|Alternative names||Borsch, borshch, borsht, bortsch|
|Place of origin||Ukraine|
|Associated national cuisine||Various East European cuisines|
|Cooking time||3 hours to 6 hours|
|Serving temperature||Hot or cold|
|Cookbook: Borscht Media: Borscht|
Borscht is a soup of Ukrainian origin that is common in Eastern and Central Europe, especially in Ashkenazi Jewish, Belarusian, Lithuanian, Moldovan, Romanian, Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian cuisine. In most of traditional recipes, it is made with beetroot as the main ingredient. In some regions, tomato is used as the main ingredient, while beetroot may act as a secondary ingredient. Other varieties that do not use beetroot also exist, such as green borscht and white borscht.
The English word borscht, also spelled borsch, borsht, or bortsch, comes from Yiddish באָרשט (borsht), which derives from Ukrainian or Russian борщ (borshch). The latter, together with cognates in other Slavic languages,[a] comes from Proto-Slavic *bŭrščǐ 'hogweed', and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *bhr̥sti- < *bhares-/bhores- 'point, stubble'. Common hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) was the soup's principal ingredient before it was replaced with other vegetables, notably beetroot. The beetroot borscht was invented in what is now Ukraine and first brought to North America by Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe (see History below).
Ingredients and preparation
Typical Ukrainian borscht is traditionally made from meat and/or bone stock, sautéed vegetables, and beet sour, that is, fermented beetroot juice. Depending on the recipe, some of these components may be omitted or substituted.
The stock is typically made by boiling meat, bones, or meat and bones. Beef, pork or a combination of both are most commonly used, with brisket, ribs, shank and chuck considered to give the most flavorful results, especially if cooked on a high flame. Marrow bones are considered best for the bone stock. Meat stock is usually cooked for about two hours, whereas bone stock takes four to six hours to prepare. Meat and bones are usually removed afterwards and the meat is only added back into the soup about 10–15 minutes before the borscht is done. Some recipes call for smoked meats, resulting in a distinctively smokey borscht, while other use poultry or mutton stock. Fasting varieties are typically made with fish stock to avoid the use of meat, while purely vegetarian recipes often substitute the stock with forest mushroom broth.
The vegetables most commonly added to borscht are beetroots, white cabbage, carrots, parsley root, potatoes, onions, and tomatoes. Some recipes may additionally call for beans, tart apples, turnip, celery, zucchini or bell peppers. Parsnip may be used as a substitute for parsley root, and tomato paste is often used in addition to or instead of fresh tomatoes. The traditional technique of preparing the soup is to precook the vegetables – by sautéing, braising, boiling or baking – separately from the meat and only then to combine them with the stock. This distinctive feature of borscht derives from the practice of slow cooking in the Russian oven (traditional masonry stove, used for both cooking and heating), wherein the differences in cooking times of individual ingredients had to be taken into account in order to ensure that all components reach doneness at the same time. The importance of this method is reflected in the Russian language, where a variant in which all vegetables are added raw directly into the stock, is referred to by the diminutive form borshchok[b] rather than borshch. Vegetables are usually julienned, except for potatoes and zucchini, which are diced. The beetroots may be partially baked before being sprinkled with vinegar or lemon juice to preserve the color and braised separately from other vegetables. Onions, carrots, parsley root, turnip and other root vegetables are sautéed (traditionally in animal fat, especially lard or butter) and then mixed with tomatoes or tomato paste. Dry beans are boiled separately. Potatoes and cabbage are boiled in the stock for about 15 minutes before the precooked vegetables are added.
The dominant tastes in borscht are sweet and sour. This combination is traditionally obtained through the addition of beet sour. It is made by covering sliced beetroots with lukewarm preboiled water and allowing bacteria to ferment some of the sugars present in beetroots into dextran (which gives the liquid a slightly viscuous consistency), mannitol, acetic acid and lactic acid. Stale rye bread is often added to hasten the process, but usually omitted in Jewish recipes, as the addition of chametz (leavened bread) would make the sour unfit for Passover meals. Sugar, salt and lemon juice may be also added to balance the flavor. After about 2–5 days (or 2–3 weeks without bread), the deep red, sweet and sour liquid may be strained and is ready to use. It is added to borscht shortly before the soup is done, as prolonged boiling would cause the tart flavor to dissipate. The beet sour is known in Slavic languages as kvas[c] (literally 'sour, acid'; compare kvass) and in Yiddish as rosl[d] (from a Slavic word originally referring to any brine obtained by steeping salted meat or vegetables in water; compare Russian rassol[e] 'pickle juice', Polish rosół 'broth'). Apart from its employment in borscht, it may be also added to prepared horseradish or used as pot roast marinade.
