In Ukraine, borscht is synonymous with home, and every family has its own recipe, passed down from mother to children, from grandmothers to grandchildren. More than a simple soup, borscht resembles childhood and large tables, as it is eaten with the family and almost never alone, but it also takes time to prepare and consume.
The main ingredients are potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, cabbage, garlic, tomatoes, greens, as well as meat or bean broth, cooked for an hour and a half on low heat.
The first written recipe dates back to the early eighteenth century, but as always, variations abound and vary by region, season, and proximity to rivers or mountains. Near the hills, the broth will be made from mushrooms and beans, and near the rivers, fish-based ones will be easier to find. The classic recipe, on the other hand, calls for a meat stock as the base, with a choice of pork, beef or chicken. The color palette also varies from deep red, due to the presence of beetroot, to a light beige cream color, which is usually added directly to the plate as desired. In the spring, the color of the borscht changes to the green of wild herbs: sorrel, dandelion and other spring herbs.
The skill of preparation lies in finding the right balance between the sour and sweet taste of different ingredients. Beets, breadcrumbs or fermented herbs can be added to add a sour note before the tomatoes arrive, and prunes, black cherries, rhubarb, pears or dried apples can be added to balance the bitterness.
It is usually prepared a few hours before serving to mix all the ingredients well. We also enjoy eating it the next day, in fact there is a Ukrainian saying: “Only borscht is good the next day.”
Another saying says that borscht is the best dish or queen’s dish, in fact it is also prepared for major traditional festivals. On Christmas Eve (a more celebrated event than Christmas dinner), fish, prunes, mushrooms or fresh pasta are added, and those prepared for weddings are enriched with millet groats; it is also a typical welcome meal for relatives returning home who are longing for the taste of their land. Soon after, expats leave with the secret ingredients of borscht in their suitcases to recreate that family atmosphere gathered around a plate of soup in their home abroad.
The recipe is part of the national heritage. In 2021, the young chef Yevhen Klopotenko and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine filed an application for inclusion of Ukrainian borscht in the world heritage of intangible assets. Klopotenko, the author of the gastronomic TV show “The Secret Ingredient Borsht”, traveled all over Ukraine, found and cooked at least 25 different recipes; then the whole material was turned into a documentary that was released in cinemas.
In Soviet times, it was the most popular first in Soviet recipe books, and after the breakup of the USSR, Russia tried to adopt the culture of this dish. In Soviet canteens, the soup was the same everywhere, with its delicious taste and dull color, but initiatives such as those of Klopotenko and the Institute of Ukraine and Ukrainian culinary history researcher Olena Brychenko have restored the right balance between history and flavor. sour and sweet borsch.