Borscht (also borsch, bortsch, borstch, borsh, borshch; Ukrainian: борщ) is a soup of Ukrainian origin that is popular in many Eastern and Central European countries. In most of these countries, it is made with beetroot as the main ingredient, giving it a deep reddish-purple color. In some countries, tomato may occur as the main ingredient, while beetroot acts as a secondary ingredient. Other, nonbeet varieties also exist, such as the tomato paste-based orange borscht and the green borscht (sorrel soup).
The soup began its existence from trimmings of cellared vegetables consumed throughout the winter months. Most families had a container, usually a kettle or stove pot, kept outside to store those trimmings. Around the first spring thaw, that pot was placed on the fire and cooked into a soup-like meal. One of the primary vegetables of the Slavic diet consumed during the winter months was beets. Hence, the recipe changed into what is traditionally known as a beet soup.
It made its way into North American cuisine and English vernacular by way of Slavic and Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe. Alternative spellings are borshch and borsch.
It is called in various languages: Azerbaijani: borș, Belarusian: боршч, boršč, Czech: boršč, Estonian: borš, German: Borschtsch, Latvian: boršs, Lithuanian: barščiai, Polish: barszcz, Romanian: borș, Russian: борщ, borshch, Slovak: boršč, Turkish: Borş (due to the emigration of White Russians to Turkey after their defeat in the Russian Civil War), Ukrainian: борщ, borshch, and Yiddish: באָרשט, borsht.
Hot and cold borscht
The two main variants of borscht are generally referred to as hot and cold. Both are based on beets, but are otherwise prepared and served differently.
Hot borscht, the kind most popular in the majority of cultures, is a hearty soup. It is almost always made with a broth made of beets. It usually contains heavy starchy vegetables including potatoes and beets, but may also contain carrots, spinach, and meat. It may be eaten as a meal in itself, but is usually eaten as an appetizer with thick, dark bread.
Cold borscht exists in many different culinary traditions, including Lithuanian (šaltibarščiai), Belarusian, Polish and Ukrainian (Chłodnik, literally 'cooler') and Russian (swekolnik). As a traditional European cold soup, it is akin to preparations like gazpacho, Hungarian cold tomato and/or cucumber soups, and meggyleves.
In these countries it is called:
- Latvian: Aukstā zupa
- Lithuanian: Šaltibarščiai
- Polish: Chłodnik or Chłodnik litewski
- Belarusian: Chaładnik / Хaлaднiк "khaladnik"
- Russian: Свекольник svekol'nik
- Ukrainian: Холодник kholodnyk
Its preparation starts with young beets being chopped and boiled, together with their leaves, when available. After cooling down, the soup is usually mixed with sour cream, soured milk, kefir or yoghurt (depending on regional preferences). Typically, raw chopped vegetables, such as radishes or cucumbers, are added and the soup is garnished and flavored with dill or parsley. Chopped, hard-boiled eggs are often added. The soup has a rich pink color which varies in intensity depending on the ratio of beets to dairy ingredients.
The basic Polish borscht (barszcz) recipe includes red beetroot, onions, garlic, and other vegetables, such as carrots and celery or root parsley. The ingredients are cooked for some time together to produce a clear broth (when strained), and the soup is then served as boullion in cups or in other ways. Some recipes include bacon, as well, which gives the soup a distinctive "smoky" taste.
Other versions are richer and include meat and cut vegetables of various kinds, with beetroot not necessarily in the majority (though this soup is not always called barszcz, but rather beetroot soup). This variation of barszcz is not strained, and the vegetable contents are left in. Such soup can constitute the main course of a Polish obiad (the main meal eaten in the early afternoon).
Barszcz in its strictly vegetarian version is the first course during the Christmas Eve feast, served with ravioli-type dumplings called uszka (lit. "little ears") with mushroom filling (sauerkraut can be used, as well, again depending on the family tradition). Typically, this version does not include any meat ingredients, although some variants do.
A key component to the taste of barszcz is acidity. While it can be made easily within a few hours by simply cooking the ingredients and adding vinegar, lemon juice, or citric acid, the traditional way is to prepare barszcz several days in advance and to allow it to naturally sour. Depending on the technique, the level of acidity required, and the ingredients available, barszcz takes three to seven days to prepare in this way.