As the traditional method of making borscht with beet sour often requires planning at least several days ahead, many recipes for quicker borscht replace the beet sour with fresh beetroot juice, while the sour taste is imparted by other ingredients, such as vinegar, lemon juice or citric acid, tomatoes, tart apples, dry red wine, dill pickle juice, sauerkraut juice, fermented rye flour and water mixture, etc. The soup is typically flavored with a wide selection of herbs, spices and condiments. Salt, black pepper, garlic, bay leaves, and dill are among the most commonly used. Other aromatics often added to borscht include allspice, celery, parsley, marjoram, hot peppers, saffron, horseradish, ginger, and prunes. Some recipes require the addition of flour or roux to further thicken the borscht. A common opinion is that a good borscht should be thick enough for a spoon to stand upright in it.
As the home country of the beetroot borscht, Ukraine boasts great diversity of the soup's regional variants, with virtually every district having its own recipe. Differences between particular varieties may regard the type of stock used (meat, bone, or meat and bone), the kind of meat (beef, pork, poultry, etc.), the choice of vegetables and the method of cutting and cooking them. For example, while the typical recipe calls for beef and pork, the Kiev variant uses mutton or lamb instead, while in the Poltava region, the stock for borscht is cooked on poultry meat, that is, chicken, duck or goose. The use of zucchini, beans and apples is characteristic of the Chernihiv borscht; additionally, in this variety, beetroots are sautéed in vegetable oil rather than lard, and the sour taste comes solely from tomatoes and tart apples. The Lviv borscht is based on bone stock and is served with chunks of Vienna sausages.
Many regional recipes for borscht have also developed in Russian cuisine. Examples include the Moscow borscht, served with pieces of beef, ham and Vienna sausages; Siberian borscht with meatballs; and Pskov borscht with dried smelt from the local lakes. Other unique Russian variants include a monastic Lenten borscht with marinated kelp instead of cabbage, and the Russian Navy borscht (flotsky borshch[f]), whose defining characteristic is that the vegetables are cut into square or diamond-shaped chunks rather than julienned.
In addition to the hearty, thick borschts described above, Polish cuisine offers a ruby-colored beetroot bouillon known as barszcz czysty czerwony, or clear red borscht. It is made by combining strained meat-and-vegetable stock with wild mushroom broth and beet sour. In some versions, smoked meat may be used for the stock and the tartness may be obtained or enhanced by the addition of lemon juice, dill pickle brine, or dry red wine. It may be served either in a soup bowl or – especially at dinner parties – as a hot beverage in a twin-handled cup, with a croquette or a filled pastry on the side. Unlike other types of borscht, it is not whitened with sour cream. Barszcz wigilijny, or Christmas Eve borscht, is a variant of the clear borscht that is traditionally served during the Polish Christmas Eve supper, a meal that is both fasting and festive. In this version, meat stock is either omitted or replaced with fish broth, usually made by boiling the heads cut off from fish used in other Christmas Eve dishes. The mushrooms used for cooking the mushroom broth are reserved for uszka (small filled dumplings), which are then served with the borscht.
In the summertime, cold borscht is a popular, refreshing alternative to the aforementioned variants, which are normally served hot. It consists of beet sour or beet juice blended with sour cream, buttermilk, soured milk, kefir and/or yogurt, and refrigerated. The mixture has a distinctive lively pink color. It is typically served over finely chopped beetroot, cucumbers, radishes and green onion, together with halves of a hard-boiled egg and sprinkled with fresh dill. Chopped veal, ham, or crawfish tails may be added as well. This soup probably originated in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which comprised the territories of modern-day Lithuania and Belarus, and it is still part of the culinary traditions of these and neighboring nations. The Lithuanian language is the only one in the region which actually refers to it as 'cold borscht' (šaltibarščiai). In Belarusian it is known simply as khaladnik,[g] or 'cold soup'; in Polish as chłodnik litewski, or 'Lithuanian cold soup'; and in Russian as svekolnik,[h] or 'beetroot soup'.
