Ukrainian Borsht for Sultana

I usually post this recipe around Chanukkah because having Ukrainian borscht on the table around Chanukkah has been our family tradition. I am breaking my own tradition, repeating it today, first of all, in honor of the International Women’s Day, and secondly, in memory of an extraordinary Ukranian girl, sometimes called a sixteen’s century celebrity.

“One of the most fascinating figures in Ottoman history is the Ukrainian girl who rose from harem slave status to become queen of the empire and wife of the most celebrated sultan of all, Suleiman the Magnificent.” (Brigader-Tezel, 2017). her origins are somewhat murky; one legend claims that she was born in Mariupol, while another one names her birthplace as Rohatyn. Mariupol has recently fallen to the Russian troops, after the siege, similar to the one young Alexandra Lisowsky, later known as Roxalana or Hurrem Sultan, had survived (albeit lost all her family), only to be taken into slavery. Rohatyn, according to some sources, is also in danger of a siege and invasion, as well as my native city, the beautiful Odessa. Let’s for a few minutes turn our minds from the horrors of war to glorious music, the first movement of a symphony by Joseph Haydn, dedicated to “Le Roxelane.”

Nobody seems to know where the word borscht came from. The best guess is that it is a combination of schti (Russian cabbage soup) and buryak (beetroot in Ukrainian).  It is first mentioned in the legend about the two-month siege of the Ukrainian fortress Rohatyn by the Crimean offshoot of the Turkish army in the beginning of the sixteenth century. Trying to feed several hundreds of hungry people, including women and children, the Cossacks, defenders of the fortress, collected every edible vegetable (root vegetables, as it was winter) and put them into meat broth. When they ran out of meat, they went vegan and kept cooking only vegetables: carrots, potatoes, beets, cabbage, and beans. It was warm and filling, and it sustained the population for two months. Unfortunately, the defense was broken, Rohatyn was taken, and many captives were transported to a slave market in Constantinople.

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Among those captives was a beautiful fifteen-year old redhead Anastasia Lisowsky, lovingly called Nastia (some sources claim that her name was Alexandra, which is reflected in the world famous serial The Magnificent Century). Together with some other girls, she was selected for the harem of the future Sultan Suleiman who later gained worldwide fame as Suleiman the Magnificent, or the Lawgiver. There, she was at first called simply Roxelana, or Ruslana, which means Ukrainian. It was Suleiman himself who gave her a name Hurrem – “the joyful one.” She became his favorite consort and soon gave him a son, Mehmed. But she wasn’t brought up to be a concubine, and she was too ambitious to be one of many in a harem. She had boundless energy and aspired to be involved in social projects.  The Sultan showered her with riches, and she wanted to use her wealth for public welfare. Her first project was a hospital for women near the place that still held horrific memories – the old slave market.

This is Roxelana memorial in Rohatyn.

However, there was an obstacle. Only free citizens were allowed to sponsor public projects, and she was still technically a slave. Beloved, wealthy, the mother of a prince, but a slave! She appealed to the Sultan. Suleiman was so impressed by her desire to improve the lives of his subjects that he immediately granted her freedom. But the next time he came to her room, she wouldn’t let him in! “You are the Sultan of Muslims, I am a free woman, we are not married, so I can’t let you into my bed.” He ranted and raved, but she was right, and the unthinkable happened: they were married in a magnificent formal ceremony, violating a two-hundred-year tradition forbidding a sultan to marry a concubine and for the first time in history elevating a former slave to a status of an empress, Hazeki Sultan.

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This is her portrait at the age of about 48 by Titian, titled La Sultana Rossa.

Hurrem was influential in the state affairs, which was unprecedented in those times, but she never abandoned her interest in women’s social welfare. Schools, hospitals, and soup kitchens for the poor and needy earned her undying respect and love of the population. Under his pen name, Muhibbi, Suleiman composed many poems to his beloved.

Throne of my lonely niche, my wealth, my love, my moonlight.
My most sincere friend, my confidant, my very existence, my Sultan, my one and only love.
The most beautiful among the beautiful…
My springtime, my merry faced love, my daytime, my sweetheart, laughing leaf…
My plants, my sweet, my rose, the one only who does not distress me in this world…
My Istanbul, my Caraman, the earth of my Anatolia
My Badakhshan, my Baghdad and Khorasan
My woman of the beautiful hair, my love of the slanted brow, my love of eyes full of mischief…
I’ll sing your praises always
I, lover of the tormented heart, Muhibbi of the eyes full of tears, I am happy.

