Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ukrainian Borshch--and the Bean Factor

This is probably the most popular soup in my home. And it is also one of the dishes that all the foreigners who traveled to Poland tried and keep asking for. Simply because it is unique.

Although the name suggests that it comes from Ukraine, since there was a time in our history, when borders were moving back and forth and Ukraine and Poland were parts of one kingdom, we consider this borshch Polish and it has been in our national menu for ages.

Yesterday, I was invited by an Ukrainian friend to cook an Ukrainian borshch together. I could not be more excited. I was anxious to find out what Polish and Ukrainians make under the same name.

We cooked two versions of the same borshch. One was based on a beef stock, the other was vegetarian. My grandmother used to cook a meat (pork) version of it, while my mother did mostly a vegetarian borshch. These days, I also make a vegetarian borshch, as it is always safe to serve it to friends in such diverse environment where some don't eat beef, others don't eat pork, and some don't eat meat at all. Luckily, this soup is rich enough to be very satisfying just in its purely vegetarian version and often it was served as an Eintopf; however, especially when it was made with meat. Ukrainians serve it with a special bread which is topped with garlic and oil. In Poland we add garlic directly to the soup.

As we peeled, cut, and cooked all the ingredients there was almost no difference in preparation. Svitlana made the most traditional version of the soup based on beets, carrots ,onion, potatoes, cabbage, and tomato paste. However there was one difference in how she made it and how we make it. In Poland we always add beans to the soup. During summer months it is usually green or yellow string beans, or even better a wax bean. It does not take long to cook such soup made with very fresh vegetables and can be served when the vegetables are still on the crispy side, and especially when beans and cabbage are still al dente. In winter we use white cannellini beans, and cook the borshch longer, until all the ingredients are soft. Since beans make this soup very fulfilling, we usually do not serve it with bread.

Ukrainian Borshch (Polish Version)
(Serves six)

2 medium beets,
4 medium carrots,
a small piece (about 1/8) of a celery root or two celery stalks,
3 medium white potatoes,
1 medium onion,
3 garlic cloves,
about 1/4 of a small white cabbage,
1/2 lb of preferably wax beans or yellow or green string beans, or one 14 oz can of white cannellini beans,
1/2 cup of tomato paste or 2 tbsp tomato concentrate,
1/2 cup of crème fraiche, sour cream, or Greek yogurt,
fresh chopped dill or parsley,
1 bay leaf,
3 grains all spice,
salt and pepper.

1. In a large pot put about a gallon of water, add bay leaf and all spice and bring to boil.
2. Peel the onion, chop it, and add to the boiling water. Let it boil for about 5 minutes.
3. Peel the carrots, potatoes, and beets. Cut carrot into thin slices, potatoes into small cubes, and beets into small sticks.

You can also grate carrots and beets (but not the potatoes) on a large hole grater or use a food processor with grater blade.

4. Add beets, carrots, and celery to the pot and cook for about 20 minutes, until almost soft. If you grated the vegetables they will cook faster.
5. Add potatoes and cook for about 10 minutes.
6. Shred cabbage and add to the boiling soup together with fresh beans if you use them. Let it cook for about 10-15 minutes.
7. The last step is to season the soup with salt and freshly grated pepper and add tomato paste or concentrate. If you make this soup with white beans, rinse them under the running water, and add just before the tomato concentrate. Toss in chopped garlic and let it boil for about 3 minutes to infuse all the flavors together.

Serve warm with a dollop of crème fraiche on top, and sprinkle with dill or parsley.