While I am experiencing the hope and promise this time of year brings, my heart is heavy from the conflict that is playing out on the world stage. I am conflict-averse so much that I studied non-violent conflict resolution as a Peace Studies major in college way back in the ’90s when the most typical thing I heard was “what are you ever going to do with that degree.”
What has struck me most significantly during this time of crisis and conflict is how most people I know, myself included, have little awareness about Ukraine. Since my understanding and awareness is remedial at best, I will refrain from writing about what little I do know. Instead, I want to tell you about what I have discovered about Ukrainian food - specifically Borsch.
Borsch is a sour soup made with root vegetables, cabbage, and most notably beets. It can be made with animal proteins or kept vegetarian and is traditionally served topped with sour cream. In Ukraine, Borsch is served frequently and is the basis of culinary tradition, a symbolic dish representing unity. When Ukrainians prepare Borsch, it is an expression of patriotism and love for their country. There are many variations of Borsch including red, green, and a cold variety. Ingredients vary but always, always include beets. Since beets are a hearty, frost-hardy root vegetable and are in season, it is the perfect time to try making Borsch for yourself.
I am going to cook up a pot of Borsch this week. In a small way, this is an expression of my hope for the Ukrainian people and a commitment to learning more about people and cultures beyond our borders. I hope that you will join me.
A More Complicated Hot Meaty Borsch
by Daniel Gritzer
For the Beef Broth:
2 1/4 pounds bone-in beef short ribs
¾ pound fresh pork belly
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, roughly diced
2 medium carrots, roughly diced
2 celery ribs, roughly diced
4 medium cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/4 pounds beef marrow bones
1 smoked ham hock
2 sprigs fresh dill
2 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
1 bay leaf
For the Borscht:
1 large onion, cut into small dice
1 medium carrot, cut into small dice
1 celery rib, cut into small dice
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 small celery root (celeriac), peeled and cut into small dice
1 medium parsnip, peeled and cut into small dice
2 pounds red beets (5 medium beets), peeled with a sharp vegetable peeler, and cut into small dice
1/2 head green or white cabbage, quartered, cored, and shredded
1 (28-ounce) can peeled whole tomatoes, drained, and crushed by hand
4 medium red potatoes, diced
1/4 pound kielbasa, diced
Red wine vinegar, to taste
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon ground toasted caraway seeds
Minced fresh dill, for garnish
- For the Beef Broth: Season short ribs and pork belly all over with salt and pepper. In a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Working in batches to avoid crowding the pot, add beef and pork belly and cook, turning, until browned all over, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer meats to a rimmed baking sheet or platter and set aside. Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic to pot and cook, stirring and scraping up any browned bits, until starting to brown, about 6 minutes.
- Stir in tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes, lowering heat if necessary to prevent scorching. Add 4 quarts water, short ribs, pork belly, marrow bones, ham hock, dill, parsley, and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Lower heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until meats are tender about 3 hours.
- Strain meat broth, reserving all meats and bones; discard vegetables. You should have about 3 quarts of broth. If you have less, add enough water to bring it up to 3 quarts. You can refrigerate broth and meats separately for up to 3 days before continuing with the recipe or continue immediately.
- For the Borscht: Pick bones from short ribs and ham hocks and push marrow from bones. Discard bones. Cut up all broth meats and marrow into small dice and set aside. Skim rendered fat from the surface of broth (if the broth is cold, the fat will be a solid cap on top); reserve 1/4 cup and discard the rest.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot, heat the 1/4 cup reserved fat from broth over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the 3 quarts of meat broth and bring to a simmer.
- Add diced meats to broth, along with celery root, parsnip, beets, cabbage, and tomatoes. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Add potatoes and kielbasa, if using, and cook until potatoes are just tender about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add vinegar until soup hits the perfect balance of sweet and sour to your taste.
- Stir toasted caraway, if using, into sour cream and season lightly with salt. Ladle hot borscht into bowls and top with dollops of caraway sour cream and fresh dill. Serve right away. The remaining soup can be refrigerated for up to 5 days and frozen for up to 3 months.
Kelli Kelly -Slinger of Produce. Slurper of Dumplings. Person of the Bean.