Adventures in Ukrainian Cuisine: Beets
I have been living in Ukraine as a Peace Corps Volunteer since September 2010 and thus have had plenty of time to taste – and sometimes cook – many traditional Ukrainian dishes. A lot of these dishes include the staple (mainly root) vegetables that grow so easily and abundantly here in eastern Europe: potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage, and beets.
I have found that beets are the biggest challenge. They are a funny shape, have a thicker skin than potatoes or carrots, and are (usually) a deep red-purple color that stains almost everything it touches. Living in Ukraine for the past year and a half has expanded my how-to-prepare-beets horizons.
Even if you know nothing about Ukraine or eastern Europe, you have probably heard of borscht, beet soup (or stew, as I prefer less water-to-vegetables ratio). Borscht is healthy, offering many nutrients and antioxidants and protein in its meat and/or beans.
There are two main kinds of borscht: green borscht and red borscht. As far as I can tell, the main difference between the two is the green borscht’s lack of beets and slightly different ingredient set (additions to green borscht include preserved young cabbage, dill, and hard-boiled egg). Red borscht is what probably comes to mind when a non-Eastern European thinks of borscht: that rich, reddish-purple soup set off by a dollop of bright white sour cream.
It’s important to note that every borscht is different. Every Ukrainian has her own recipe and it rarely turns out the same twice. Borscht gets better with age; third-day reheated borscht is, by far, the tastiest.
Український Борщ (Ukrainian Borscht), Tammela’s Version
- Meat of choice (I used two chicken drumsticks), or beans, or no protein at all
- 2 medium onions, sliced thinly
- 3-4 small-medium potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 large carrot, peeled and grated
- 1 large or 2 small-medium beets, peeled and grated
- 1-2 small-medium tomatoes, grated or chopped
- 1-2 tbsp tomato paste (depending on how tomatoey you want your borscht to be)
- ½ head of green cabbage, sliced thinly
- Oil (Ukrainians use sunflower oil, but canola/vegetable oil would work fine)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Fresh dill, chopped
- Optional: bunch of green onions, chopped
- For serving: dollop of sour cream; hunk of brown bread; peeled raw garlic clove(s)
- Bring water with meat to a boil, and simmer until it’s mostly cooked (cooking time will depend on the kind of meat you use; chicken cooks fast). Partway through, add the sliced onion to the water.
- When meat is mostly cooked, add diced potatoes and keep simmering until potatoes are cooked, 10-20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, grate the carrot, beet, and tomato, and sauté for a few minutes in a pan with some oil.
- Add sautéed vegetables to the pot and throw in the cabbage, too.
- Salt and pepper to taste, stir in some tomato paste, add the dill and/or green onions, and let simmer for as long as you like.
- Serve borscht with a dollop of sour cream (сметана, smetana), a hunk of brown bread (чорний хліб, chornyy khlib), and (if you’re really brave) a clove or two of peeled raw garlic.
If you are not up for trying your hand at borscht, there are a few other beet-sporting Ukrainian dishes, which are often made for holiday meals but are equally as good for regular consumption. You can check them out here over the next few days as BEET WEEK continues!
Ready for more delightful beet recipes from the Ukraine? Click here