Beet Borscht – Zahynacz Dowry

January 19th, 2011 / Comments 4

It was confusing when our son Matthew and his wife Alison phoned to wish us a Merry Christmas last weekend. We had spoken many times since the middle of December and had exchanged holiday wishes more than once and here it was the middle of January.

 Beet Borscht   Zahynacz Dowry

When Matthew and Alison got married in Ortigia, Sicily in September 2009, she didn’t change her name from Zahynacz to Egbert. Zahynacz is a Ukrainian name and the Christmas they were celebrating is the Ukrainian Christmas.

The Ukrainian festivities begin on January 7th with a Sviata Vecheria or Holy Supper that brings families together to share holiday foods and traditions and ends on January 19th. Often a few stalks of wheat in a vase are used to decorate the table, and in farming communities, a sheaf of wheat called a didukh is displayed. Didukh means “Grandfather spirit” and the wheat is a symbol of family ancestors. Traditional holiday foods like kolach, a braided Christmas bread, kutia, a mixture of boiled wheat, poppy seeds and honey and are part of the feast served along with more familiar Ukrainian classics like stuffed cabbage, boiled dumplings filled with cabbage or prunes and borscht and the meal ends with a jug of uzvar, a mixture of twelve stewed fruits, as dessert.

beets co c egbert Beet Borscht   Zahynacz Dowry

Although I haven’t taken part in the holiday caroling rituals that require extensive preparation including finding someone willing to dress as a goat to represent the god of fertility, their call inspired me to use Alison’s grandmother’s recipe to make pot of Ukrainian borscht. Baba is what she called her. Here’s how I made her vegetarian borscht:

Baba’s Beet Borscht

I put six cups of water, half a teaspoon of kosher salt, one finely chopped carrot, one half of a diced green pepper, one stalk of celery, diced, three medium beets, grated, half a cup of canned, peeled and diced tomatoes and three medium russet potatoes, quartered, into a large stock pot over high heat. When the mixture had come to a boil, I reduced the heat to medium and simmered the vegetables until the potatoes were fork tender.

I melted three tablespoons of unsalted butter in a medium skillet, added one small chopped onion and sauted it until it was tender. Then I added one and a half cups of canned, peeled and diced tomatoes, reduced the heat to medium-low and simmered the mixture for fifteen minutes.

While the vegetables cooked in the stockpot and the tomatoes and onions cooked in the skillet, I finely shredded a small head of Savoy cabbage. I added half of the cabbage, about a cup and a half, to the skillet with the tomatoes and onions and simmered it for ten more minutes until the cabbage was tender.

I used a slotted spoon to remove the potatoes from the stockpot and put them into a bowl, added one tablespoon of unsalted butter and a quarter of a cup of sour cream and mashed the potatoes until they were smooth.

I added three quarters of a cup of diced raw potatoes and the onion-tomato-cabbage mixture to the stockpot and cooked the soup over medium heat for five minutes. I added the remaining one and a half cups of shredded cabbage and the mashed potatoes, reduced the heat and simmered the soup for a few minutes more. I diced the remaining half of the green pepper, and stirred it into the soup along with salt and black pepper just before serving. Charles dislikes the strong taste of vinegar so I have never followed the last line of Baba’s recipe that suggests the addition of a splash vinegar or brine from a jar of dill pickles to finish the soup.

I have learned that it is important to follow the directions carefully, different amounts of the same ingredient are added at different times, some of the potatoes are quartered and others are diced, etc. The first time I made this soup I merrily diced the potatoes along with the carrots, celery and green pepper and then spent twenty minutes fishing out the small, pink potato pieces in order to mash them.

I wonder if the complex nature of this recipe is the result of the efforts of many cooks, with limited pantries, who have devised elaborate ways to spend lots of time fussing in the kitchen over the preparation of meals for people they love. I’ve thought about trying to simplify the steps of this recipe but never have because it magically transforms a few inexpensive ingredients into a hearty and complex soup. Even though I am sometimes not as precise as Baba might have been when I use this recipe, the borscht has never failed to be wonderfully satisfying.

Beet Borscht – Zahynacz Dowry
Recipe type: Vegetarian Soup
Author: Alison Zahynacz
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 40 mins
Total time: 1 hour
Serves: 8
Alison’s Ukranain Baba’s soup. Garnet red, full of flavor and economical. This recipe has a few unexpected twists and turns, but you will find that end result is worth the effort.
  • 6 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 green pepper,diced and divided
  • 1 stalk of celery
  • 3 large beets, grated
  • 2 cups canned diced tomatoes, divided
  • 3 medium russet potatoes, quartered
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 small head Savoy cabbage, shredded, divided
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, divided
  • 1 medium potato, diced
  • salt and pepper
  1. Combine water, salt, carrot, 1/2 of the green pepper, celery, beets, 1/2 cup of the tomatoes and the quartered potatoes in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer until potatoes are fork tender, 10 minutes.
  2. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a medium skillet, add onion and saute until tender. Add remaining tomatoes, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 15 minutes. Add 1/2 of the cabbage to skillet and simmer 10 minutes more or until cabbage is tender.
  3. Remove potatoes from stockpot, mash with remaining butter and 1/4 cup of sour cream.
  4. Add diced potato, onion/tomato/cabbage mixture and mashed potatoes, simmer for 5 minutes, add remaining green pepper and salt and pepper to taste and top each serving with a dollop of sour cream.

The twists and turns of this recipe are the result of many cooks, with limited pantries, who devised elaborate ways to spend lots of time fussing in the kitchen over the preparation of meals for people they love. I’ve considered simplifying the steps but never wanted to discount the love that the Ukranian Baba’s put into their food.


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• 4 Responses to “Beet Borscht – Zahynacz Dowry”

  • Kathryn Porterfield says:

    Used my CSA beets to try and copy a recipe I had out in SF this summer. Roasted them in the oven just tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper and then food processed them with an equal amount of VT goat cheese and some fresh tarragon leaves. Used the mixture to stuff homemade ravioli, which I then served with a brown butter, garlic and tarragon sauce. It was beautiful with the redness of the beet glowing through the ravioli skins…..and very tasty.

  • Diana O'Leary says:

    I just returned from northern Italy and my friend,who just returned form the peace corp in Ugraine made me a wonderful Borscht in our apartment in Reggio Emila. I can not wait to go back.

  • Annie Houston says:

    Wonderful to see a photo of your two and know the history of the Ukranian Christmas. Mmmmmm, Borscht soup!

  • How lovely! Beautiful photo of the two! :o)

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