We think tomato soup has been sitting at the popular girls’ table long enough! Tomato soup is great and all, but we’ve matured a little, and we’ve traveled, and we’re looking for something a little more interesting—we need some variety! That’s not to say tomato soup isn’t great and all; it’s our go-to comfort soup for chilly days. It’s just sometimes we want something a little different, a little…European!
Enter borscht: a sour, Eastern European soup. You may have had it at a Russian restaurant, or perhaps your grandmother busts out the old family recipe on occasion. Maybe you know all about it, or maybe you know nothing!
For those who have had borscht before (also spelled borsch), there’s a good chance it was of the “red borscht” variety. It might have been Russian borscht or Ukrainian borscht, but there are endless varieties across Eastern Europe. Made with or without meat, red borscht gets its signature color from the generous inclusion of beets, and is usually made with dill and served with a dollop of sour cream. Try our Borscht recipe, whose primary ingredients of stew meat and a marrow bone will have you dreaming of the old country. Or, for a variation that can be made vegetarian (if you elect to use a vegetable broth base), try this recipe for Traditional Ukrainian Red Borscht.
Next up in our borscht lineup is cabbage borscht, the other “main” type you might have encountered. Heavier on the cabbage than red borscht and generally made without beets, this is another hearty, warming soup to enjoy on a chilly evening. Try this recipe for Sweet and Sour Cabbage Borscht, which uses flanken, a traditionally Eastern European Jewish cut of short rib, as well as a hefty dose of lemon juice to highlight that borscht sourness. If you’re looking for a less sour flavor, as well as lots of leftovers, try our recipe for Cabbage Borscht with Caraway (which uses three pounds of beef!).
White borscht, or zurek, is a Polish soup that gets its sourness from a fermented rye base. Growing up with both Polish and Lithuanian foods served at family gatherings, it is unsurprising to me that zurek is a) labor intensive, and b) full of sausage. The zakwas base in this recipe for Zurek Soup requires prep several days ahead of time, to allow the rye and water mixture to ferment into the bubbly, sour liquid that will be combined with the other ingredients. If you are looking for a gluten-free version, or if you just aren’t in the practice of planning dinner days ahead of time, you can try this recipe which mimics the flavor of zakwas through use of sour cream and horseradish.
Our final borscht is green borscht, or sorrel borscht. In this recipe for Shchavel Borscht, add more shchavel (the Russian and Ukrainian word for the herb, sorrel) to make your soup more sour. You can include pork or chicken, or leave out meat entirely and use a vegetable broth to make a vegetarian version. The incorporation of dill and sour cream harkens back to our first love, red borscht, but the plentiful sorrel and the lack of beets give this borscht its “green” coloring.
Four types of borscht, and as many variations as there are babushkas/bubbes/babcias. Pour yourself a glass of sippin’ vodka, pick your favorite recipe, and get started on a big pot of borscht to share with friends and family on a cold winter’s night.
Header image courtesy of Shutterstock.