Borsch (also known as borscht) is one of the most popular soups across the vast region of Eastern Europe. Originating in Ukraine, it traveled to Azerbaijan during the Soviet reign and has been ever since wholeheartedly embraced by Azerbaijanis. I haven’t had a chance to sample different versions of borsch but I know that Russian and Ukrainian variations are the closest to what we make in Azerbaijan.
Borsch is a vegetable soup. It includes beets, cabbage, carrots and potatoes. It is, however, not vegetarian as the vegetables are cooked in beef stock. Typically, beef stock is prepared from large bony chunks of beef, but here in California I resort to boneless beef pre-cut into stew size pieces.
Borsch is a red soup with the color coming from beets, which thanks to their natural coloring ability turn the soup into one bright feast to the eyes. Those who don’t like the taste of beets much reduce its amount, but not me. I like my borsch as red as it can be.
If you have time, let your cooked borsch rest for a few hours before serving it. This will give the ingredients a chance to blend and will allow the flavors to develop better. When ready to serve, heat the soup up, ladle it into bowls and serve with a dollop of plain yogurt on top, the way it is typically served in Azerbaijan.
1 pound boneless beef, cut into serving size pieces (if you can find large bone-in chunks of beef, even better)
5 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium beet (about 1/2 pound / 300 g) , peeled and grated on a coarse side of a box grater
2 medium carrots (1/2 pound / 300 g), peeled and grated on a coarse side of a box grater
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3-4 dried bay leaves
4 cups shredded cabbage (1 1/2 pound cabbage / 700 g)
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges or cubes
2 cups chopped fresh parsley (make it more or less, to taste)
salt, to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
1. Make a stock by boiling beef in a large saucepan filled with about 20 cups water. Remove any froth that may surface to top. Cook until the meat it tender (depending on your beef, it will take from 20 minutes to 40 minutes). Strain the stock. Rinse out the saucepan and put the stock and the meat back in it.
2. In a medium frying pan, heat the butter or oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for about 5 minutes, or until soft.
3. Add the grated beets and carrots and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until they are just tender. Add the tomato paste, salt and pepper to taste, then stir to mix and cook for 5 minutes more.
4. Add the cooked vegetables to the stock with meat and toss in the bay leaves. If there is not much stock left, add water to it. There should be about 12 cups of liquid in the pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium. Add the cabbage, potatoes, and chopped parsley, and cook until the cabbage is soft and the potato is cooked, about 25 minutes. Remove the bay leaves. Adjust seasoning to taste.
5. Ladle into intividual serving plates and top with a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream. Serve with bread.