Shchavleviy Borsch

Much of my childhood was spent with my grandparents in Mariupol, a port city on the coast of the Sea of Azov, at the mouth of the Ukrainian Kalmius. My grandfather frequently fished on the river, where wild sorrel grows abundantly on the shore. He collected large bunches of tart green leaves to take home to my grandmother, who made green borscht out of it, or, as it is called in Ukrainian, Shchavleviy borscht. In the spring and summer, when nettles, dill and green onions were growing in her garden, she also added them to the pot. I love green borscht because it reminds me of my grandparents and the smell of sorrel that scented their apartment.

What is borscht?

Borscht — a sour and hearty soup, especially popular in Eastern Europe – is the national dish of Ukraine and a staple in almost every home. In Ukraine, there are four main categories of borscht: red, green, white and cold (Kholodnyk). Borscht is consumed at weddings and committals, can be served hot or cold and can be as thick as a stew or thin as a Consommé. It can also be almost any color, and the right shade of borscht is often a hotly contested topic.

There are many regional varieties of borscht, each reflecting the local ingredients and culinary practices of each region. In the south of Ukraine, tomatoes and red peppers play an important role. In the east of Ukraine, versions based on eggplants and fish are popular. And in Poltava, a city in central Ukraine, dried fruits such as pears are added for sweetness. In general, the five main ingredients of borscht are beets, carrots, onions, potatoes and cabbage, although, in my opinion, The defining feature of the soup is that it always contains an acidifier and a mixture of sweet ingredients.

The building blocks of green borscht

Green borscht is the second most popular variety of borscht in Ukraine after beets. This is mainly due to its main ingredient, Sorrel (or Shchavel in Ukrainian), which has a tart and lemony flavor coming from the oxalic acid in the leaves. Unlike beetroot, which was probably introduced from the Mediterranean in the XVI century and is often used to make red borscht, Sorrel has been growing wild in Ukraine for thousands of years. Botanically speaking, Sorrel is a perennial plant of the buckwheat family. Every spring it grows everywhere in the meadows of Ukraine, hence the other name of the soup: spring borscht.

There are many versions of the soup that vary depending on where you are and who is cooking. During Lent, the broth is traditionally prepared with mushrooms or fish, although it depends on which region of Ukraine you are in. Today, most green borscht recipes use chicken or pork broth. My Version – like my grandmother’s-is based on pork, which gives the broth a rich spice that balances the freshness of the greens.

In addition to sorrel, the ingredients that appear evenly in the many versions of green borscht are nettles, potatoes, beet leaves and boiled eggs. My recipe celebrates the fullness of spring by combining green onions, green garlic, new potatoes and sorrel. The acidity of the sorrel is balanced by the sweetness of the carrots, the richness of the yolk and the starch of the potatoes. A spoonful of Fresh Cream also helps to neutralize the oxalic acid in sorrel.

There are four main building blocks for making a great green borscht. The first is to simmer the pork bones to get as much flavor as possible for the broth, which will serve as the basis for the borscht. The second is Zasmazhka, a Ukrainian technique similar to Sofrito, in which the alliums and carrots are sauteed until lightly browned to add an element of sweetness to the soup. Traditionally, Zasmazhka is made with grated carrots, but here I opt for sliced carrots for more texture and a touch of color.

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