Unlike the British Ukrainians have a deep emotional, social, physical and probably metaphysical attachment to soup.
In England, soup generally belongs at the two extremes of our social hierarchy. At the lower end, soup is served to the poor and homeless in ‘soup kitchens’ because its economical, hot and mostly made from cheap left-overs. At the higher end of the social spectrum soup is the ‘starter’ course in upper-class households where they have both the time and money to eat three-course meals regular basis. Soup doesn’t really exist for the UK’s middle-class unless its a cuppa-soup (instant soup) which is not real, or as an occasional luxury when they are celebrating or trying to be extravagant or posh.
Not so in Ukraine. Soup here is the cornerstone of any meal and eating/drinking soup is a daily ritual akin to the way the British drink tea.
It should be no surprise therefore, to discover that they are bloody-good at making it! And, of course, the queen of all Ukrainian soups is the mighty borsch.
In fact, that statement will probably cause outrage among my Ukrainian friends because, having such a ‘soup’ culture, means that most Ukrainians are as nuanced with soup descriptions and names as the Italians are with coffee. Borsch to them is not soup – its borsch!
However, as a Brit, I’m classifying all liquid foods as ‘soup’ in the same way I classify all coffee as coffee regardless of how big or small it is or how fluffy the milk is.
Anyway, back to the borsch. Borsch is probably best known because of its bright red colour which comes from its key ingredient - beetroot. However, it is much more than just beetroot soup. It may or may not contain meat and it definitely will contain a bundle of other healthy vegetables. This includes carrots, potatoes, onion and the other Ukrainian favourite – cabbage.
It is often finished with parsley or dill and served with garlic bread and a dollop of sour-cream. Its delicious.
Personally, I’ll eat borsch however it comes. With meat (pork, beef or chicken), without meat, and with or without anything else. If its hot, red and tastes mostly of beetroot – I’ll eat it. However, when I’m cooking it – I’m almost exclusively vegetarian borsch man. There’s two reasons for this. The first is called Dasha and she was my vegetarian housemate and the second is time. Cooking borsch with meat requires a level of dedication and preparation which I lack in the kitchen and in most other things in life.
Nevertheless, while it is easier – cooking vegetarian borsch is still suitably rewarding, its delicious, and once you’ve cooked it, you can live on it for days.
So, without further ado, here is the world exclusive guide to cooking Bearder’s spicy vegetarian Ukrainian borsch(ish)
To make Bearders’s spicy vegetarian Ukrainian borsch(ish) you will need:
- 2 or 3 potatoes
- two medium sized carrots
- one large or, preferably two smallish beetroots. For some reason, I think borsch always looks and tastes better if you combine two beetroots.
- One medium sized or two small onions (any type)
- Two or three garlic gloves
- Tomato puree
- A cabbage
- Two carrots
- A single red chili-pepper
- A pepper (red or yellow, it doesn’t matter – everything in borsch ends up red!)
- Water (about two liters) or ‘stock’ if you’re some kinda master chef.
- Salt and pepper
- A bay leaf or two if you have any.
Optional extras to garnish and eat the soup with:
- Garlic bread
- Fresh herbs
- Sour cream
NB: If you’re in Ukraine, you’ll probably find all of these things on a street corner near your house. If that fails, walk to a metro station and look for the babushka’s. They’ll fix you up with everything you need.
Also, all veg should be as dirty and ugly as possible. There’s no place for translucent supermarket carrots in my borsch.
OK. Here’s what to do…
1. Get the ingredients
2. Peel and chop the potatoes into small chunks.
3. Put the chopped potato pieces into a large pan. Fill it with about 2 litres of water, add salt, cover and turn up the heat. Basically, put the spuds on to boil.
4. Now start on the other veg. First the onions. Chop them up into REALLY small pieces and then add them to a frying pan with a good splash of oil. Not having enough oil normally means they will burn. Fry on a low heat.
5. Now you have about 10 minutes to get everything else ready. Start with the chili-pepper. Chop it into very small pieces and throw it in with the onion.
6. Add ground herbs and/or garlic to the onion and chilli and, if you want, chop and add the garlic too. Stir it all up and let it fry while you prepare the red stuff.
7. First ‘shave’ or peel the beetroot removing the crusty outside layer, but leaving the bottom knot. You should have red fingers after this so be careful what you touch.
8. Great the beetroot(s) with a cheese grater. Now you should look like you have committed murder.
9. Add the grated beetroot to the pan, mix it all up and fry it.
10. Peel and grate the carrots and chop the cabbage.
11. Throw the carrots, cabbage and (if you didn’t fry it ) the garlic in with the boiling potatoes
12. Add two big spoons of tomato purée to the beetroot mix and fry it for another 5-10 minutes until the whole thing is a soft sticky red mess. If needed you can add a little water to help.
13. Throw the red sticky stuff in with the boiling vegetable stuff. Give it a good stir, cover it and let it simmer for 20-minutes
14. While you’re waiting, clean the sink, wash up and chop some parsley
15. After half an hour, turn off the heat, and serve-up your tasty spicy borsch. Add the parsley and a big dollop of sour cream.
16. Eat the tasty borsh and be happy. Repeat tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day etc until the borsch is gone. You be as fit as a Ukrainian.