The word borș is used in Romanian to refer to a kind of sour soup (which is an important part of Romanian cuisine) made from fermented wheat bran. To refer to the traditional borscht made from beetroot, Romanians generally say borș rusesc (Russian borscht) or borș de sfeclă (beetroot borscht).
Other regional recipes
There are local variations in the basic borscht recipe:
- In Belarusian cuisine, the tomatoes are standard, sometimes in addition to beets. It is usually served with smetana (Eastern European-style sour cream) and a traditional accompaniment of pampushki (sing. pampushka), small hot breads topped with fresh chopped garlic.
- In Polish cuisine, the beet basis is not required. Besides the beet-based soup, Polish people enjoy a sour wheat or rye soup, commonly known as barszcz biały or żur. White borsch is made from a base of fermented wheat, and żur is made from a base of fermented rye - both usually added to a broth of boiled white fresh kiełbasa. It is served hot with cubed rye bread and diced hard-boiled eggs added to the broth, and horseradish is often added to taste.
- In Russian cuisine, it usually includes beets, meat, cabbage, and optionally, potatoes.
- In East Prussia (now parts of northeast Poland and Kaliningrad, Russia), sour cream (schmand) and beef is served with the Beetenbartsch (lit. beetroot borscht).
- In Lithuanian cuisine, dried mushrooms are often added.
- In Romanian cuisine, it is the name for any sour soup, prepared usually with fermented wheat bran (which is also called borș), which gives it a sour taste. In fact, Romanian gastronomy uses with no discrimination the words ciorbă, borș or, sometimes, zeamă/acritură. One ingredient required in all recipes by Romanian tradition is lovage. The lovage leaves give a special taste, enhancing the palate experience, which makes the Romanian borș so appreciated by international travelers.
- In Armenian cuisine, it is served warm with fresh sour cream.
- In Azerbaijani cuisine, it is served hot and it usually includes beets, potatoes and cabbage, and optionally, beef. One soup spoon of plain yogurt is added on top, as typically served in Azerbaijan.
- In Doukhobor cuisine, the main ingredient is cabbage, and the soup also contains beets, potatoes, tomatoes and heavy cream, along with dill and leeks. This style of borscht is orange in colour, and is always eaten hot.
- In Mennonite cuisine, borscht is a cabbage, beef, potato and tomato soup flavoured with onions, dill and black pepper. This soup is part of the cuisine absorbed by Mennonites in Ukraine and Russia. Mennonite "summer borscht" contains beet leaves, potatoes, dill, and sausage. It is made with a pork stock, usually made by boiling the sausage contained in the soup.
- In Chinese cuisine, tomatoes and tomato paste are used instead of beets, in addition to beef, cabbage, potatoes, and carrots. It is similar to the Russian beet-based borscht.
- In northern Chinese cuisine, particularly found in and around the city of Harbin in Heilongjiang province, an area with a long history of trade with Eastern Russia, the soup known as hóngtāng ("red soup") is mainly made with red cabbage.
- In Ukrainian cuisine, it can be a vegetable soup or based on either chicken or other meat bouillon. Traditionally borshch is served with pampushki and smetana. Main ingredients include specially prepared red beets, potatoes, carrots, beans (e.g. broad beans, green runner beans, butter beans or other varieties), celery, fresh or dried mushrooms (optional), herbs (e.g. fresh dill and/ or parsley), chopped cabbage, chopped fresh tomatoes or tomato sauce .
- ^ Sydney Schultze. Culture and customs of Russia. Greenwood Pub Group(2008) pp. 65-66
- ^ Definition of Borscht by Vladimir Dal (in Russian)
- ^ William Pokhlyobkin about borshch (in Russian)
- ^ Oxford English Dictionary
- ^ Merriam Webster's Unabridged Dictionary
- ^ Lukasz Luczaj Guide to Wild Edible Plants, English language website.
- ^ Luczaj, Lukasz. Dzikie Rosliny Jadalne Polski. Przewodnik Survivalowy (Wild Edible Plants of Poland. A Survival Handbook). Chemigrafia 2002. (in Polish)
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