Ashkenazi Jews living in Eastern Europe have adopted beetroot borscht from their Slavic neighbors and adapted it to their taste and religious requirements. As combining meat with milk is proscribed by kosher dietary laws, Jews have developed two variants of the soup: meat (fleischik) borscht and dairy (milchik) borscht. The meat variant is typically made from beef brisket and cabbage, while the dairy one is vegetarian, blended with sour cream or a mixture of milk and egg yolks. Both variants typically contain beetroots and onions, and are flavored with beet sour, vinegar or citric acid for tartness and beet sugar for sweetness. Galician Jews have traditionally liked their borscht particularly sweet. Jewish borscht may be served either hot or cold, typically with a hot boiled potato on the side.
While in the English language borscht refers almost invariably to a beet-based soup, in some culinary cultures there exist soups with the same or similar names where beetroots are absent or merely optional. The principal common trait among them is a tart flavor obtained by the addition of various sour-tasting ingredients.
Green borscht (zeleny borshch[i]), a light soup made from leaf vegetables, is an example common in Ukrainian and Russian cuisines. The naturally tart-tasting sorrel is most commonly used, but spinach, chard, nettle, garden orache, and occasionally dandelion, goutweed or ramsons, may be added as well, especially after the spring season for sorrel has passed. Like beetroot borscht, it is based on meat or vegetable broth and is typically served with boiled potatoes and hard-boiled eggs, sprinkled with dill. There is also a distinct variety of Ukrainian green borscht which includes both sorrel and beetroot.
In Polish cuisine, white borscht (barszcz biały, also known as żurek, 'sour soup'[j]) is made from a fermented mixture of rye flour or oatmeal and water. It is typically flavored with garlic and marjoram, and served over eggs and boiled fresh sausage; the water in which the sausage was boiled is often used instead of meat stock.
In Romanian and Moldovan cuisine, a similar mixture of wheat bran or cornmeal with water that has been left to ferment is called borș. It is used to impart a sour taste to a variety of tangy Romanian soups, known as either also borș or ciorbă. Variants include ciorbă de perișoare (with meatballs), ciorbă de burtă (with tripe), borş de peşte (with fish), and borş de sfeclă roşie (with beetroots).
The Armenian version of borscht is a hot soup made with beef stock, green peppers and other vegetables, which may or may not include beetroots, and flavored with parsley and cilantro. A soup known as luó sòng tāng,[k] or "Chinese borscht", which originated in Harbin, close to the Russian border in northeast China, is based on red cabbage and tomatoes, but lacks beetroots altogether.
In ethnic Mennonite cuisine, "borscht" refers to a whole range of seasonal vegetable soups based on beef or chicken stock – from spring borscht made with spinach, sorrel and chard; to summer borscht with cabbage, tomatoes, corn and squash; to fall and winter borscht with cabbage, beets and potatoes. The Mennonites are a group of Dutch or German religious dissidents who settled in Poland and Russia before migrating to North America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Garnishes and sides
The diversity of borscht styles is matched by the wide choice of garnishes and side dishes with which various kinds of borscht may be served.
Most often, borscht is dished up with sour cream, the East European version of which, known as smetana, is runnier than its American counterpart. The sour cream may be served in a separate pitcher for the diners to add the desired amount themselves or the borscht may come already "whitened",[l] that is, blended with sour cream. Sometimes the cream is thickened with flour before being added to the soup. Yogurt and a mixture of milk and yolks are possible substitutes.
Chopped herbs are often sprinkled on the surface of the soup; dill is most common, but parsley, chives or scallion are often added as well. Individual helpings may be spiced up with minced hot peppers or garlic. Many kinds of borscht are served over halves or quarters of hard-boiled chicken or quail eggs. Navy beans, broad beans or string beans are also a common addition.
Meat, removed from the stock on which the borscht was based, may be cut into smaller chunks and either added back into the soup or served on the side with horseradish or mustard. Bacon and sausages are also commonly used as borscht garnishes. Borscht based on bone stock may be served Old Polish style, with marrow from the bones.
Some kinds of the soup, such as Poltava borscht, may be served with halushky, or thick noodles of wheat or buckwheat flour. Siberian borscht is eaten with boiled meatballs (frikadelki[m]) of minced beef and onion. In Poland and parts of western Ukraine, borscht is typically ladled over uszka, or bite-sized ear-shaped dumplings made from pasta dough wrapped around mushroom, buckwheat or meat filling. Mushroom-filled uszka are particularly associated with Polish Christmas Eve borscht.
