Ukrainian borscht (Barszcz ukraiński)

colorful lake1

Color lakes in Rudawach Janowickich, Poland.

I’ve changed my mind about borscht, which used to conjure up images of a bright red Russian soup with sausages. Now I’ve come to love the vegetarian Ukrainian-style borscht, or barszcz, as it’s said in Polish. The word is friendlier to my midwestern accent and the soup is absolutely delicious.

Beets are naturally a touch sweet, and Ukrainian barszcz is packed with vegetables and white beans. It’s a great dish for winter, as it’s very filling but still healthy.

This dish reminds me a little of macaroni and cheese, given how iconic it is, as well as how versatile. There’s no one “recipe” for macaroni and cheese, and there’s no “right” way to make barszcz. For example, the first time I had barszcz, I was really surprised— it seemed little more than vinegary beet broth, a vehicle to put savory dumplings into.

Uszka, little mushroom dumplings, served with borscht.

Uszka, little mushroom dumplings, served with borscht.

The next time I had it, I was surprised again. I was given a bowl of beet and carrot soup, with that same familiar vinegar tang. This soup I loved. Then I discovered vegan restaurant Vega’s barszcz, which is made with shredded beets, and full of vegetables— carrots, leeks, green beans. Now I’ve found that barszcz is pretty standard at milk bars, which are little restaurants that serve traditional Polish food. A holdover from Communism, milk bars are still popular. While almost all the dishes are full of pork, Ukrainian barszcz is vegetarian-friendly.

Some ingredients.

Some ingredients.

Now I’ve come to recognize my favorite version: Ukrainian borscht. It’s vegetarian, and made with beets, carrots and white beans, with other veggies of your choice (leeks, green beans) added. I also had this at a pensjonat near the Colorful Lakes near Rudawach Janowickich in southwest Poland.

Forgive the picture— I was hungry, so I tore into the soup before I thought to grab my camera...

Forgive the picture— I was hungry, so I tore into the soup before I thought to grab my camera…

First, you’ll need to decide how you want to cook the beets. Because they’re so dense, beets take a really long time to cook, and you’ll want them soft before you add them to the soup. There’s a few methods to do this:

1. Boil the beets.

This makes for very soft beets, but it also makes them a touch watery. If you do boil them, it will take about an hour. And I’m not completely a fan of boiling veggies, as it tends to leach nutrients into water.

2. Bake the beets.

This is pretty easy: wrap the beets in tin foil, put them on a pan and bake at 350 F (175 C) for one hour. Bonus: after they’re baked, they’re very, very easy to peel.

3. Shred the beets.

This is how they’re served at Vega, and actually, I quite like this method. It’s a bit more labor-intensive, but it does cut down on the actual cooking time, as you can add the shredded beets to the stock along with the carrots and other vegetables. Make sure to peel the beets before you start grating them.

Shredded versus baked beets.

Shredded versus baked beets.

One thing to remember: beets are delicious and also a mess. Makes sure you’re wearing clothes you don’t mind getting pink juice on. Also, using latex gloves, especially when shredding beets, can prevent your hands from becoming too pink-stained.

A note: I couldn’t find vegan sour cream in Wroclaw, so I used plain soy yogurt instead.

Ingredients

2 lbs beets (1 kilo)

medium red onion

3-4 cloves garlic

4 medium carrots

1 can white beans

-2-3 tablespoons apple vinegar

-parsley to taste

-salt and pepper to taste

-10 cups vegetable stock or broth

-olive oil

Optional vegetables:

-1 leek

-2 cups green beans

-2 medium red-skinned potatoes

Directions

1. Scrub the beets in plenty of water, and cut off the top and root.

2. Cook the beets (boil or bake, or shred) depending on your preference. If you decide to use shredded beets, make sure to peel them first.

3. While the beets are cooking, scrub and dice the carrots, dice the onion and mince the garlic.

4. When the beets are cooked, let them cool. (Popping them in the fridge can speed up this process!) Peel the beets and dice them into cubes.

5. Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil.

6. When the onions are soft and translucent, add the 10 cups of vegetable broth and bring to a boil.

7. Add the carrots, potatoes, and other vegetables of your choice.

IMPORTANT: if you’re using shredded beets, add them now.

8. Let the vegetables simmer for 10-15 minutes.

9. Add the diced beets, beans and vinegar. I recommend checking the flavor before you add a ton of vinegar.

10. Simmer the soup until all the vegetables are soft.

11. Serve topped with vegan sour cream.

IMG_2465edit

Ukrainian borscht (Barszcz ukraiński)

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

Ingredients

2 lbs beets (1 kilo)

medium red onion

3-4 cloves garlic

4 medium carrots

1 can white beans

-2-3 tablespoons apple vinegar

-parsley to taste

-salt and pepper to taste

-10 cups vegetable stock or broth

-olive oil

Optional vegetables:

-1 leek

-2 cups green beans

-2 medium red-skinned potatoes

Directions

1. Scrub the beets in plenty of water, and cut off the top and root.

2. Cook the beets (boil or bake, or shred) depending on your preference. If you decide to use shredded beets, make sure to peel them first.

3. While the beets are cooking, scrub and dice the carrots, dice the onion and mince the garlic.

4. When the beets are cooked, let them cool. (Popping them in the fridge can speed up this process!) Peel the beets and dice them into cubes.

5. Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil.

6. When the onions are soft and translucent, add the 10 cups of vegetable broth and bring to a boil.

7. Add the carrots, potatoes, and other vegetables of your choice.

IMPORTANT: if you’re using shredded beets, add them now.

8. Let the vegetables simmer for 10-15 minutes.

9. Add the diced beets, beans, parsley and vinegar. I recommend checking the flavor before you add a ton of vinegar.

10. Simmer the soup until all the vegetables are soft.

11. Serve topped with vegan sour cream.

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2 responses to “Ukrainian borscht (Barszcz ukraiński)

  1. Pingback: Beet kvass review | V 8 Mile·

  2. Pingback: Year in review: mushroom hunting, beet soup, and a trip to Ukraine | V 8 Mile·

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