Ukrainian-born chef Volodymyr Hyvel, who used to cook up large batches of borscht for the Odessa banquet hall he runs, doesn’t often cook it up for his euro-fusion menu at The Choice, the polished BYOB he now serves at Bryn Mawr owns with his wife and in-laws. However, that changed after the Russian invasion of his homeland. The Choice sold a pint of borscht to take home as a fundraiser for Ukraine aid. It happens to be one of the best I’ve tasted, with perfectly balanced flavors of earthy sweetness, savory veggies and chicken, and a brilliant ruby hue that Hyvel carefully preserves by not cooking his beets in the final step, once they’re done incorporate into the finished soup.
If you can’t make it to the Choice, make this borscht at home using the same recipe Hyvel uses in Odessa. Magnify it, invite friends and host your own borscht fundraiser for Ukrainian aid.
Makes 10-12 servings
¾ pound chicken breast (or other meat like pork or beef), diced (400 g)
9 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided into thirds
4 liters of water
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
4½ cups chopped onions (250 g)
3 ¼ cups grated carrots (300 g)
3¼ cups shredded beets (300 g)
2 tablespoons white vinegar (30 ml)
2½ tablespoons sugar (30 g)
¼ cup tomato paste (70 g)
4¼ cups diced potatoes (600 g)
4¼ cups shredded cabbage (300 g)
1 cup diced tomatoes (200 g)
6 garlic cloves, pressed
salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream and dill for garnish
Season the chicken with salt. In a large saucepan, sear the chicken in 3 tablespoons hot oil. Once nicely browned, add water halfway up the saucepan along with the bay leaves and black peppercorns. Simmer until chicken is fully cooked, about 15-20 minutes.
In a separate pan while the chicken cooks, sauté the chopped onion, and the shredded carrot in 3 tablespoons oil and cook on medium until most of their liquid has evaporated, about 15 minutes. (Be sure to season the vegetables with a little salt while cooking.)
In a separate saucepan, boil the beets in another 3 tbsp oil. Cook over medium-high heat for about 10-15 minutes, then add the vinegar, which helps preserve the color, along with the sugar. Boil 4 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for another two minutes. Add enough water to just cover the beets and cook until tender, 10-15 minutes.
Once the chicken is cooked add the potatoes to the pot, making sure there is enough water to cover all the ingredients. Cook for 12-15 minutes until the diced potatoes are tender, then add the cabbage and diced tomatoes. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add pressed garlic cloves.
Once all three components are fully cooked, In the larger main pot, combine the carrot and onion mixture with the chicken and simmer for 5 minutes. Finally, add the beets to the main pan, but be careful not to cook them or they will change color. But it can stay warm on the stove for a long time. Season soup to taste, adjust salt. With the additional veggies, meat, and water, it should make about 5 liters of soup.
Arrange in bowls and garnish to serve to taste with a spoonful of sour cream and a sprig of dill.