My Grandfather’s Belarusian Borscht

Borscht

Borscht

In the years before World War I, social unrest was escalating in Belarus, Russia.  The Bolsheviks (precursor to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) were gaining traction, and the economy was failing.

My Grandfather, Simon, born and raised in Belarus, knew very little about life beyond this northwest corner of the Russian Empire.  But he was afraid of the rising Bolshevik power and the economic and political upheaval that most certainly lie ahead. So, aged 18, Simon left Belarus on an arduous ocean passage for an unknown future half way around the world.

Simon had been right to worry about Belarus.  After the travails of World War I, Belarus enjoyed a meager year of independence in 1918 before the Bolsheviks took it and then Lenin incorporated it into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  Belarus would not see independence again until 1991 – more than 70 years later.  This recent independence was, and still is, marred by the rise to power of Alexander Lukashenko, otherwise known as “Europe’s Last Dictator”.

Simon did not regret leaving Belarus.  He loved the United States, his adopted country, without reservation.  But Grandfather Simon never forgot his heritage — the history, the culture and the food — all of which he eagerly shared with me.

His Belarusian Borscht is one of my favorites among his recipes.  It is different from a traditional Borscht, which uses beef rather than pork as a base.  It also has a bit more sweet/sour than many versions of this soup, which gives it a nice “kick”.  And, instead of tomatoes or tomato paste, he substituted his all-time favorite ingredient: ketchup.  This is definitely not traditional, but I think Grandfather Simon so loved the U.S. that he preferred anything that he viewed as American – even ketchup in his Borscht.

Beets

Beets

Beet Greens

Beet Greens – Save These Delicious Greens for Another Use

Simple Ingredients

Beets and Onion

Belarusian Borscht
——————————————————————————–

Recipe By: A Global Garnish, LLC – adapted from my Grandfather’s recipe

3 pounds pork ribs, baby backs
salt
pepper
2 tablespoons oil, olive
1 onion, cut in quarters
10 cups water
1 1/2 pounds beets
3/4 pound carrots
1 1/2 pounds cabbage, green or savoy, about 1/2 large head
3 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons sugar, brown
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon dill, chopped, packed
6 tablespoons vinegar, cider
3 tablespoons ketchup
2 cups sour cream
salt, if needed
pepper, if needed

Directions:

1. Cut pork spare ribs into 3-bone pieces.   Salt and pepper the meat generously. Heat 2 T olive oil in large dutch oven and sear meat.  Add onion, cut in half.  Add sufficient water to cover bones/onion, about 10 cups.

Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.   Within a few minutes, skim any foam that rises to the surface.   Let simmer for about 2 hours or until the meat is fork tender.  Leave uncovered.

2. While meat is cooking, prepare vegetables.  Peel and dice beets and carrots.  I use a large dice as this is a rustic soup.  Chop cabbage into pieces about the same size as the beet dice.   Slice garlic thin.

(Reserve beet greens for another use.  Cook as you would cook spinach.  They make a great omelet; just sauté them with onions and add to an omelet along with a bit of sharp cheese.)

Diced Vegetables

Diced Carrots, Beets and Cabbage

3. Strain the stock, reserving the broth.   Discard onions.  Discard bones.

If desired, you can remove meat from bones and add it to the stock. However, this is not essential as most of the meat flavor/nutrients has already been introduced into the stock.  Also, I prefer the texture of the soup without the meat.

4. Place reserved stock in a clean stock pot. You will likely have less than 10 cups of liquid now unless you have added to the pot during cooking.  Replenish up to 8 cups as needed with water.  Add vegetables (beets, carrots, cabbage, garlic), salt, pepper and brown sugar to stock.  Cook uncovered about 45 minutes or until vegetables are just tender.  Exact timing will depend on how large you have diced your vegetables.  

Season soup with dill, vinegar and ketchup.  Cook an additional 10 minutes.

Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Add additional sugar or vinegar if needed to balance the sweet/sour taste to your liking.

Serve with sour cream.