Borscht, like any other soup in East Slavic cuisines, is seldom eaten by itself, but rather accompanied by a side dish. At a minimum, spoonfuls of borscht are alternated with bites of a slice of bread. Buckwheat groats or boiled potatoes, often topped with pork cracklings, are other simple possibilities, but a range of more involved sides exists as well.
In Ukraine, borscht is often accompanied with pampushky,[n] or savory, puffy yeast-raised rolls glazed with oil and crushed garlic. In Russian cuisine, borscht may be served with various side dishes based on tvorog, or the East European variant of farmer cheese, such as vatrushki, syrniki or krupenik. Vatrushki are baked round cheese-filled tarts; syrniki are small pancakes wherein the cheese is mixed into the batter; and a krupenik[o] is a casserole of buckwheat groats baked with cheese.
Pirozhki, or baked dumplings with fillings as for uszka, are another common side for both hearty and clear variants of borscht. Polish clear borscht may be also served with a croquette or paszteciki. A typical Polish croquette (krokiet) is made by wrapping a crêpe (thin pancake) around a filling and coating it in breadcrumbs before refrying; paszteciki (literally, 'little pâtés ') are variously shaped filled hand-held pastries of yeast-raised or flaky dough. An even more exquisite way to serve borscht is with a coulibiac, or a large loaf-shaped pie. Possible fillings for croquettes, paszteciki and coulibiacs include mushrooms, sauerkraut and minced meat.
Borscht derives from a soup originally made by the Slavs from common hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium, also known as cow parsnip), which lent the dish its Slavic name (see Etymology above). Growing commonly in damp meadows throughout the temperate zone of Eurasia and North America, hogweed was used not only as fodder (as its English names suggest), but also for human consumption – from Eastern Europe to Siberia, to northwestern North America.
The Slavs collected hogweed in May and used its roots for stewing with meat, while the stems, leaves and umbels were chopped, covered with water and left in a warm place to ferment. After a few days, lactic and alcoholic fermentation produced a mixture described as "something between beer and sauerkraut". This concoction was then used for cooking a soup characterized by a mouth-puckering sour taste and pungent smell. As the Polish ethnographer Łukasz Gołębiowski wrote in 1830, "Poles have been always partial to tart dishes, which are somewhat peculiar to their homeland and vital to their health."[p]
The earliest written reference to the Slavic hogweed soup can be found in Domostroy (Domestic Order), a 16th-century Russian compendium of moral rules and homemaking advice. It recommends growing the plant "by the fence, around the whole garden, where the nettle grows", to cook a soup of it in springtime and reminds the reader to, "for the Lord's sake, share it with those in need." Simon Syrenius (Szymon Syreński), a 17th-century Polish botanist, described "our Polish hogweed"[q] as a vegetable that was well known throughout Poland, Rus', Lithuania and Samogitia (that is, most of the northern part of Eastern Europe), typically used for cooking a "tasty and graceful soup"[r] with capon stock, eggs, sour cream and millet. More interested in the plant's medicinal properties than its culinary use, he also recommended pickled hogweed juice as a cure for fever or hangover.
Hogweed borscht was mostly a poor man's food. The soup's humble beginnings are still reflected in Polish fixed expressions, where "as cheap as borscht"[s] is the equivalent of "dirt cheap" (also attested as a calque in Yiddish), whereas adding "two mushrooms into borscht"[t] is synonymous with excess. For the professors of the University of Kraków, who led a monastic way of life in the 17th century, hogweed borscht was a fasting dish which they ate regularly (sometimes with deviled eggs) from Lent till Rogation days. It was uncommon on the royal table, although according to the 16th-century Polish botanist Marcin of Urzędów – citing Giovanni Manardo, a court physician to the Jagiellonian kings of Hungary – the Polish-born King Vladislaus II used to have a Polish hogweed-based dish prepared for him at his court in Buda.
With time, other ingredients were added to the soup, eventually replacing hogweed altogether, while the names borshch or barszcz became generic terms for any sour soup. In 19th-century rural Poland, this term included soups made from barberries, currants, gooseberries, cranberries, celery or plums.