In defiance of yet another tradition, Hurrem was allowed to have more than one child. And every time she became pregnant, she craved the comfort food of her motherland, the soup of the siege, the borscht. This might be a legend, since there are records of Hurrem requesting quail and rahat lokum (“Turkish delight”) when she was with child, but no records of borscht being cooked in the palace kitchen. Or perhaps the Turkish cooks simply didn’t know how to make it? But we do!

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First, we boil carrots and beets. I make a pareve borscht, without meat, but you can do it the Cossack way and throw your veggies into beef stock. We boil them for quite a while, until they are very soft.

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Meanwhile, we prepare the rest of the vegetables: shred cabbage, peel and cut potatoes, and get the beans ready.  You can use any beans you have at hand. I prefer a combination of red beans and sweet peas.  Once your carrots and beets are cooked, fish them out of the pot and throw the rest of the veggies in. Let carrots and beets cool off while the other veggies are cooking.

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Grate your cooked carrots and beets (I use a food processor) and mix them with tomato sauce. I make my own tomato sauce by simply buying overripe tomatoes, whenever I come across them, pulverizing them in a blender and simmering until the sauce thickens. Then I freeze it for further use. At this point, you can also add fresh parsley, together with chopped stems. Mix it all up, add it to the pot, and stir.

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Seasoning time: pareve soup mix, salt and pepper, and the all-important combination of lemon juice and sweetener (I use xylitol). It is the latter that makes the borscht!

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Bring it to boil one more time, stir again, and your borscht is ready. We had it often in winter time, even though in Odessa there wasn’t a real winter. But we always made it for Chanukkah, perhaps because of its combination of sweet and sour flavors, or maybe because it looks so festive. To me, it is comfort food, the same as it was for Hurrem Sultan. She lived an extraordinary life and ended it, surrounded by her adoring husband, children and grandchildren.

I don’t think she ever got her borscht, though, and anyway, this is only a legend, one of many about this incredible Ukrainian woman who had a Jewish secretary and exchanged letters with Christian kings.

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Serve your borscht with sour cream (Tofutti for me) and some raw garlic, as the tradition demands, and delight in the richness and beauty of this simple “siege soup.”

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large or 2 medium whole carrots, peeled
  • 1 large or 2 medium whole beet roots, peeled
  • 1 large potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1/3 head cabbage, shredded
  • 1 cup precooked red beans (frozen or canned could be used)
  • 1 cup precooked sweet peas
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley with stems
  • 1 heaping tablespoon soup powder
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon xylitol or sweetener of your choice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

PROCEDURE

  • Boil carrots and beets in 2 quarts of water until very soft, about 30 minutes. Remove, let cool.
  • Place shredded cabbage, cubed potato, red beans, and sweet peas into the pot, bring to boil, reduce to simmering.
  • Grate boiled carrots and beets, add tomato sauce and parsley, mix well. Add to the pot. Stir.
  • Add lemon juice and sweetener, season with salt and pepper. Bring to boil, stir, and turn off.
  • Serve with sour cream or substitute and raw garlic cloves on the side.

Happy International Women’s Day, ladies!

Peace in the Ukraine and the world!

47 Comments Add yours

  1. Lulu: “That could well be the most colorful soup I’ve ever seen. Almost as colorful as the story about Hurrem!”

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    1. Mama says, “Thank you, Lulu! girl”
      We say “Meow”
      The Cat Gang

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  2. Thank you. Both for the recipe and the interesting story about Hurrem Sultan, a woman who was truly special xo

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  3. Richly fascinating as always x

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  4. So very timely, Dolly. I always think of you as we see the news from Ukraine – now I will pay extra attention to Odessa

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for caring, Derrick.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Doug Thomas says:

    It’s a more complex recipe than I realized. I guess I always thought it was just beet root soup, not much more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are many different recipes, but it is certainly not just a beet root soup.

