estonian: borš, German: Borschtsch, Latvian: borščs, Lithuanian: barščiai, Polish: barszcz, Romanian: borș, Russian: борщ, borshch, Slovak: boršč, Turkish: Borç (due to the emigration of White Russians to Turkey after their defeat in the Russian Civil War), Ukrainian: борщ, borshch, and Yiddish: באָרשט, borsht.
While the original Ukrainian name does not end with a "t", a final t was added when the word was borrowed into Yiddish. The word was borrowed into English from Yiddish, not Ukrainian or Russian.
Hot and cold borscht
The two main variants of borscht are generally referred to as hot and cold. Both are based on beets, but are otherwise prepared and served differently.
Hot borscht, the kind most popular in the majority of cultures, is a hearty soup. It is almost always made with a beef or pork broth. It usually contains heavy starchy vegetables including potatoes and beets, but may also contain carrots and peppers. It may be eaten as a meal in itself, but is usually eaten as an appetizer with dark rye bread.
Borscht is served cold in many different culinary traditions, including Belarusian (Chaładnik, Хaлaднiк), Latvian (Aukstā zupa), Lithuanian (Šaltibarščiai), Polish (Chłodnik, Chłodnik litewski), Russian (Свекольник) and Ukrainian (Kholodnyk, Холодник). Other cooked soups are served cold in various parts of Europe, such as Hungarian cold tomato and cucumber soups, and meggyleves.
Its preparation starts with young beets being chopped and boiled, together with their leaves when available. After cooling down, sour cream, soured milk, kefir, or yogurt may be added, depending on regional preferences. Typically, raw chopped vegetables, such as radishes or cucumbers, are added and the soup is garnished and flavored with dill or parsley. Chopped, hard-boiled eggs are often added. The soup has a rich pink color which varies in intensity depending on the ratio of beets to dairy ingredients.
The basic Polish borscht (barszcz) recipe includes red beetroot, onions, garlic, and other vegetables, such as carrots and celery or root parsley. The ingredients are cooked for some time together to produce a clear broth (when strained), and the soup is then served as boullion in cups or in other ways. Some recipes include bacon, as well, which gives the soup a distinctive "smoky" taste.
Other versions are richer and include meat and cut vegetables of various kinds, with beetroot not necessarily dominating (though this soup is not always called barszcz, but rather beetroot soup). This variation of barszcz is not strained, and the vegetable contents are left in. Such soup can constitute the main course of a Polish obiad (the main meal eaten in the early afternoon).
Barszcz in its strictly vegetarian version is the first course during the Christmas Eve feast, served with ravioli-type dumplings called uszka (lit. "little ears") with mushroom filling (sauerkraut can be used, as well, again depending on the family tradition). Typically, this version does not include any meat ingredients, although some variants do.
The beet basis is not required. There is a sour rye soup called żurek; the wheat-flour-based variant of this soup is called barszcz biały ("white barszcz"), made from a base of fermented wheat, usually added to a broth of boiled white fresh sausage (kiełbasa). It is served hot with cubed rye bread and diced hard-boiled eggs added to the broth, and horseradish is often added to taste.
A key component to the taste of barszcz is acidity. While it can be made easily within a few hours by simply cooking the ingredients and adding vinegar, lemon juice, or citric acid, the traditional way is to prepare barszcz several days in advance and to allow it to naturally sour. Depending on the technique, the level of acidity required, and the ingredients available, barszcz takes three to seven days to prepare in this way.
Other regional recipes
There are local variations in the basic borscht recipe:
- In Armenian cuisine, it is served warm with fresh sour cream.
- In Azerbaijani cuisine, it is served hot and it usually includes beets, potatoes and cabbage, and optionally, beef. One soup spoon of plain yogurt is added on top, as typically served in Azerbaijan.
- In Belarusian cuisine, the tomatoes are standard, sometimes in addition to beets. It is usually served with smetana (Eastern European-style sour cream) and a traditional accompaniment of pampushki (sing. pampushka), small hot breads topped with fresh chopped garlic.
- In Chinese cuisine, tomatoes and tomato paste are used instead of beets, in addition to beef, cabbage, potatoes, and carrots. It is similar to the Russian beet-based borscht.
- In northern Chinese cuisine, particularly in and around the city of Harbin in Heilongjiang province, an area with a long history of trade with Eastern Russia, the soup known as hóngtāng ("red soup") is mainly made with red cabbage.
- In Doukhobor cuisine, the main ingredient is cabbage, and the soup also contains beets, potatoes, tomatoes and heavy cream, along with dill and leeks. This style of borscht is orange in colour, and is always eaten hot.
- In East Prussia (now parts of northeast Poland and Kaliningrad, Russia), sour cream (schmand) and beef is served with the Beetenbartsch (lit. beetroot borscht).
- In Iranian cuisine, it is served warm with fresh sour cream.
- In Lithuanian cuisine, dried mushrooms are often added.
- In Mennonite cuisine, borscht is a cabbage, beef, potato and tomato soup flavoured with onions, dill and black pepper. This soup is part of the cuisine absorbed by Mennonites in Ukraine and Russia. Mennonite "summer borscht" contains beet leaves, potatoes, dill, and sausage. It is made with a pork stock, usually made by boiling the sausage contained in the soup. Hard-boiled eggs are sometimes added. There is also a Mennonite borscht made with chicken.
- In Romanian cuisine, it is the name for any sour soup, prepared usually with fermented wheat bran (which is also called Borş), which gives it a sour taste. In fact, Romanian gastronomy uses with no discrimination the words ciorbă, borș or, sometimes, zeamă/acritură. One ingredient required in all recipes by Romanian tradition is lovage, which has a characteristic flavour. Romanians usually call the traditional borscht made from beetroot borș rusesc (Russian borscht) or ciorbă de sfeclă (beetroot borscht sour soup). Romanian borș recipes can include various kinds of vegetables and any kind of meat, including fish. Their aroma is significantly improved by adding lovage leaves.
- In Russian cuisine, it usually includes beets, meat, cabbage, and optionally, potatoes.
- In Ukrainian cuisine, it can be a vegetable soup or based on either chicken or other meat bouillon. Traditionally borshch is served with pampushki and smetana. Main ingredients include specially prepared red beets, potatoes, carrots, beans (e.g. broad beans, green runner beans, butter beans or other varieties), celery, fresh or dried mushrooms (optional), herbs (e.g. fresh dill and/ or parsley), chopped cabbage, chopped fresh tomatoes or tomato sauce.
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- Sydney Schultze. Culture and customs of Russia. Greenwood Pub Group(2008) pp. 65-66
- Definition of Borscht by Vladimir Dal (in Russian)
- William Pokhlyobkin about borshch (in Russian)
- Oxford English Dictionary
- Merriam Webster's Unabridged Dictionary
- Lukasz Luczaj Guide to Wild Edible Plants, English language website.
- Luczaj, Lukasz. Dzikie Rosliny Jadalne Polski. Przewodnik Survivalowy (Wild Edible Plants of Poland. A Survival Handbook). Chemigrafia 2002. (in Polish)
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language