DO-AHEAD DIRECTIONS:  This entire soup can be made a day ahead of time and refrigerated.   If can also be made ahead and frozen.  However, the texture of the vegetables will be best if simply refrigerated rather than frozen.

26 thoughts on “My Grandfather’s Belarusian Borscht

  1. – You know, I don’t think I’ve ever had borscht before. And certainly prefer the idea of using pork with beets. This is the second recipe on WP tonight that’s using baby back ribs…don’t think I’ll find those here.
    – I used to add a dollop of ketchup if I didn’t have any tomato paste to hand. Always worked well.

    • You could use any kind of pork with bones – any kind of ribs or even shoulder chops in a pinch.

      This Borscht could even be made vegetarian – using a veg stock instead of the meat. The beets have so much flavor….

  2. I had borscht for the first time a couple years ago — some of the Russian marathoners we hosted for the local marathon made it for us after the race was over! It was delicious — with the dollop of sour cream when served!

    • That sounds like a fun experience. I can see why they made it after the race. Since this version doesn’t even have potatoes in it, it wouldn’t be very good for “carbo-loading” 🙂

  3. Oooh, this looks delicious! I love soups where you actually use meat bones to make the stock –and this look so hearty. I’ve had Borscht soup before but I don’t think it was very authentic. This looks just amazing. I’ll have to give this a try. Thanks for sharing!

    • I hope you like it. There are many versions (Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian) so you may have had a different Borscht that was still “authentic”. In any case, I hope you enjoy this….

  4. I hope you were able to talk to your Grandfather about his time in Belarus. For many, Grandparents are gone before we’re old enough to realize that they weren’t always a Grandparent. Being in Belarus as the Bolsheviks rose to power would have been incredible — as well as about the best time possible to leave. Imagine your life if he hadn’t …
    I’ve never had borscht and am glad to get an authentic recipe to try, right down to using ketchup. My family uses cream cheese in our lasagna. Some questions are best left unanswered. Thanks for sharing the recipe and a bit about your Grandfather.

    • Ah, yes, I know from your terrific blog that you have a great appreciation for your family’s history and cooking. I was lucky to live with my Grandfather growing up and experience his love of life and the Belarusian culture. I think because of everything he overcame, he was always my biggest supporter when I pursued a very unlikely career for a young girl. So, while I will always cherish what he gave me, I do regret that I didn’t make more of an effort to learn more about his personal history. If I could only have but an hour with him now – to learn more and to thank him ……

    • I think my Grandfather used pork ribs because it was a cheap cut of meat. The ribs add nice flavor so I like to use them, but the meat does not have an ideal texture in the soup, so, when I make this for guests, I often do not return the meat to the soup. Most of the flavor has gone in with the stock anyway.

  5. That sounds just wonderful. I love borscht, but the extra sweet and sour kick does it for me – and the ketchup, which I think of more as Anglo Indian than American, but I guess Mr.Heinz and the most of the rest of the world would disagree:-)

    • I’m always so thrilled when you say you like my photos. I’m still struggling with my new camera, but have generally figured out how to use it on the close-up/auto setting. Now to work on the manual. Yikes!

  6. Wow, this looks beautiful! That’s so funny that it calls for ketchup… but sometimes that’s just the secret ingredient that a recipe needs, with all its tomato-y and vinegary goodness. (I actually hate ketchup plain or with french fries, but I use it in my cooking a lot! …like when making Pad Thai.) I’ve never made borscht before; I’ll bookmark this recipe! 🙂

    • Well, your use in Pad Thai is far more appropriate than ketchup in Borscht. As “Food, Photography& France” points out below, ketchup only gives the illusion of being American, but it originated in Asian cooking.

      And thank you for your kind thoughts….

  7. What an interesting story – and fantastic recipe. I’ve had (Polish) borscht before, and loved it – but I’m certain that this is quite different, and am keen to try this version too.

    (And I hope that you enjoyed the rest of your trip to the UK).

    • Thanks Georgina. Yes, there are so many versions – different meats, with/without potatoes, etc. I’ve even made Borscht vegetarian – this recipe with just water instead of the pork stock. Flavor is not so rich but you can really enjoy the vegetables.

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