Ukrainian borshch is strongly dependent on red beet as the backbone of taste and color. Add or take away carrots, potatoes, beans, or meat and you still have borshch in your cooking pot. Take away the beet and you end up with an ordinary soup (with some very rare exceptions).
Undeniably, borshch is amazing and unique food, and beet looks totally natural and well-blended with other ingredients in it. But Ukrainian cuisine is very inventive in the use of available ingredients, and beet is no exception. You can literally have a full meal comprising several courses and a dessert all made of beet, and don’t feel disappointed. This red root is a great company for meats and veggies, but it also works well on its own. It’s naturally sweet, and this sweetness was skillfully used by cooks of old and continues to be used in modern family kitchens and public eateries.
Wonder what you could do with this humble veggie? Read on and see that it’s not humble at all!
Starters: salads and hummus-like paste
Most vegetable salads will benefit from adding boiled and diced beet, and there are salads that have beet as their key ingredient. Beet, feta, and nuts with salad dressing are the first best thing to recommend, yet there are other recipes to try. However, if you look for something decidedly Ukrainian, think burachynka. It’s a thick puree made of boiled and fermented beets and thickened by a mixture of flour and mushroom broth. It looks like beet hummus and is served on Christmas Eve in the western parts of Ukraine. Eat with soft bread or reserve for eating with meat dishes.
First course: borshch
Oh yes, borshch. We can sing serenades to this dish from dusk till dawn, but you just have to try it to understand our adoration. This thick, warm, and nourishing first course is a real palate-pleaser, and you can find a really old and tasty recipe at https://etnocook.com/ together with recommendations on serving. Thank us later.
Main course: vegetable sauté and pork-and-beet dish
The pork-and-beet dish may somewhat resemble the meat a la Bourgogne, where beef is cooked with carrots and onions in thick gravy. Here, pork is braised briefly on the pan in fat and then cooked with chopped beet in beet brine with spices. You get a ruby-red stew (called shpundra, and no, it’s not an Indian name) with an interesting sweet-and-sour taste. It goes well with rice or potatoes.
For vegans, we can confidently recommend mezhivo or vegetable sauté. Beet, carrots, onions, bell peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes are chopped and simmered in vegetable oil, with the addition of salt and pepper to taste. Despite its simplicity, this dish is a strong rival to French ratatouille.
Side dish: vinaigrette
Borrowed from the Baltic foodies, this dish has been transformed to match the local traditions and pantry stocks. Potatoes, onions, boiled beet, dill pickles, carrots, and canned peas or boiled beans are thrown together and dressed with vinegar and oil. It can be eaten with fish, meat, or as a separate course.
Dessert: baked beet and pumpkin
You know it was coming. Baked ripe pumpkin is a great treat, especially when served with honey, and so is beet. Wash them, chop them into pieces and bake in the oven. Drizzle with honey before serving. If you slice beet finely before baking, you’ll get amazing healthy chips.
Sauces: tsvikli or khrin
Khrin means literally ‘horseradish’, and tsvikli is a regional name for a hot sauce made of horseradish. Grate washed and peeled radish (use a blender to avoid shedding tears), grate boiled beet, mix them together, and season to taste with vinegar and sugar. The longer it is kept in the fridge, the more balanced the taste. Yet beware: this sauce may hit you harder than jalapeno peppers.
Ready to become friends with a red beet? Head on to the kitchen, then!
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