There are few things more satisfying than a hot bowl of soup on a cold winter’s night. My recipe for the best borsch ever is not only warming and satisfying, but a great introduction to Ukrainian cuisine.
As I live in Ukraine it might surprise many that borsch is just now appearing on my recipe blog. However there is a good reason for that; I wanted to perfect it. Okay, I know Ukrainians will disagree and say that the most perfect borsch is the one you eat at babusya’s house, but I think my recipe is very, very good.
This recipe is for red borsch, but don’t let that make you think it’s the only type. There is also green borsch made with sorrel, white borsch common in Poland, and cold or cream borsch from Lithuania. However the Ukrainian version is definitely the most famous worldwide.
Like Soup? You Might Also Be Interested in my other favorite Ukrainian soup, Solyanka!
What Is Borsch And Where Does It Come From?
Borsch, also spelled borshch or borscht, is a Ukrainian soup. It derives it’s name from the old Slavic word for hogweed. This was the original borsch soup before beets were added in the 17th century. The first mention in writing of beet based borsch actually comes from a russian-Jewish ethnographer, Andrey Meyer, who wrote in 1781 that “people in Ukraine make fermented red beets with acanthus, which they in turn use to cook their borscht.”
What else goes in this world famous soup? Well, like many of the best Ukrainian recipes, that depends on region. For example where I live in Lviv it is common to put Vienna sausage in borsch, which might stem from the fact this city was under the Austro-Hungarian empire for around 250 years. Or the Kyiv version which is made with beef and/or lamb instead of the more popular pork.
One of the most interesting things I found is that in Japan, Ukrainian borsch is considered one of the ‘three grand soups‘ alongside France’s Bouillabase, China’s Shark Fin Soup, and Thailand’s Tom Yung Kang. Yes, I know that’s four…allegedly borsch and tom yung kang are tied together in 3rd place.
How To Write It? Is It Borsch Or Borscht Or Borshch?
The confusion in writing the word properly comes from the difficulty in transliterating Ukrainian Cyrillic to English (as well as other languages). The proper way to write it is борщ and officially that last character is transliterated is shch. However there really isn’t a way that you HAVE to spell it as or people won’t know what you are talking about.
Why do so many people spell it borscht with a ‘t’ ending? This comes from the Yiddish way of writing the word. For a long time Western Ukraine was home to a large number of Ashkenazi Jews and when they emigrated to the USA and Canada they brought with them their spelling of the word.
You might have noticed that I spell it borsch. Well, I spell it incorrectly and didn’t even know that щ is transliterated shch instead of sch. Not everyone can be a master of linguistics.
How To Make The Best Borsch
Being in Ukraine, I’ve had borsch prepared with tons of different ingredients. There is no right or wrong thing that must be added, outside of the beets, in my opinion. These are just the ingredients that make up my own best borsch recipe.
The Best Borsch Ingredients
- 300 grams Pork Ribs – Make sure to get meat with the bones, as boiling the bones is an integral part of making borsch.
- 250 grams Beetroot – peeled, boiled for one hour, and grated. This is roughly two large beets, or four small beets. It is okay if you don’t add exactly 250 grams, this is cooking not baking.
- 1 large Yellow Onion – diced
- 3 Carrots – grated. This is about one cup packed of grated carrot, but if you have a little more or a little less it is completely okay.
- 2 Potatoes – peeled and cut into about 1 cm cubes
- 2 Eggplants – aka aubergine. Cut into cubes. This is more of a regional ingredient so some Ukrainians have never had borsch with eggplant, but I think it adds so much to the final soup.
- 1 bulb Garlic – minced.
- 200 grams White Beans – I like to use cans for the convenience, but if you use dry just soak them the day before so they are soft.
- 75 grams Cabbage – thinly sliced. This is a bit of a weird measurement but it equals around 2 cups packed. Feel free to add more if you like.
- 3 tbsp Tomato Paste – I am using 25% tomato paste, so if you use a higher percent then reduce the amount accordingly.
- 1 tsp Black Pepper – freshly cracked, adjust to taste
- 2 tsp Salt – added at different points, adjust to taste.
- Sunflower Oil – for frying
Before making borsch I like to prepare all the ingredients. This is your standard mise-en-place but it really helps with the cooking process as you won’t panic about missing any ingredient.
Regarding the beetroot: if it is possible to buy your beets already peeled and boiled then get that to save time, otherwise just boil them in water for 1 hour.
To prepare the pork ribs cut away the meat from the bone and cut into 1-2 bite strips. If your bone comes with spare-ribs then you can leave them whole.
Season your pork (including the bones) with half a teaspoon each of salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Place them in a large pot with hot oil.
Fry the pork pieces including the bones in a pot until browned. Move the meat around so it doesn’t stick to the bottom. While the pork is cooking you can start on the other ingredients.
In a pan on medium-high heat add some oil and then add the potato and onion. Sprinkle with a little salt and fry until the onion begins to brown.
When the onion begins to brown add in the eggplant pieces. Eggplant is basically a sponge and will soak up all the oil and other liquid so you may want to add another glug or two of oil to coat everything more.
