Borscht or borshch (barszcz, barščiai, borș) is a vegetable soup from Eastern Europe. It is traditionally made with beetroot as a main ingredient which gives it a strong red color. Other, non-beet varieties also exist, such as the tomato paste-based orange borscht and the green (zelioni) borscht (sorrel soup).
The soup is part of the local culinary heritage of many Eastern
and Central European
nations. The Ukrainian and Russian name is borshch
(борщ). It is also a staple dish in Eastern Europe, and made its way into United States cuisine
and English vernacular
by way of Jewish immigrants (as well as other Eastern Europeans) with the spelling borsht
; the Yiddish
word for the soup is "בורשט" (borscht
). Alternative spellings are borshch
Hot and cold Borscht
There are two main variants of borscht, generically referred to as hot and cold. Both generally are based on beets, but are otherwise prepared and served differently.
Hot borscht (mostly Ukrainian and Russian), the kind most popular in the majority of cultures is a hearty soup with many common optional ingredients, depending on the cuisine, including various vegetables (beans, cabbage, carrots, cucumber, potatoes, onions, or tomatoes), mushrooms, and meats (chicken, pork, or beef). It is more akin to a stew than most soups, and may be eaten as a meal in itself, usually with thick dark bread.
Cold borshch exists in a number of cultures.
The basic Polish borscht (barszcz) recipe includes red beetroot, onions, garlic, and other vegetables such as carrots and celery or parsley roots. The ingredients are cooked for some time together to produce kind of clear broth (when strained) served as boullion in cups or in other ways. Some recipes include bacon as well, which gives the soup its distinctive, "smoky" taste.
Other versions are richer as they include meat and cut vegetables of various kinds where beetroots aren't the main one (though this soup isn't always called barszcz, but rather beetroot soup). This variation of barszcz isn't strained and vegetable contents are left in it. Such soup can make the main course of obiad (main meal eaten in the early afternoon).
Barszcz in its strictly vegetarian version is the first course during the Christmas Eve feast. It's served with ravioli-type dumplings called "uszka" (lit. "little ears") with mushroom filling (sauerkraut can be used as well, again depending on the family tradition). Typically, this version does not include any meat ingredients, although some variants do.
As other Christmas traditions, barszcz served at that time has its own symbolic meaning. Most of food served at that time isn't quite the food of the living ones, but of those that passed away. Dried fruit, mushrooms — all symbolise death of the old year as opposed to birth of the new one a day later. Change of food on December 25 (Christmas) is a visible sign that old traditions are still preserved in those little, sometimes unclear ways.
A key component to the taste of barscz is acidity. Whilst barszcz can be made easily within a few hours by simply cooking the ingredients and adding vinegar, lemon juice or citric acid; the traditional way is to prepare barszcz several days before and allow it to naturally sour. Depending on the technique; the level of acidity required and the ingredients available, barszcz takes 3-7 days to prepare in this way.
The word borş is used in Romanian to refer to a kind of sour soup made from fermented wheat bran, which is an important part of Romanian cuisine. To refer to the traditional borscht made from beetroot, Romanians generally say borş rusesc (Russian borscht) or borş de sfeclă (beetroot borscht).
Other regional recipes
There are local variations in the basic borscht recipe:
- In Ukrainian and Belarusian the tomatoes are standard, sometimes in addition with beets. It is usually served with smetana (sour cream) and a traditional accompaniment of pampushki (sing. pampushka), small hot breads topped with fresh chopped garlic.
- In Polish cuisine, the beets are not standard. Besides the Ukrainian style beet soup Polish people enjoy a white Easter borscht. White borshch is made from a base of whey (the sour liquid left over from production of curd cheese) usually added to a broth of boiled white fresh kiełbasa. It is served hot with cubed rye bread and diced hard-boiled eggs added to the broth, and horseradish is often added to taste.
- In Russian cuisine, it usually includes beets, meat, and cabbage and optionally potatoes.
- In East Prussia sour cream (Schmand) and beef was served with the Beetenbartsch (lit. beetroot-borscht).
- In Lithuanian cuisine, dried mushrooms are often added.
- In Romanian cuisine, it is the name for any sour soup, prepared usually with fermented wheat bran (which is also called borş), which gives it a sour taste. In fact, the Romanian gastronomy uses with no discrimination the words ciorbă, borş or, sometimes, zeamă/acritură. One ingredient that is required in all recipes by the Romanian tradition is the lovage. Its leaves give a special taste, enhancing the palate experience, which makes the Romanian borş so appreciated by the international travelers.
- In Armenian cuisine, it is served warm with fresh sour cream.
- In Doukhobor cuisine, the main ingredient is cabbage, and the soup also contains beets, potatoes, tomatoes and heavy cream along with dill and leeks. This style of borscht is orange in colour, and is always eaten hot.
- In Hong Kong-style western cuisine, it includes tomatoes instead of beets, and also beef, cabbage, potatoes, bell peppers and carrots. Sometimes chili pepper is added.
- In Mennonite cuisine, borscht is a cabbage, beef, potato and tomato soup flavoured with dill. This soup is part of the cuisine absorbed by Mennonites in Ukraine and Russia. Mennonite "Summer Borscht" is made with sorrel and is garnished with a cold, boiled egg.
- In northern Chinese cuisine, particularly found in and around the city of Harbin in Heilongjiang province, an area with a long history of trade with Eastern Russia, the soup known as hóngtāng ("red soup") is mainly made with red cabbage.
- In mainland China borshch was borrowed as 罗宋汤 Luósòng-tāng via English ("Russian soup"), Luósòng is not the usual Chinese word for "Russia(n)" (usually: 俄罗斯 Éluósī) but borrowed from the English sound, it is identical to the Russian beef-based borshch.