Borsht, the eternal pride of the Slavonic cuisine

Borsht, the eternal pride of the Slavonic cuisine

What is borsht?

Much like the Ukrainians, Russians and Poles, Belarusians are fond of borsht. That means, of a thick and rich sour beet soup. It is thought that originally, about 1500 years ago and until early 20th century, when the Slavonic peoples were not yet familiar with beets, they prepared borsht from hogweeds, a sour wild grass (Heracleum sibiricum L.). Belarusian peasants still cooked such borsht in the early 20th century. Especially in times of famine. By the end of the 19th century, however, borsht was commonly made from “buraki” (beets). Fermented (sour) beets and beet kvass (sour and tart fermented beet juice) were the most typical main ingredients. It was a matter of honour for any decent housewife to keep at hand a store of beet kvass and fermented “buraki” (beetroot).

What is it made of?

When these were not available, borsht was cooked from fresh beets with the addition of bread kvass, buttermilk or vinegar. Depending on the local traditions, social status of the family etc, such vegetables as cabbage, carrots, onions, beans, pickled cucumbers and later potato were added to borsht. Apart from vegetables, borsht could contained meat, fish, and mushrooms. Borsht was almost always eaten ‘whitened’ – with sour cream or hempseed ‘milk’. The variety of ingredients and intensive work that went into this dish ‘made it rather holiday, or ritual, than routine soup. Christmas Eve borsht made with vuški – small mushroom-filled dough dumplings was especially famous.

Why Ukrainian style?

In our main menu we have borscht in Ukrainian style – surely one of our “hits”. Is this right? Until 1569 much of the Ukraine, like Belarus, was a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. And Ukrainian cuisine was always highly valued throughout the Commonwealth. The best cooks were frequently Ukrainians. And such recipe has always been included in our old culinary books. So don’t be surprised to eat Ukrainian style borsch, with “pampushka” buns, in Belarusian / Slavonic Lithuanian restaurant.