Borscht

Borscht is a soup of Ukrainian origin that is popular in many Eastern and Central European cuisines, including those of Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus

Ukrainian borscht with smetana sour cream, pampushkas and shkvarkas
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In most of these countries, it is made with beetroot as the main ingredient. In some countries, tomato is used as the main ingredient, while beetroot acts as a secondary ingredient.

Russian borscht with beef and sour cream. Home made rye bread in the background
pinterest button Russian borscht with beef and sour cream. Home made rye bread in the background Tanya F., CC BY-SA 2.0

Other varieties that do not use beetroot also exist, such as the tomato paste-based orange borscht and green borscht (sorrel soup). Potatoes and cabbage are also standard; some regions have green borscht, where green spinach is substituted for the cabbage.

Hot and cold borscht

The two main variants of borscht are generally referred to as hot and cold. Both are based on beets, but are otherwise prepared and served differently.

Hot borscht

Hot borscht, the kind most popular in the majority of cultures, is a hearty soup. It is almost always made with a beef or pork broth. It usually contains heavy starchy vegetables including potatoes and beets, but may also contain carrots and peppers. It may be eaten as a meal in itself, but is usually eaten as an appetizer with dark rye bread.

Cold borscht

Borscht is served cold in many different culinary traditions, including Belarusian (Chaładnik, Хaлaднiк), Latvian (Aukstā zupa), Lithuanian (Šaltibarščiai), Polish (Chłodnik, Chłodnik litewski, Chłodnik wileński), Russian (Свекольник) and Ukrainian (Kholodnyk, Холодник).

Other cooked soups are served cold in various parts of Europe, such as Hungarian cold tomato and cucumber soups, and sour cherry soup (meggyleves).

Cold borscht (Šaltibarščiai) in Lithuanian restaurant
pinterest button Cold borscht (Šaltibarščiai) in Lithuanian restaurant TreasuryTag, CC BY-SA 3.0

Its preparation starts with young beets being chopped and boiled, together with their leaves when available.

After cooling down, sour cream, soured milk, kefir, yogurt, or butter milk may be added, depending on regional preferences.

Typically, raw chopped vegetables, such as radishes or cucumbers, are added and the soup is garnished and flavored with dill or parsley.

Chopped, hard-boiled eggs are often added. The soup has a rich pink color which varies in intensity depending on the ratio of beets to dairy ingredients.

Other regional recipes

There are local variations in the basic borscht recipe:

  • In Armenian cuisine, it is served warm with fresh sour cream.
  • In Belarusian cuisine, the tomatoes are standard, sometimes in addition to beets. It is usually served with smetana (Eastern European-style sour cream) and a traditional accompaniment of pampushki (sing. pampushka), small hot breads topped with fresh chopped garlic.
  • In Russian cuisine, it usually includes beets, meat, cabbage, and optionally, potatoes.
  • In Ukrainian cuisine, it can be a vegetable soup or based on either chicken or other meat bouillon. Traditionally borshch is served with pampushki and smetana. Main ingredients include specially prepared red beets, potatoes, carrots, beans (e.g. broad beans, green runner beans, butter beans or other varieties), celery, fresh or dried mushrooms (optional), herbs (e.g. fresh dill and/ or parsley), chopped cabbage, chopped fresh tomatoes or tomato sauce.

Useful Information

Borscht

Etymology

The soup made its way into North American cuisine and the word into English vernacular by way of Slavic and Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe. Alternative spellings are borshch and borsch.

It is called in various languages:

  • Armenian: բորշչ, borsch
  • Azerbaijani: borș
  • Belarusian: боршч, boršč, borshch
  • Bulgarian: борш, borsh
  • Czech: boršč
  • Estonian: borš
  • German: Borschtsch / Beetenbartsch
  • Latvian: borščs
  • Lithuanian: barščiai
  • Polish: barszcz
  • Romanian: borș
  • Russian:  борщ (help·info), borshch
  • Slovak: boršč
  • Turkish: Borç (due to the emigration of White Russians to Turkey after their defeat in the Russian Civil War)
  • Ukrainian: борщ
  • Yiddish: באָרשט, borsht
  • Syriac: ܒܪܫ, "borsh".

The name was earlier applied to hogweed soup, and originally to the hogweed plant itself.

While the original Ukrainian word ends in "shch", not "sht", the "t" was substituted when the word was borrowed into Yiddish; note that in Bulgarian the combination "sht" corresponds to "shch" in other Slavic language - the Bulgarian pronunciation is likely an archaic one, retained from Proto-Slavic.

The word was then borrowed into American English from Yiddish.