I did not make Ukrainian borsch as a noble gesture to support Ukrainians against their evil invaders. But while making the soup, I did think about the people who have lost so much and wished them better days and freedom from tyranny soon.
Behind our home, we have three raised garden planters. Since we live in Hawaii, the weather is darn near perfect for growing most everything. So, I planted beets, which Bill had never eaten freshly grown and yanked out of the dirt. He loved them so much, he wanted more, so I replanted and told him that I would make him borscht, the Slavic beet soup.
Bill’s idea of borscht is the stuff he slurped years ago at Katz’s Deli in Austin when we would stop by after symphonies and operas, dressed in his tux and my sparkling whatever. We chose Katz’s, a Jewish deli, because it was on the way home and open 24 hours. I can’t recall my regular order, but Bill’s was always borscht. Katz’s version was a cold beet soup with a bit of sour cream and sprinkle of fresh dill on top. It was meatless, and the liquid part was clear, except it was the color of beets. In Bill’s mind, that was borscht.
Ukrainian Borsch Has No “T”
When researching recipes, I found that borscht is often made with meat, especially in Ukraine where it is called “borsch,” without the “t.” One day Bill and I chanced to watch a Christopher Kimball Milk Street TV show about Ukrainian Borsch, and Bill got so excited about that recipe he bought me the cookbook. That recipe was made with duck, although pork was also recommended.
Since Bill loves pork, I thought I would make mine with pork, so I bought a rack of pork, which I highly recommend. It’s actually a bunch of pork chops lined up—like a rack of lamb. At Costco, it was only $20, a steal. With half a rack of pork, you get the benefit of the rib meat, which the recipe recommended, but also the loin chop quality meat for your soup. And I’ll use the other half for a roast pork down the line.
As I prepared to make the soup, I noticed a few things I did not like about the Milk Street recipe, primarily that it only had one beet in it. I mean, if you’re gonna make beet soup, it should have some beets in it. Also, Milk Street substituted prunes for the pears that the Ukrainian chef recommended using as a sweetener. Not wanting to use prunes, I consulted the reliable Joy of Cooking, which has a good and authentic recipe, however it uses beef. After Googling more, I found several recipes with pork, plus all kinds of recipes for “authentic Ukrainian borsch.”
There are as many versions of Borsch as there are Ukrainian cooks.
Using a combination of about five different recipes I developed this one below, which I’m going to call “Pat’s Ukrainian Borsch with Pork,” although I am not Ukrainian. If you do not have five to six hours to devote to this version, you can split the duties in half. Or there are many quickie versions online.
This version is for one of those days when cooking something wonderful is all you want to do.
And I must give a lot of credit to a fellow named Victor at ifoodblogger.com, because I took his advice and spent three hours making the broth first. Joy of Cooking recommended roasting the beets, and the Ukrainian chef on the Milk Street show recommended sweetening with pears.
Pat’s Ukrainian Borsch With Pork
If making in one day, plan for five hours. Or make broth and roast beets day before.
Ingredients for the Broth (this simmers while beets roast):
Olive oil or neutral oil
2 lbs. pork butt (fat trimmed off); or 1 rack of pork with ribs (about 4 to 5 lbs.; cut in half and then in chops for the soup; freeze other half)
1 carrot (scrubbed and cut in fourths)
2 large celery ribs (roughly chopped)
1 red onion (peeled and roughly diced)
2 garlic cloves (peeled and roughly chopped)
3 bay leaves
10 whole peppercorns
1 dash of cayenne pepper
2 sprigs of thyme
2 sprigs of flat leaf parsley
10 cups low-sodium chicken broth (three boxes=12 cups; you will probably need the other 2 cups later)
For the Roasted Beets, You’ll Need
3 medium fresh beets (12 to 16 oz.)
Ingredients for the Soup
Olive oil or neutral oil
1 medium carrot (shredded)
1 red onion (diced)
3 garlic cloves (peeled and diced)
2 medium-large potatoes (diced; cover with water to hold color)
1 red pear (diced; leave skin on, but discard core)
14 oz. can crushed red tomatoes (fire-roasted, if available)
Shredded pork from above
Roasted beets from above (peeled, sliced thinly, then cut into strips)
3 cups red cabbage (shredded)
1 Tbsp. sugar (more if needed)
3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar (if using regular vinegar, reduce to 2 Tbsp.)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (if needed)
Kosher salt (to taste)
Freshly ground pepper (to taste)
Ingredients for Garnish:
Sour cream, fresh dill, parsley, and/or green onions (finely chopped)
If using rack of pork, slice 4 chops at ribs; reserve or freeze remaining rack for other use. If using pork butt, I recommend removing as much fat as possible, then dividing the pork into four pieces.
Add 2 Tbsp. oil to Dutch oven or very large pot, and place over medium-high heat. Brown the pork on all sides, then remove to plate. Lower heat to medium low. You should have enough fat in pan to sauté the carrot, onion, and celery until softened, but not browned. Add garlic and sweat a bit, then add 10 cups of stock, peppercorns, cayenne, thyme, parsley, and bay leaves, along with the pork. Bring to a moderate boil, then turn heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 2 hours.
Take meat out, let cool, then cut into bite-sized pieces, or shred.
Filter the broth through a fine sieve. Wipe out Dutch oven, then return broth to it. (The broth can be made in advance and refrigerated overnight.)
While broth simmers, scrub 3 medium beets (12 to 16 oz.). Cut greens off to about an inch, then wrap each beet separately in aluminum foil. Roast in oven at 400 degrees for about an hour. Set aside to cool, or refrigerate for next day prep. When cool, slip off the peel/root/stem, then slice thinly and cut into strips. Reserve.
Putting it All Together
In the Dutch oven, bring the broth back to a low boil over medium heat.
In a separate sauté pan, heat 2 Tbsp. of oil. Sauté onions and carrots until soft, then add to broth, along with can of crushed tomatoes and vinegar. Stir and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the diced potatoes, the shredded pork, and diced pear to the broth, stir lightly and cook for 15 minutes. (Note: Some Ukrainians do not put the meat back in the soup but serve it separately. Your call on that one.)
Next, add the strips of roasted beets and shredded cabbage. Again, stir lightly and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and salt and pepper to taste. At this time, you may need to add one to two cups of chicken broth, depending.
Borsh should be chock full of ingredients but not too thin. Simmer for 5 minutes, and then taste. It should have a sweet/sour taste. If not sweet or sour enough, add sugar or vinegar in one-teaspoon increments, then stir and taste again. Once your flavors are balanced, turn off heat, cover, and let sit for 20 minutes. (This is an important step to let the flavors mellow. And they will indeed mellow.)
Serve in large bowls with a dollop of sour cream, fresh greens, and garlicky buns or bread.