Borscht recipes are a dime a dozen.
This may not be the smartest thing to tell you at the beginning of a post giving you yet another borscht recipe. But it’s the truth – each Slavic family has its own borscht recipe, its own way of mixing together beets and potatoes and water and cooking it all slowly, so it melds into one bright symphony. Each family has its own secrets.
And today, I’d like to share with you G’s father’s vegetarian Ukrainian borscht.
I told you about Terry before. Along with his cucumber salad and piles of books on the dining room table, this borscht was one of the first things about G I discovered, one of the first things that told me I belong with the boy sitting across me at dinner. One of the first things that made me feel at home in the blue house on Queenston.
Though so different from the borscht we make at home, Terry’s vegetarian Ukrainian borscht was a creation so rooted in tradition, so mired in generations of life off the land and your pantry, that it sang to me in its own way. Though so different from what I thought was right, I was surprised to see that Terry’s borscht wasn’t wrong. And perhaps, that was the first step on the road to my becoming a more open-minded, accepting adult (ha!….)
Terry’s vegetarian Ukrainian borscht is so thick with vegetables, you can barely drag a spoon through it. It’s got a lovely balance of tart vinegar and natural sweetness from the beets, and a melange of textures from carefully diced carrots, potatoes, onions and, the secret ingredient, a mix of frozen vegetables. It’s vegan and gluten-free, but no self-respecting Ukrainian would dream of eating it without a generous dollop of sour cream. In short, it’s a borscht recipe that deserves to be made a part of your regular soup repertoire.
I’ve been planning on sharing with you Terry’s vegetarian Ukrainian borscht recipe for a year now. So this Christmas, when everyone but Terry and I went to watch the new Star Wars, I watched him make it. I followed his movements closely as he chopped onions, and as he added vegetables to the pot, and as he measured out his vinegar. I couldn’t help myself and added a few additions of my own – fresh dill instead of dry, a bay leaf and some allspice. But mostly, I watched Terry, and I memorized.
So when I came home, I immediately set to work on making Terry’s Ukrainian vegetarian borscht. Amidst unpacked suitcases and bags of groceries, I stood at the counter chopping beets and steaming up my windows. I sang Russian songs and danced a little. I felt joy.
When I had my first taste of this soup, I knew I nailed it. This was it, Terry’s mythical vegetarian Ukrainian borscht. With this recipe, I fell in love with G; with this recipe, I knew I could cement his love to me. I ladled out soup and dropped a dollop of sour cream into his bowl, sprinkling fresh dill on top.
I carried the bowls triumphantly over to the kitchen, setting them on the inlaid mosaic table in the living room. I gave G a spoon and watched the smile spread on his face as he had his first sip. I rejoiced as he nodded solemnly, savouring each bite, each carefully selected seasoning, each note.
And then I sat there in horror as he said the next few words, my jaw dropping with each syllable:
“But you know, my dad always cuts his vegetables into matchsticks, as they do in Western Ukraine. This is how you know this borscht was made by an insolent Eastern conqueror.”
Trust me though – what this borscht lacks in authenticity, it more than makes up for in flavour and ease of preparation. Whether you chop your vegetables into a fine dice, or carefully cut them into matchsticks, this borscht deserves to be made. Promise me that.
If you are looking for more Russian recipe inspiration, then you’re in luck! I will be taking over the Huffington Post Canada Living Instagram account all of this week, and showcasing some of my favourite Russian and Israeli recipes! Please follow my #huffposttakeover exploits over on the HuffPost Canada Living Instagram, January 18 to 22!
Vegetarian Ukrainian borscht
- 2 beets peeled and diced into small cubes
- 1 large onion peeled and diced into small cubes
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- Two carrots peeled and diced into small cubes
- 6 cups water
- 2 potatoes peeled and diced into small cubes
- 2 cups chopped frozen vegetables mix or 1 cup frozen green peas
- Bay leaf
- 5 whole allspice
- White vinegar to taste (start with 1/8 cup and add as needed)
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Dill fresh or dry, to taste (start with 1 teaspoon dry dill or half a bunch of fresh dill)
- Fresh parsley and/or cilantro optional
- Sour cream optional
Add vegetable oil to a heavy-bottomed pot. Add beets and sauté until a bit softened, about 30 minutes, covering after 10 minutes. Uncover, add carrots and sauté an additional 15 minutes. Add onions and garlic, add sauté another 10 minutes before adding the potatoes and water. Cover, increase heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add bay leaf and allspice peppercorns, reduce heat to medium and let everything cook together until all vegetables are soft, about 20-30 mins. Add frozen vegetables and chopped herbs. Taste, and season with vinegar, salt and pepper, as needed.
You can eat the borscht right then, thought its best allowed to rest overnight for the flavours to come together. Serve with sour cream and more herbs.