A better, more Ukrainian borshch

 Frank and I had people over last weekend and I think it was the first time since the dawn of Covid that we had more than four people in this house at one time. It's was extremely satisfying to say the least, but strangely enough it was also a little unnerving. I've grown so used to not socializing that I'd nearly forgotten how to small talk.

Dinner party chatter is an art form if you ask me and there was a time in my life when I felt that I was pretty good at it. Maybe it's a function of my steady march through my 50s or a lack of practice in recent years, but whatever it was, I had to really work at socializing. Strange.

Another thing that was weighing on me is that it felt strange to be warm and well-fed and worrying about small talk when in Eastern Europe people were dying in their homes. Those who aren't dying have either taken up arms against the Russian army or have fled in the largest refugee crisis Europe's seen in nearly 100 years. The plight of Ukraine certainly puts things into perspective. I read the dispatches from the front lines on Twitter, worry that the war will escalate and make donations. At this stage of the game there's not much else to do. Oh, I can also learn how to cook Ukrainian foods.

Current events dictated the menu for our dinner party and I made a new borsht (in Ukrainian it's borshch) to get things going. After that it was the Ukrainian version of pierogi, pyrohy. Then a Ukrainian spin on pork and sauerkraut (it has dried prunes, dried currants and dried apricots as well as fennel seed), and everything wrapped up with halushki. Halushki is a dumpling, cabbage and onion delight that I used as a side dish, but serves as a Ukrainian staple as I understand it.

(Scott Suchman for The Washington Post/food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)

But back to the borshch. Most Americans call this soup borsht because that's the English transliteration of the Russian word Борщ. As I've recently learned, the Ukrainian pronunciation of that word drops the T. So borshch it is forever more.

I made a variation on Olga Massov's recipe from The Washington Post. Her recipe is a variation of Olia Hercules' recipe from her book, Mamushka. Here goes:

Ukrainian Borshch


For the stock

2 pounds bone-in beef
1 ham bone
1 pound beef marrow bones
3 1/2 quarts water, or more as needed
1 large yellow onion, cut in half and unpeeled
2 medium parsnips, peeled and left whole
1 large carrot, peeled and left whole
3 celery stalks with leaves, halved to fit in the pot
3 whole fresh dill sprigs
3 fresh whole parsley sprigs
4 dried bay leaves
a scant handful of black peppercorns

For the borshch

2 quarts water
2 pounds boneless beef short ribs, cut into chunks
1 pound beets, peeled and diced
1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
2 large carrots, grated
2 tablespoons tomato paste
One 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 pound green cabbage, shredded
Two 14.5-ounce cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Fresh lemon juice
Sour cream, for serving
Fresh chopped dill, for serving

Step 1

Make the stock: In a large soup pot (at least 10 quarts), combine the beef, ham bone and marrow bones with the water — if the water doesn’t cover the meat, add more as needed — and bring to a boil over high heat. Skim it periodically.

Step 2

Once the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low so the broth is at a gentle simmer. Add the onion, parsnips, carrot, celery and herbs, then cover and cook until the meat is tender and the stock is flavorful, 2 to 3 hours. Remove from the heat, discard the solids (or save for another use), then let cool for about 1 hour and refrigerate overnight.

Step 3

Make the borshch: The next day, skim off the fat from the stock. You should have about 3 quarts of stock. Add the water and the short ribs, set the pot over medium-high heat, and bring to a simmer.

Step 4

Reduce the heat to low and add the beets and potatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper — you want a flavorful but not aggressively seasoned stock — and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Step 5

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onions and carrots, and cook, stirring, until the carrots soften and start to caramelize, 5 to 7 minutes.

Step 6

Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the tomato paste is slightly toasted and darkens, about 2 minutes. Add the diced tomato and cook, stirring frequently, until slightly reduced, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the mixture to the pot with the broth. Let the soup simmer to let the flavors meld, about 10 minutes, then taste, and season with more salt and/or pepper, if desired.

Step 7

Add the cabbage and beans to the broth and simmer until cooked through and softened, about 20 minutes. Taste, and round out the flavors with a little lemon juice. Lemon juice brightens everything up, so add about a tablespoon then taste. Add more, a teaspoon at a time, until it's right, then remove from the heat.

Soup's on!

Ladle borshch into bowls, add a dollop of sour cream and garnish with the chopped dill. Serve hot.

Enjoy this borshch and do what you can to help the people of Ukraine. Chef José Andrés and his World Central Kitchen is feeding multitudes across Ukraine and if you feel motivated, send them some money here.

Слава Україні!