Borscht is a soup of Ukrainian origin that is popular in many Eastern and Central European cuisines, including those of Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. In most of these countries, it is made with beetroot as the main ingredient.
Borscht (Ukrainian борщ and Yiddish באָרשט) has entered the English vernacular thanks to the early 20th century wave of Ashkenazic (Eastern European and Russian Jews) who brought the soup with them. Interesting side note – the original Ukrainian word ends in “shch”, not “sht”. The “t” was substituted when the word was borrowed into Yiddish and then into American English from the Yiddish.
Since this soup entered the U.S. through the Jewish immigration wave, I thought I would try to create a version of the recipe that would have been enjoyed by the Jews of that period, who obviously kept kosher.
Since observant Jews don’t eat pork, I stripped all the porcine elements out of the standard Ukrainian recipe and replaced the pork and bacon with beef and duck breast instead. There is a LOT of meat in this soup, since I prefer it that way. You can certainly go back to the original recipe and use pork and bacon if you are so inclined.
The original recipe would have used bacon fat – I use duck fat mixed with a DROP of liquid smoke before it goes into the recipe to simulate bacon fat. You can of course use bacon fat if you prefer. Ukrainians would garnish the soup with a dollop of sour cream – observant Jews would not, since they cannot mix milk and meat in the same meal. I’ve thus made the sour cream optional. On a similar note, replace the butter with vegetable oil if you want to keep this kosher.
Ukrainians would add some kvass, a fermented beverage commonly made from black or regular rye bread, to add sourness to the dish. I have substituted vinegar, as kvass is very hard to find unless you live in or near an Eastern European immigrant community (or make your own).
However you make it, Jewish-style or in the original Porked out version, this recipe will impress and it is delicious – give it a try and see for yourselves, Citizens! :)
Battle on – The Generalissimo
8 cups beef stock, made from lots of good meat and at least two sawed marrow bones
½ medium head of green cabbage, finely shredded
3 medium potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large red beet, shredded
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon melted duck fat mixed with 1 drop of liquid smoke
2 teaspoons sugar
2 Tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 peeled tomatoes, chopped
1 carrot, sliced
1 parsley root (known as Petrushka in Russian) or 1/2 parsnip, sliced
3 allspice berries
3 bay leaves
1 whole head of garlic, peeled and chopped
3 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 Tablespoons duck fat mixed with 3 drops liquid smoke
1 pound shredded chuck beef
½ pound magret (breast fillet) of duck, sliced and shredded
¼ teaspoon liquid hickory smoke (or more to taste)
fresh parsley, chopped
fresh dill, chopped
optional garnish: sour cream
Heat the stock in a large soup pot, add cabbage and potatoes and simmer for 15 minutes.
In the meantime, mix the beets, vinegar, duck fat/liquid smoke mix, sugar, and tomatoes in a saucepan and cook gently, covered, for about 5 minutes. Set aside.
Then, in another small pan, heat the butter, mix in the onion, carrot, and parsley root (or parsnip) and braise.
When the cabbage and potatoes are finished simmering, add the beet mixture, the onion mixture, the peppercorns, allspice berries, and bay leaves–and cook another 10 minutes.
Stir in the chopped garlic, the remaining duck fat/liquid smoke mix, the tomato paste, the shredded beef and duck meat and the chopped parsley. Then turn the heat down to a very low simmer, lightly cover the pot, and simmer very slowly for about 4½ hours. Turn off the heat, let cool, and allow to ripen for about 12-18 hours in the fridge.
When ready to serve, reheat gently, then add the liquid smoke, stir, and ladle into bowls. Top each with an optional dollop of sour cream, garnish with more chopped parsley and dill, and serve with a slice of dark rye bread.