When describing the uses of common hogweed, John Gerard, a 17th-century English botanist, observed that "the people of [Poland] and Lithuania use to make [a] drink with the decoction of this herb and leaven or some other thing made of meal, which is used instead of beer and other ordinary drink."[u] It may suggest that hogweed soup was on some occasions combined with a fermented mixture of water and barley flour, oatmeal or rye flour. Such soured flour-and-water mixture, mentioned in Slavic historical sources as early as 997, was originally known as kissel (from the Proto-Slavic root *kyslъ, "sour"). Eventually, the soup became known in Polish as żur (from the Middle High German word 'sūr', also meaning sour) and as barszcz, and later – to distinguish it from the red beetroot borscht – as barszcz biały 'white borscht'. The name kissel for the fermented flour soup/porridge was however retained in Russia and Ukraine where outmeal kissel was cooked until the middle of the 19th century, as well as in Czech and Slovak cuisines where similar soups named kyselo and kyslóvka, respectively, are cooked until today. In contrast, the word kissel refers, in modern Polish, Russian and Ukrainian, to a sweet fruit-flavored jelly made from potato starch.
The earliest known Polish recipes for borscht, written by chefs catering to Polish magnates (aristocrats), contain neither hogweed nor beetroots. Stanisław Czerniecki, head chef to Prince Aleksander Michał Lubomirski, included several borscht recipes in his Compendium ferculorum (A Collection of Dishes), the first cookbook published originally in Polish, in 1682. They include such sour soups as lemon borscht and "royal borscht", the latter made from assorted dried, smoked or fresh fish and fermented rye bran. A manuscript recipe book from the Radziwiłł family court, dating back to ca. 1686, mentions green borscht and almond borscht.
Borscht also evolved into a variety of sour soups to the east of Poland. The mid-19th-century Explanatory Dictionary of the Living Great Russian Language defined borshch as "a kind of shchi", that is, vegetable (chiefly cabbage) soup, where the beetroot was a component. A Gift to Young Housewives, the most popular Russian cookbook of the 19th century, gives nine recipes of borscht in its first edition (1861), both with and without beets. Some of these recipes are based on kvass, a traditional Slavic fermented beverage made from rye bread. Kvass-based varieties were also known in Ukraine at that time; some of them were types of green borscht, while others were similar to Russian okroshka. A 1905 Russian cookbook included a recipe for onion borscht; and sorrel-based green borscht is still a popular summer soup in Ukraine and Russia. The Jewish Encyclopedia from the beginning of the 20th century pointed out that borshtch refers to a number of soups, the most popular of which is the kraut (cabbage) borshtsh, and that borshtsh can also be made with beetroot.
- Belarusian: боршч (borshch); Polish: barszcz.
- In the Cyrillic script: борщок.
- Ukrainian: буряковий квас (buryakovy kvas); Russian: свекольный квас (svekolny kvas); Polish: kwas buraczany.
- In the Hebrew script: ראָסל; also Romanized as rosel, rossel, russel or russell.
- In the Cyrillic script: рассол.
- In the Cyrillic script: флотский борщ.
- In the Cyrillic script: халаднік.
- In the Cyrillic script: свекольник.
- Ukrainian: зелений борщ (zeleny borschch); Russian: зелёный борщ (zelyony borshch).
- Polish terms barszcz biały 'white borscht' and żur or żurek (from Middle High German sur 'sour') are either used interchangeably or refer to different soups, depending on the regional dialect and ingredients used.
- In the Chinese simplified script: 罗宋汤.
- Polish: barszcz zabielany; Russian: забеленный борщ (zabelenny borshch); literally 'whitened borscht', that is, clouded with flour or dairy products.
- In the Cyrillic script: фрикадельки.
- In the Cyrillic script: пампушки.
- In the Cyrillic script: крупеник.
- Polish: Lubili i lubią Polacy kwaśne potrawy, ich krajowi poniekąd właściwe i zdrowiu ich potrzebne.
- Polish: barszcz nasz polski.
- Polish: smaczna i wdzięczna (...) polewka.
- Polish: tanio jak barszcz; Yiddish: bilik vi borscht.
- Polish: dwa grzyby w barszcz.
- Original spelling: The people of Polonia and Lituania vse to make drinke with the decoction of this herbe, and leuen or some other thing made of meale, which is vsed in stead of beere and other ordinarie drinke.
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