Borsch? Borscht? Depends on who you’re talking to or what sources you check. Encyclopedia Britannica has borsch and Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary has borscht. Of course, both mention the other, along with other possible spellings. The problem arises from the fact that the word occurs in several Eastern European languages, plus it’s being transliterated from another alphabet, and there is rarely a perfect correlation between the sounds represented by characters in differing alphabets.
Webster’s does offer this little bit of info on the origin of the word: Yiddish borsht & Ukrainian & Russian borshch First Known Use: 1808
Some sources suggest that the Ukraine is where borsch was born, but I think most folks associate this beet soup with Russia. Russia is, indeed, among the cold places where beets are quite happy to grow, and borsch is probably Russia’s most widely known soup.
There are numerous variations of the soup throughout Russia. It may have a base of beef or chicken, or be completely vegetarian. Beets are about the only consistent ingredient, though cabbage appears in most versions, too. However, many recipes include a wider variety of vegetables. The modification that makes a borsch Moscow-style is the addition of ham or slab bacon. If you don’t want ham, leaving it out of the recipe below won’t make it inauthentic, it just won’t be Muscovite. This is a hearty, delicious soup with a slight sweet-sour taste. Enjoy.
(Moscow-style beet soup)
1 quart beef broth
2 quarts water
2–2.5 lb. beef brisket, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 bay leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1-1/2 lb. beets, peeled and cut into strips approximately 1/8 inch wide by 2 inches long
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
3 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1-2 parsnips, peeled and cut into strips
2 carrots, peeled and cut into strips
1/2 head white or green cabbage, cored and coarsely shredded
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 lb. boiled ham, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 cup sour cream
Put the broth, water, beef, bay leaves, garlic, 1 tsp. salt, and a generous grind of black pepper in an 8- to 10-quart pot. Bring to the boil, skimming scum as it rises. Reduce heat, and simmer for 40 minutes. Set aside.
In a large, deep frying pan that has a cover, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirringly frequently. Onion should be soft but not brown. Add 1 cup of the broth from the cooking meat to the onions. Stir in the beets, wine vinegar, sugar, tomatoes, 1 tsp. salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Cover the pan and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in the parsnips and carrots and simmer for an additional 30 minutes.
Add the contents of the frying pan to the pot of stock and meat. Stir in the potatoes and cabbage. Bring the broth to a boil, then stir in the ham. Return to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 40 minutes.
Garnish the soup with the chopped parsley (after the soup has been transferred to a serving tureen or individual bowls). Pass the sour cream, which is added as desired by diners. Serves 8–12 (depending on whether it’s a first course or the main event).
Notes: You want to pick beets that are young and fairly small (about 2 inches in diameter). If beets are too large and old, cooking time can be two or three times as long.
The carrot and parsnip strips should match approximately the size of the beet strips.
The sour cream is authentic, and is a lovely addition, but you can just skip this garnish if fat or dairy are issues.
This soup is great hot, but is also mighty good cold.