Pickle Water [Borscht]


What is an ingredient and what is junk?

“Single-use only” is a habit to be found in many kitchens. Typically the onion skins are discarded, the dough ends scraped away and the brines dumped.

Pickle water meets a similar fate.

It sits jaundiced and lonely in the refrigerator door. There might be one pickle bobbing in it, or none if you have sneaky people living at your house. It really only gets dealt with when it comes time to clean the fridge. And then the jar goes to the sink, fills fast with water from the tap and spills. You’re in a satin ribbon trance leading down the drain and don’t realize the flavour — the food — that you have just wasted.


There’s a way to use pickle water — to season soups and stews. I found this trick folded up in a very old piece of paper from a very special lady.


I leave you with a note on beef stock. Some people insist that white beef stock, or beef stock made with bones that haven’t been roasted, should be used for making borscht because it doesn’t muddy the colour of the beets. Really, though, a stock made with roasted bones is a million times tastier and does not affect the end colour of the soup if beets are added near the end of cooking.


2 1/2 lbs. trimmed beef shortribs
5 cups beef stock
2 ham hocks
2 large yellow onions, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, pounded into a paste
1 carrot, shredded
1 rib celery, very finely chopped
1/2 lb. Russet potatoes, shredded
1 lb. beets
1/4 head aged savoy cabbage (1-2 weeks old), finely shredded
1 bouquet garni (3 sprigs thyme, 3 sprigs parsley, 2 bay leaves, 12 whole black peppercorns)
1/4-1/3 cup dill pickle water or white wine vinegar + a pinch of sugar
butter, for frying
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream, dill fronds and parsley for garnish

A few hours ahead of time, season the meats with salt and pepper. Remove them from the refrigerator so they can come to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Wrap the beets tightly in foil. With a fork, pierce through the foil and into the beets in several places. Place on a  lined baking sheet  and roast for 1.5 hours, or until a knife can be slid easily in and out. Cool, unwrap and peel the beets. Shred 3/4 of the beets. Reserve the rest.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, saute onions in butter until they go translucent. Add garlic, carrots, celery and potatoes. Fry gently until the vegetables soften, 8-10 minutes. Add the shredded beets.

Add the bouquet garni and meats. Pour over the beef stock. Slowly bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meats are falling off the bone, about 3 hours.

Remove meats from broth. Shred meats, discarding the bones, skin and fat. Set aside.

Strain stock with a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth. Discard debris and return stock to the pot. Refrigerate stock in pot until fat congeals on the surface. Discard fat. Note that your stock will probably be completely gelatinized and that this is a good thing.

Return stock to heat. Add shredded cabbage. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Slice the remaining roasted beets into half moons and add to the pot. Return meats to the pot. Season to taste with pickle water (or vinegar and sugar). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve topped with snipped herbs and a dollop of sour cream.


3 thoughts on “Pickle Water [Borscht]

  1. Hi Laura…..wonderful pics of my favorite foods……I’m presently translating (tearfully) my late Mama’s recipes into English hopefully in time to share them with her grandchildren for Christmas as she has been gone now for two years and some of them have left their “nests” and should know how to make all their “favorites”! Your interest in Ukrainian food and wonderful blog has inspired me. Please send me an email as I have something I would like to share with you before Ukrainian Christmas as well that will connect you to your roots. Thanks. Iryna

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