While you are frying the eggplant add the garlic, shredded carrot and shredded beet to the pot with pork and mix that up to fry. The beet will immediately dye everything purple/red but don’t worry as it will brown as the cooking process continues. If it looks like the garlic is going to burn just add a half cup of water to cool it down.
Finally add the eggplant, potatoes, and onion to the pot and mix all the ingredients together. Then pour in the beans, cabbage, and tomato paste along with another half teaspoon each of salt and black pepper. Fill the pot with water and lower heat to a simmer.
Let the borsch simmer for one hour. You will notice the color darkening and may even become brown. This is okay, I often get borsch in restaurants in Ukraine that is more brown than red, it just means it has been cooking longer or at a higher temperature.
Ukrainian Borsch Tips And Tricks
ψ If you don’t want to serve borsch that has gone too brown, here’s a quick fix: after turning off the heat, add a cup of beet juice to the pot and mix it up. This should redden the soup up again.
ψ Feel free to play around with different ingredients based on your preferences. Want to add more herbs like bay leaf or dill? Go ahead and add them in!
ψ If you find your borsch is bitter, add a tablespoon or two of sugar to the pot. The sugar will counteract any bitterness you might taste and leave you with a very well balanced soup.
How Do You Serve Authentic Ukrainian Borsch?
People eat borsch in Ukraine with two side dishes, but oftentimes a restaurant will give you both. The first is pampushky, a soft yeast bread roll baked with garlic butter.
The second accoutrement to borsch in Ukraine is a salo plate. Salo, which is cured pork fatback, gets thinly sliced and served with rye bread, garlic, and spring onion. Salo is commonly served with borsch because it is another peasant food that brought calories to the hard working farmers.
What do you add to borsch before serving? That would be smetana. Smetana is a high fat sour cream which gets dolloped into the soup and is often sprinkled with dill before serving. If you can’t get yourself some traditional smetana, feel free to use a substitute like regular sour cream or French creme fraiche.
Looking for a traditional dessert to complete your Ukrainian meal? How about a traditional sour cherry cheesecake!
- 1 Large Pot
- 1 Large Pan
- 300 grams Pork Ribs Make sure to get meat with the bones as boiling the bones is an integral part of making borsch.
- 250 grams Beetroot peeled boiled for one hour, and grated. This is roughly two large beets, or four small beets. It is okay if you don't add exactly 250 grams, this is cooking not baking.
- 1 large Yellow Onion diced
- 3 Carrots grated. This is about one cup packed of grated carrot but if you have a little more or a little less it is completely okay.
- 2 Potatoes peeled and cut into about 1 cm cubes
- 2 Eggplants aka aubergine. Cut into cubes. This is more of a regional ingredient so some Ukrainians have never had borsch with eggplant but I think it adds so much to the final soup.
- 1 bulb Garlic minced.
- 200 grams White Beans I like to use canned for the convenience but if you use dry just soak them the day before so they are soft.
- 75 grams Cabbage thinly sliced. This is a bit of a weird measurement but it equals around 2 cups packed. Feel free to add more if you like.
- 3 tbsp Tomato Paste I am using 25% tomato paste so if you use a higher percent then reduce the amount accordingly.
- 1 tsp Black Pepper freshly cracked adjust to taste
- 2 tsp Salt added at different points adjust to taste.
- Sunflower Oil for frying
- If you can buy already peeled and boiled beets at the grocery store then do that to save time. Otherwise peel them and boil them in water for 1 hour. Remove and set aside.
- The first thing to do is to prepare all the ingredients in the beginning so you don't have to scramble around once you start cooking.
- Cut the pork off the bones and into 1-2 bite strips. Grate the beetroot and carrots. Cube the potatoes and eggplant and thinly slice the cabbage. Dice the onion and mince the garlic.
Making The Borsch
- In a large pot add a bit of oil and turn the heat up high. Season the pork including the bones with a half teaspoon each of salt and freshly cracked back pepper. Add the meat and bones to the pot and fry until browned.
- In another pan add oil and put the heat on medium-high. Add the potatoes and onion and cook until the onions brown. Sprinkle a bit of salt. Then add the eggplant and more oil as needed (eggplant can act as a sponge and soak up all the liquid in the pan). Fry until the eggplant begins to brown.
- In the pan with the pork add the grated carrot and beet. Mix and fry for a few minutes. Add the minced garlic just about 30 seconds before the next step – you don't want garlic to burn.
- Add the pan with veggies to the pot with the meat and give everything a good mix. Toss in the cabbage, beans, tomato paste, and the remainder of the black pepper. Fill the pot with water and stir everything up.
- Turn the heat down to low and let the borsch simmer for 1 hour. Give the soup a stir every 20 minutes or so to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom and burning. And if you are simmering without a lid then add water to replace what has evaporated as needed.
- Remove the bones and ladle some soup into a bowl. Dollop in some smetana or sour cream and garnish with some chopped dill. Serve alongside some freshly baked pampushky, or rye toasts with salo.