Moving into my own apartment gave me the chance to experiment and create my own version of Borscht. It seems that everyone has a version. The joke in Ukraine is that a daughter cannot make her mother's and a mother cannot duplicate the grandmother's Borscht. Each is unique evolving over the ages.
Borscht is truly historic. There is debate about its origins. The Russians claim it and the Polish too. Even the Lithuanians try to make a case. But since I am in Ukraine, I cast my ballot here.
According to historians, Borscht probably dates back to before Christ with the Huns and Goths who roamed these parts. They used a weed type plant called Borshchivnyks. It's a wild leafy plant that was easy to scavenger and got used in a soup instead of cabbage. Combined with beets, the first Borscht was made and it has been evolving ever since.
Some start their Borscht with a pork base. Others like beef. I prefer chicken because it is affordable in Ukraine on a Peace Corps living allowance. I can buy a whole chicken for about 30 hryvna - that's less than four dollars US. To learn about Ukrainian currency, check out
This recipe will serve four adults easily. Serve with hearty brown bread and a block of cheese. Some fresh uncooked vegetable, like small tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, pepper slices, pickled mushrooms, will complete your Ukrainian meal. It's easy to make. And for this born again beet lover, it is delicious.
I like to go to the Bazaar on a Saturday and get all the ingredients I'll need for Borscht.
Shopping the Bazaar is a happening. Instead of hopping into a car and pulling into the parking lot of the local mega market, I walk about a half hour to the Bazaar. Many others are headed in that direction or returning laden down with bags of fresh food and other purchases. I meet a new friend along the way and get an invitation to dinner tomorrow night. Walking has its advantages.
The Bazaar is a busy mix of vegetable stalls along with stationary, cosmetic, household goods, hardware and clothing sections. It's an outdoor Wall Mart with individual entrepreneurs selling their goods. Prices are mostly fixed so there is no haggling. It takes time to understand vendors as they mumble prices, but I am pleased to say that I usually get it the first time. Language progress!
Inside a long building are meat and dairy vendors. I use the same vendors each time. I was introduced to several during my first week in Konotop by the City's Director of Children and Family Services. It seems that in Ukraine having a personal relationship is an important and pleasant way to live and do business. You can be sure of quality, a fair price and a warm welcome.
I buy a chicken. I'll cut it up and use a leg, thigh and the back and maybe the wings for my Borscht. I buy beets about the size of oranges and potatoes a bit larger. I'll need three of each. Garlic, onions, cabbage and a few carrots complete the shopping list. This will be my dinner for the better part of the week. It's always better the next day and the next and the next.
Here's my recipe.
START WITH FRESH INGREDIANT
Chicken. If I don't buy a chicken, I'll use three thighs including skin.
3 medium size beets
3 medium to large potatoes
2 carrots about inch in diameter
2 large onions
3 - 4 large garlic cloves
Bay leaves, salt, pepper.
I always start by browning the chicken in a very large pot. I was taught by my host family to include the skin. The idea is to create a brown glaze in the pot as the chicken cooks. At the same time, I par-boil the beets, potatoes and carrots. Do not peel the vegetables yet. I usually boil them for about ten minutes. It's important to not over cook.
While everything is cooking, I cut up the onions into thin strings and crush the garlic. I use 3 or 4 large size cloves. It will not over power since you are making a large amount. But you can use less if you wish. It's going to be "your" Borscht.
Now it is time to assemble your Borscht. Remove the chicken when it has browned and left a nice glaze on the bottom of the pan. Sometimes I pour out some of the chicken fat if there is too much. Add onions and garlic and saute until translucent.
Cool the beets, potatoes and carrots. Peel them now. I use a mandolin to cut them into strands that are about 1/4 inch square, like mini French fries. If you do not have one, then either cut by hand or grate using a large setting
Combine beets, potatoes, carrots with the onions and garlic and the chicken. Do not de-bone or de-skin chicken yet. Add about 6 to 8 cups of water. I guess you could use 1/2 chicken stock if you have it. Add 2 - 3 bay leaves, 1/2 tsp of salt +/- and pepper to taste.
Cook uncovered on low heat for at least an hour. The liquid will reduce and the potatoes should thicken the broth. Remove chicken, cool and de-bone now. Discard any skin.
Shred a half head of cabbage and add to the pot. Sometimes I delete the cabbage. Your choice! Replace diced chicken and add 1/3 cup vinegar and 2 Tbls. of sugar. I like this sweet sour taste, but you could have your Borscht without it. Cook for another hour on low heat. When the cabbage is completely cooked and translucent, the Borscht is ready.
I think I'll have some now. Join me!