Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ukrainian recipe: Remembrance Borsch (with yellow beets)

This recipe originated with Ukrainians in the United States, where by the early 2000s it was becoming part of their Thanksgiving tradition.

This yellow-coloured borsch is served as the first course of Thanksgiving Day dinner. It is always accompanied by a moment of silence. This is in remembrance of the millions of Ukrainians who died in the Holodomor famine-genocide of 1932-33 and the following Years of Terror at the hands of soviet communists. As well, in remembrance and gratitude for those who survived, and for the family's own abundance today.

The recipe is patterned after the meatless borsch served at Ukrainian Christmas Eve dinner, Sviat Vechir. It varies from family to family, but the one constant is the substitution of yellow beets for the red.

Yellow (golden) beets give the broth a golden colour. Yellow is a colour often related to mourning in Ukrainian culture.

To make Remembrance Borsch, start with a mushroom broth. If you can get them, used dried mushroom caps imported from Poland. (These are the closest to those that used to come from Ukraine before Chornobyl.) Otherwise, use a combination of Italian porcinis, Japanese shiitakes, or other flavourful species.

Soak dried mushrooms several hours or overnight. Wash carefully to get rid of any bits of sand or dirt. Strain the dark water through a coffee filter and add it to the salted cooking water for the washed mushrooms. Let it simmer several hours, adding more boiling water as needed.

If you’re pressed for time, the ready-made mushroom broth found in organic stores or delis will do.

To the broth, add chopped or shredded beets, chopped potato, carrot, onion, mushrooms, dillweed, a bay leaf, and season with salt and pepper. There are no rules, other than using ingredients that even the poorest peasant would have in his or her bit of garden.

Add your favourite vushka (mushroom-stuffed mini perogie-like dumplings), sprinkle with chopped fresh dill.

If you can’t find yellow beets, use a combination of white turnips and a parsnip (for sweetness). Colour the broth with a few strands of saffron, a pinch of turmeric, or as a last resort, a few drops of yellow food colouring.

If you don’t have the time or skill to make vushka, dried mushroom-filled Italian tortellini are a reasonable facsimile.

Don’t skimp on the fresh dill. (Make sure to use fresh, not dried dill weed or dill seed.) Most supermarkets carry fresh dill year round. As well, it can be chopped and frozen fresh for use later.

Whether or not you are celebrating American Thanksgiving, this is an excellent symbolic borsch to serve during Holodomor Remembrance week wherever you are in the world.

This recipe and the accompanying information came by email from Peter Borisow, of the Hollywood Trident Foundation.

Update: It has been presented on Nash Holos Ukrainian Roots Radio by Judy Hrynenko (audio link here) and Sylvia Molnar (audio link here). These features have aired every November for the past several years in honour of Holodomor Remembrance.

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