Our Christmas Eve dinner is steeped in tradition…tradition that stems from my childhood. Growing up Ukrainian, my parents kept our heritage alive. Home was Lubbock, Texas, not exactly the mecca of Ukrainian society but my parents still taught me to speak the language and to never forget my roots.
My mother was an excellent cook. At Christmastime she would spend days in the kitchen preparing our Christmas Eve supper (Sviata Vechera). As a child I couldn’t wait for Christmas, but it wasn’t so much for the gifts under the tree but the meal that she so laboriously prepared.
Traditionally Sviata Vechera consists of 12 meatless dishes symbolizing the 12 apostles. Because it was only her doing all the cooking 12 dishes were not doable. She would prepare kutia*, followed by borscht, vushka*, fish, holubtsi*, potato and sauerkraut varenyky and compote.
I have continued this Christmas Eve tradition for my family but with a few less dishes than my mother prepared. Our meal starts with borscht, a vibrant ruby-red beet soup that I hope you will love as much as we do.
Normally I cook my borscht with meat* but this time around I made beef bone broth and turkey bone broth and mixed the two…a delightful combination.
This is what you will need:
- 12 – 16 cups of bone broth, will depend on the size of your pot and whether you want leftovers
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 medium head of cabbage, cut in half, cored and thinly sliced
- 4 – 6 large beets, cooked and thinly sliced
- 2 small Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes, peeled and diced
- 2 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. sugar
- 2 – 4 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
- 1 – 2 large clove garlic, diced
- ½ Tbsp. olive oil
- Freshly ground pepper
- Peel, quarter and cook beets in water for about 20 – 30 minutes. If beets are still firm continue cooking until tender. You may want to cover the pot while gently cooking the beets so that the water doesn’t evaporate. This beet water is what gives the borscht it’s beautiful ruby red color.
- Meanwhile bring bone broth to a simmer, taste and add 1 tsp. salt. Once you see the steam rising, increase the heat to medium for a gentle boil and add chopped onions. Cook the onions for about 10 – 15 minutes.
- Next, add the diced potatoes and cook for another 10 minutes. If you haven’t already sliced your cabbage do so now…be sure to cut the long strands in half. Add Cabbage to the broth and cook until tender about 10 minutes.
- Take the cooked beets out of the beet water, reserve the beet water, once beets have cooled slightly, slice them julienne, by cutting the beets into thin slices, then stacking the thin slices and cutting again. Place in bowl and toss with sugar and fresh lemon juice. Taste to see if the beets are sweet and tangy enough.
- Add beets to bone broth, then add the reserved beet water.
- Then add can of diced tomatoes.
- Taste your soup and add in more salt if needed plus freshly ground pepper to taste.
- Turn soup to medium low and cook for about 30 minutes. You can cover the pot to reduce evaporation.
- In a small skillet, lightly sauté garlic in olive oil for about 30 seconds or until it becomes fragrant. Then add garlic to soup.
- At this point taste the soup and if needed add more pepper, salt and the remaining 2 Tbps. lemon juice. Lemon is quite the flavor booster.
- Remove soup from stove, ladle into bowls and serve. If you like, you can add a dollop of sour cream or serve the soup with small mushroom vushka.
- Kutia is a mix of boiled grains, honey, nuts, poppy seed, and dried fruit.
- Holubtsi are cabbage rolls made from rice.
- Vushka are small mushroom varenyky.
- If you would like to cook your borscht using meat, there are many meat options… beef soup bone, beef short ribs, beef marrow bone, beef chuck, stew meat and/or shanks. My preference, beef chuck (because of the long cooking time) with a beef soup bone. I love for my meat to fall apart. All the meats I mentioned are stewing meats.
- To make your borscht with meat, add your beef to a pot of cold water, bring everything to a rolling boil and as soon as the scum starts coming to the top use a slotted spoon to remove. Then lower the temperature to medium and continue cooking until the meat falls apart, usually several hours.
- You can also make borscht using vegetable broth if you want to go meatless.
I hope you enjoy this recipe…nothing beats a bowl of borscht on a cold winter day. Bon Appétit!