I never had a Grandma and Grandpa as a kid- I had an Oma and Opa, and a Baba and Dido. My grandparents all moved to Canada (from the Netherlands and the Ukraine, respectively) in the 1950s. At that time, many places in Europe were still rebuilding and feeling effects from the Second World War, so I imagine Canada seemed like as good a place as any for a fresh start- a nice place to have a family and build something new.
Growing up, my Oma and Opa lived just 15 minutes away, so I was always very in touch with my Dutch heritage. Hagelslag on toast for breakfast, gebakken aardappelen (deliciously fatty fried potatoes) and “Dutch chicken” for dinner. Bicycle everywhere.
(Funny story, “Dutch chicken” is actually rabbit, which my Oma would slow cook until it fell off the bone. We called it “Dutch chicken” so that my little sister, Megan, wouldn’t be horrified and refuse to eat bunny rabbit. Clever little bean that she was, she did remark to my Mum that Dutch chicken seemed to have a lot more bones in it than Canadian chicken. It sure does, Meggy. It sure does.)
I was not so fortunate with my Baba and Dido, who lived (along with the vast majority of Canada’s other Ukrainian immigrants) in Saskatchewan. This meant I usually saw them once a year or so, and didn’t get immersed in Ukrainian culture the way I was with my Dutch background.
In contrast, my cousins lived very close to my Baba and Dido in Saskatchewan so they went to Ukrainian school, spoke fluent Ukrainian, learned traditional Ukrainian dancing, celebrated Ukrainian Christmas (in January) and were all strongly encouraged to marry nice, Ukrainian girls. (Dad, you failed in that respect, how dare you 😉 ) From the sounds of it, it was pretty much a My Big Fat Ukrainian Wedding situation.
I missed out on that. I do see a lot of my Baba and Dido in myself, however. I have my Baba’s small stature and strong legs- the women in her family were ballerinas, a vocation lost to her when her study at the Kiev Ballet was cut short in lieu of factory work for the war effort. I am highly academic and artistic, just like my Dido, who was a Professor of Anthropology & Archaeology, a noted muralist and a political activist. I think he would be pleased to know I became a professional artist… sort of. He would probably have gripes that I do corporate design for The Man, but we can’t win ’em all.
So, I don’t speak Ukrainian. I celebrate Christmas in December. I can’t dance to save my life. I was, however, granted my great-grandmother’s borscht recipe- a gift greater than gold.
I considered not posting this recipe… my Dad’s cousin used to write for our local newspaper as a food columnist (it runs in the family, I guess!) and published it once. She was subsequently exiled from the family. How dare she!
So, just so you all know, I risk shunning and exile sharing this precious recipe with you. My excuse is that technically it already spilled into the public realm years ago aaaand anyone who would somehow object to it getting out is no longer around.
Please don’t curse me from the great beyond, my big fat Ukrainian family… it really is the most spectacular soup recipe I have ever encountered. I’m just trying to share the happy. It’s honouring your memory. Learn to share.
(I am imagining my ancestors in a Disney’s Mulan type scenario where they all hang out together and banter and gripe while trying to somewhat guide me through the world)
So, without further ado- Babcha’s Borscht. Like any good, traditional recipe worth it’s grit- it takes a while. Slow food is good food. You don’t have to make your own stock for this, but if you’re going to wait three days for those beets to ferment anyway- why not?
This dish can also be made vegetarian by making veggie stock and omitting the meat. I’m sure if you really wanted to, you could also make it vegan but… well, I’m already teetering dangerously close to getting in the ancestors’ bad books. If I suggested making it vegan and omitting the sour cream, my great-grandmother herself would likely smite me down.
|Babcha's Borscht|| |
- 1½ lbs. beef shank (including bones)*
- 2 tsp salt
- ½ tsp whole black peppercorns
- 2 hot red chili peppers
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 medium onions
- 1 lb. (7-9 medium sized) fresh beets, including stems and leaves
- 4 Tbsp. white vinegar
- ½ tsp sugar
- 3 Tbsp butter
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 carrots, diced
- 1 parsnip, diced
- 2 potatoes, diced
- ½ head red cabbage, diced
- ½ cup tomato paste
- 1 cup sour cream + more for serving
- 1½ tsp flour
- 4 large sprigs fresh dill (4 heaping tsp dried)
- 5-7 Tbsp. garlic pickle juice
- To make the stock, rinse beef shank in cold water. Place in a large pot with 6 cups cold water. Add salt, peppercorns, chili peppers and bay leaf. Chop 1 onion into quarters and add to the pot. Bring to a boil then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 3 hours. Stain into a bowl, discarding bones and fat. Pick meat from the beef bones and chop into bite sized pieces. Set meat and broth aside to chill.
- Next, start fermenting your beets: peel and grate beet bulbs. Cut stems and tear leaves into 2 inch pieces. Store your beet leaves refrigerated in a small container. Place stems and shredded bulbs in a large non-metal bowl and toss with ½ tsp sugar and 4 Tbsp white vinegar. Store in a cool, dark place for 3 days, tossing again once a day.
- After fermenting the beets for 3 days, we are ready to put our borscht together. Dice potatoes, carrots and parsnips into small cubes. Chop red cabbage and the remaining onion into bite sized pieces.
- Melt butter in a large pot and sauté onion and garlic until just golden. Add beet bulbs and stems, carrots, parsnip, potatoes and cabbage. Toss and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat.
- In a medium mixing bowl, blend tomato paste and sour cream together. Sprinkle in flour and mix in. Add ½ cup water and stir well. Add the sour cream mixture to the vegetable pot and cook for 5 minutes.
- Add broth, beet leaves, dill and pickle juice (start with a bit of pickle juice and add more to taste- I like mine with a fair glug, but if this is your first borscht you might want to ease into it). Simmer until vegetables are cooked through. Add meat and season to taste.
- Serve with a healthy dollop of sour cream.