Traditional Ukrainian red borsht

Photograph by David Munns Styling by Olia Hercules

Photograph by David Munns Styling by Olia Hercules

It is wonderful to see how much debate our green borsht video on The Guardian has generated!

Just a quick explanation – a traditional Ukrainian borsht is beetroot red (even though my mum says that the colour should be dusty pink rather than bright red!).

Green borshch, which is also sometimes called green shchi in Russia is a sorrel broth garnished with egg. It does indeed have very little to do with the traditional red borsht. Yet, this is what we call it – zeleniy borsht, green borsht.

My grandmother never added beetroot to the green version but it’s nice to add some beetroot leaves or stalks if you have some knocking about. People don’t realise that many a leaf is edible. If your radishes have fresh leaves – add them to a salad. You can cook with cauliflower leaves and Brussel tops!

Anyway, I digress! Here is a traditional Ukrainian red borsht recipe! Of course there are many a version. This is what my mother taught me.

Ukrainian red borsht
Making a good beef or chicken stock is hugely important here. I am a recent convert to slow cookers. Simply put some chicken bones, a piece of fatty brisket or chuck steak, bay leaf and a whole onion in the slow cooker and leave on low overnight. The broth will have a rich meaty flavour. You can also buy good stock or go vegetarian. The rest of borshch is dead easy to prepare.
Serves 4-6
1.5 L beef stock made with a large piece of brisket or chuck steak
300g beetroot, peeled and chopped into sticks
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, roughly grated
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 pepper, chopped
1 beef tomato roughly grated
200g potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 white cabbage, shredded
1 tin red kidney beans, drained and rinsed.
1/2 bunch of dill, chopped
100ml sour cream to serve
1. Bring the stock to a simmer. Add the beetroot. True Ukrainian borshch is not bright red. The beetroot we use in Ukraine turns borsht a gorgeous deep pink colour. British beetroot is really red, but it just will have to do.
2. Add potato to the borsht.
2. Heat the sunflower oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and carrot and cook over a medium heat, stirring until the carrot starts caramelising. This is a distinctively Ukrainian ‘sofritto’ technique called ‘smazhenie’. Add the pepper and the tomato paste, cook it out for 2 minutes, then add the grated fresh tomato, stir, reduce slightly and add all this to the borshch.
3. Finally add the shredded cabbage and the kidney beans and cook for 7 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, loads of chopped dill and pampushki.