Russian borsch

Russian borsch

Barszcz ukraiński

Borsch, Vodka and Tears
Bonnie Savage

This version of the soup contains a variety of meats and vegetables and makes a wonderful light meal. I used to eat it whenever I felt a cold coming on or when I knew I wanted to party and didn’t want to be too weighed down. In Poland, Barszcz Ukraiński tends to have a lot more meat in it than this version. If you want to add more you can do so at an early stage so it softens during cooking. Veal, beef, chicken, venison, hare, pork, duck, pheasant or sausage are all possible additions, but we prefer to keep it light. You will need to start this recipe a day early, as the hock stock needs to cool overnight. You can make a vegetarian version by omitting the meat from the Polish soup stock and omitting the bacon and the hock from this recipe.


Quantity Ingredient

Hock stock

Quantity Ingredient
500-700 grams smoked ham hock, split lengthwise
porcini mushroom


Quantity Ingredient
150 grams dried cannellini beans
250 grams kaiserfleisch, sliced and cut into 6mm squares
or 250 grams flat pancetta, sliced and cut into 6mm squares
or 250 grams bacon, sliced and cut into 6mm squares
garlic, finely chopped
400 grams tinned whole tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
2 litres Polish soup stock
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1/2 small white cabbage, shredded and chopped into 2cm lengths
500 grams potato, peeled and cut into 1cm dice
50 grams butter
400 grams beetroot, peeled and cut into 7mm dice
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
or 1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tart apple, such as pink lady or granny smith, peeled, cored and grated
225 grams tinned sliced beetroot, juice only, (optional)
sour cream, to serve
fresh dill, chopped, to serve


  1. To make the hock stock, place the hock and the porcini in a large saucepan or stockpot and cover with 1.5 litres cold water. Bring slowly to a simmer and allow it to simmer for 2½–3 hours, or until the meat is falling off the bone. Strain the stock and allow it to cool overnight in the refrigerator. Pull all the meat off the hock, being sure to remove any fat and sinew and store the meat, covered, in the refrigerator.
  2. While you are cooking the stock, rinse the cannellini beans in cold water and remove any discoloured beans or any stones. Place the beans in a large non-reactive bowl and pour over enough cold water to cover. Leave to soak overnight. If you are forgetful like me, put them in the refrigerator, that way if you don’t use them for a few days, they won’t start to ferment and go bad.
  3. The next day, rinse and drain the cannellini beans and place them in a large stainless steel saucepan. Add enough fresh water to cover, but don’t add any salt or seasoning to the beans until they are tender, as it will make it very hard to soften them. Bring to a simmer and cook gently until they are tender, about 1½ hours. When the beans are soft, add a few teaspoons of salt — this will make them taste good, but also retard the cooking so they don’t end up as mush. Set them aside in about 500 ml of the cooking liquid.
  4. Meanwhile, heat a heavy-based saucepan over medium–low heat and add the kaiserfleisch. Cook it slowly, stirring often so that all the fat renders out and it becomes deep brown and very crispy. Add two-thirds of the garlic and cook for 1 minute further, then add the tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme, marjoram and a pinch of salt and cook slowly for 1 hour, stirring occasionally to break up the tomatoes and stop the mixture from sticking to the base of the pan. Add the Polish soup stock, the reserved hock stock, the carrot, cabbage and potato and allow the mixture to come very slowly to the boil (it should be on a low enough heat that the soup takes a full 30 minutes to come to the boil). Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the potato is tender.
  5. About 10 minutes after the soup has come to the boil, melt the butter in a heavy-based frying pan over medium– high heat and add the beetroot. Cook for a few minutes, then add the remaining garlic and stir frequently until the beetroot is just tender, about 20 minutes; remove from the heat and season with the vinegar, sugar and salt. Ideally, the potatoes should be just tender now. Add the beetroot to the soup and cook for a further 10 minutes, skimming any fat from the surface. Make sure the mixture does not get above 85°C, as it will discolour.
  6. Add the apple, reserved hock meat, cannellini beans and the reserved cooking liquid. Stir it together and let it come back to 85°C. Remove from the heat and stir in the tinned beetroot liquid, if using. Let it sit at room temperature for about 2 hours and if possible, leave it in the refrigerator for 1 day more — this long sitting allows for maximum colour extraction from the beetroot and deepens the flavour.
  7. To serve, reheat the mixture to 85°C and garnish with a spoonful of sour cream and plenty of chopped dill.
Vodka and Tears
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