In the city of Zaporizhzhia – the first major stop for refugees fleeing Mariupol and other war-torn towns in southeastern Ukraine – we met Nella, who became a local guide, bringing us to refugee centers and hospitals, opening doors around town.
On our second visit, she greeted us with homemade Ukrainian perishke, savory donuts stuffed with mashed potatoes, that she had fried up on her stove that morning. She had wrapped the bag of donuts in towels to keep them hot, and we stood out in the cold, steaming buns in hand, munching happily and licking grease off our fingers.
After a day of work, she invited us to her home for her “famous” borscht.
We sat in her kitchen around a small glass table while she ladled out soup and served it with sour cream and a dark bread.
The soup was warming, slightly sour and uber-flavorful. There are no chunks of meat in it, she explained, because she never gets the proportions right and always includes too much pork, but it could be modified to include them.
She shared her recipe here – with no measurements, so it’s yours to play with. But Nella’s borscht is rightfully famous, and on a chilly early spring or late fall day, it would make a worthwhile home project.
Ukrainian hospitality is generous even in normal times – but now, under the duress of war and an influx of refugees, it’s simply legendary.
Nella’s famous borscht
- Simmer a large piece of bone-in meat, either pork or beef, in a large pot of water. Once the foam rises, skim it off to remove the fat, then add a whole onion and bay leaves. Simmer for a while til you have a stock. Meanwhile, scrub and peel two potatoes, two carrots and two beets.
- Bring stock to a boil – it must be boiling – and add the potatoes, carrots, and beets, whole. After vegetables are softened but not soft, remove all the vegetables and let stock continue to simmer.
- Cube the potatoes and julienne the carrots and beets. Similarly slice a new onion and pan fry them, adding tomato juice and a squeeze of tomato paste to the pan.
- Remove the meat from the stock and add the pan of vegetables and tomato juice to the stock. While they simmer, julienne some cabbage and add it, salt, pepper and dill to the pot.
- Boil 10 minutes.
- It’s then ready to serve with sour cream or you can let the flavors meld and eat it the next day.