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      1. Doug Thomas says:

        I think I must have had the classic borsht in NYC. I recall it was very good! I liked pierogis better.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I haven’t made pierogis for ages, it seems. Diet for my husband…

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      3. Doug Thomas says:

        They are pretty solid fare!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. They certainly are and go straight into pounds of belly and cholesterol in blood.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Doug Thomas says:

        Yes! What a way to go, though!

        Liked by 1 person

      6. You have reminded me of an old joke about an elderly couple who lived happily, died on the same day, and walked through the pearly gates together. They were told that they had led exemplary lives, so they were awarded a mansion with staff of servants, and all the luxuries their hearts could desire. The old man turned to his wife and said, “If it weren’t for your effin’ bran muffins, we would’ve had all this 20 years ago!”

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      7. Doug Thomas says:

        LOL! That’s a good one!

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  6. CarolCooks2 says:

    I’ve eaten borscht but not beetroot borscht which I would love to try as I loved the borscht I did eat cooked by a Russin neighbour a few years ago now 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Carol, I have posted four different borscht recipes, two beetroot and two spinach. You have probably tasted the spinach one, but the true Ukrainian borscht is beetroot.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a remarkable story! Thanks so much for sharing this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Dorothy!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. edwardky2 says:

    Reblogged this on Ed;s Site..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging, dear Edward.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. lghiggins says:

    Ukraine vs. Russia. Ukraine vs. Turkey. Always some politician wanting more and more power, and the little people are just pawns in their chess game. Your post is wonderful even if it is a sad reflection of war. She was a remarkable woman–clever indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Linda. I tend to agree with the theory that all wars in history are not about power, religion, or territory, but about money. This one is no exception.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Praying for peace, for all of our sakes.

    We have a cool weekend coming up, a good soup sounds delightful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, dear Mimi.

      Like

  11. Joëlle says:

    Hi Dolly, I hadn’t made borscht in a long time, I got the recipe from you years ago, and looking at my notes it seems a different version, but maybe I combined yours and Helen Rennie’s on YouTube? Anyway, we are looking forward to having it this evening (soup always tastes better reheated, doesn’t it) as we think of the people in Ukraine.
    Stay safe, and take care, Dolly!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is lovely to hear from you, dear Joelle. Yes, it is the same recipe, and we always say that it tastes better the next day (LOL). Please let me know how you like it!
      Stay safe and be well, dear friend!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Joëlle says:

        I had to skip the cabbage for my husband’s sake and it tasted good anyway. Next time will be even better: I made a mental note to use bone broth rather than plain beef stock, as I did in France the first time I tried.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am so glad you and your husband liked it! I didn’t know your husband couldn’t have cabbage. What about spinach, kale, or beetroot greens? Bone broth is definitely better; this is what we had used for it in the old country.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Joëlle says:

        Regular cabbage has a high sulfur content like onions so I either avoid it or go easy.

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  12. purpleslob says:

    So very appropriate for today!! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Melinda!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. purpleslob says:

        My pleasure, dear one. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  13. schmitztimo says:

    זייער אינטערעסאנט

    Liked by 1 person

    1. א גרויסן דאנק

      Liked by 1 person

      1. schmitztimo says:

        ניטא פאר וואס

        Liked by 1 person

      2. פֿאַר קאָמוניקאַציע מיט מיר אויף ייִדיש, אַזאַ אַ פאַרגעניגן

        Liked by 1 person

      3. schmitztimo says:

        עס פרייט מיך איך, אס איז א שאד אז עס זיינען דא היינט ניט מער אזוי פילע מענטשן וואס קענען רעדען אןיף ידיש. אפשר קענסטו שרייבן מער וועגן לעבן דערמאלס אין ראטנפארבאנד

        Liked by 1 person

      4. פֿאַרשטייט זיך, אָבער אין חסידישע קהילות רעדט יעדער ייִדיש

        Liked by 1 person

      5. schmitztimo says:

        א דאנק. צי האסטו געהאט א שיינעם שבת

        Liked by 1 person

      6. ?יא, זייער שיין. און דו

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  14. Vicky says:

    Love this Ukrainian borsht soup. First time i see it. Looks delicious and so unique. Must try. thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Vicky. I am so glad you like it.

      Like

  15. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    GOOD STUFF

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for reblogging, Jonathan.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. UR WELCOME, SIS-!

        Liked by 1 person

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