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Put the ribs in a large saucepan and pour over 3 litres cold water, then season with salt. Bring to the boil over a medium heat, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. Peel one of the onions and add this to the pan whole, along with the beetroot. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 hr-1 hr 15 mins until the meat is tender. If the ribs don’t have much fat, they will need to cook for longer. Remove the whole onion and compost it.
Meanwhile, make zasmażka – a Ukrainian sofrito. Skim 2 tbsp fat off the ribs as they cook, and pour it into a large frying pan (or use 2 tbsp vegetable oil). Finely chop the second onion and fry it over a low-medium heat, stirring often for about 5 mins until transparent and soft. Add the grated carrots and cook for 10 mins more. Tip in the potatoes and stir in the tomato purée. Pour in the canned tomatoes and cook for 5 mins, then taste and add 1-2 tsp sugar to balance out the acidity, if needed. Add the bay leaf.
When the potato is soft (don’t worry if it overcooks, it will give body to the borsch), add the zasmażka to the ribs and stock, and bring to the boil again. Add the cabbage, celery, pepper and parsley, and cook for 7 mins – try not to overcook the cabbage.
Mash the garlic, if using, with a pinch of salt to make a paste, then add this to the borsch for more flavour. Stir in the whole chilli, if using, and continue to cook briefly to warm through slightly.
Shred the meat using two forks and remove and discard the bones. Serve the borsch in bowls, each topped with 1 tbsp of the soured cream and some chopped dill, with some crusty bread on the side, if you like.