I recently had the honour of making a traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve dinner for some friends of mine. The Sviaty Vechir consists of a meal including 12 dishes that contain no meat and no dairy products. This special dinner is held on January 6th which marks the beginning of the Christmas season on the Julian calendar.
It is tradition that the family gathers around the table to celebrate the holiday that begins when the first star is seen in the night sky. The table is set and the candles are lit and an extra place is set for those who cannot be there. It is a night to celebrate and a night to remember ancestors.
The meal always begins with a serving of Kutia which is a pudding made from wheat berries often flavoured with poppy seeds, fruit, nuts or honey. This course is followed by Borsch soup, cabbage rolls, and various fish and vegetable dishes.
Since I am not Ukrainian I had to do some research before inviting my friends to dinner. I wanted it to be special, while preserving tradition. I admit that I picked up a few of the dishes at the Deli and Ukrainian bakery in Toronto’s Bloor West Village. Even with the dishes that I picked up, I still had many more to prepare. I wanted to make it a meal to remember.
One of the dishes that I made was this rich, ruby-red borsch soup.The recipe can be altered by using beef broth but am posting the vegetarian version. The broth is light and flavourful and the vegetables add enough substance to make it a heart warming addition to any meal.
Makes 6 servings
8 cups vegetable broth
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
4 large beets, peeled and chopped into ½ inch chunks
4 carrots, peeled and chopped into ½ inch chunks
1 large potato, peeled, cut into ½ inch cubes
2 cups thinly sliced cabbage
3/4 cup chopped fresh dill
3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 cup sour cream (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Pour vegetable broth into a large pot and add beets, carrots, and potato; bring to boil.
Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.
Stir in cabbage and 1/2 cup dill; cook until cabbage is tender, about 15 minutes.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in vinegar.
Ladle soup into bowls. Top with a sprinkle of dill or a dollop of sour cream.