Chicken Borscht, known as “Ciorba de pui” in Romanian, is a cherished dish in the heart of Romanian culinary traditions. Just like its counterpart, the Romanian Meatball Soup (Ciorbă de Perişoare), Chicken Borscht holds a special place in many Romanian households. The dish pays homage to the rich and diverse culinary heritage of Romania, blending flavors, textures, and ingredients that have been passed down through generations.
The significance of Chicken Borscht goes beyond its taste. It represents family gatherings, festive occasions, and the warmth of Romanian hospitality. Many families have their own cherished recipes, passed down from grandparents to parents to children, each adding their own twist while preserving the essence of the dish.
The soup’s tangy flavor, achieved by fermented wheat bran (known as bors), or other souring agents, sets it apart from other soups. The use of chicken adds a lighter touch compared to the meatballs in Ciorbă de Perişoare, making it a preferred choice for many during warmer months or when seeking a lighter meal.
In addition to its delightful taste, Chicken Borscht is also packed with nutrients. The combination of chicken, vegetables, and herbs provides a wholesome meal that is both satisfying and nourishing.
A Brief History of Borscht
Borscht, a sour soup, has its roots in Eastern Europe. While many associate it with beetroot, the Romanian version, especially the chicken variant, is a unique blend of flavors and ingredients. The sour taste, achieved through fermented wheat bran or lemon, is what sets it apart from other soups.
- Cultural Significance: Chicken Borscht, or “Ciorba de pui”, is deeply rooted in Romanian culinary traditions. Beyond its delightful taste, it symbolizes family gatherings, festive occasions, and the warmth of Romanian hospitality, with recipes passed down through generations.
- Distinctive Flavor: The unique tangy flavor of Chicken Borscht is achieved using fermented wheat bran (bors) or other souring agents. This sourness distinguishes it from other soups, and the inclusion of chicken offers a lighter alternative to the meatball variant, making it a popular choice during warmer months.
- Nutritional Value: Chicken Borscht is not just a treat for the taste buds; it’s also nutritionally rich. The blend of chicken, vegetables, and herbs offers a wholesome meal that’s both nourishing and satisfying.
- Versatility: The recipe for Chicken Borscht is adaptable. For those who can’t access bors, there are alternative souring agents like vinegar or lemon juice. Additionally, there are ways to make the dish vegetarian or vegan, ensuring that it caters to a wide range of dietary preferences.
Ingredients You’ll Need:
- Chicken meat – Around 1 kg or 2.2 pounds
- Onions – 2 normal sized onions, around 200 grams or 7 ounces
- Tomatoes or tomato juice – 5 tomatoes or 400 ml of tomato juice, approximately 13.5 ounces
- Carrots – 2 carrots
- Parsnip – 1 parsnip
- Celery root – Half of a celery root
- Lovage – 1 link of lovage
- Salt – 1-2 tablespoons for 3 and a half liters of water, approximately 0.07-0.14 ounces for about 118 ounces of water
- Bay leaves – A few, used to control the fat
- Borscht – 1 cup or 8 ounces
- Homemade noodles – 2-300 grams or 7-10.5 ounces
If Borscht Is Unavailable:
- Lemon salt or juice – Half teaspoon of lemon salt or the juice from half a lemon
How to Make Chicken Borscht
1. Prepare the Chicken
Starting off with the meat. From the whole chicken, set aside the drumsticks or the chicken thighs and half of the breast.
2. Boil the Chicken
Put the meat to boil in 3 and a half liters or 1 gallon of water. If using a homegrown chicken, it will need more boiling time. If you have a pressure pot, the process will be faster.
Add 1 tablespoon of salt to help create the foam and let it boil for at least 1 hour. If using a store-bought chicken, reduce boiling time to 30 minutes.
3. Skim the Foam
When the foam starts forming, around 5 minutes after boiling, remove it with a slotted spoon.
4. Prepare the Vegetables
While the meat is boiling, prepare the vegetables. Section them into two parts: one with big chunks and the other minced. If using fresh tomatoes, peel and blend or grate them into juice.
5. Add Vegetables to the Broth
After 1 hour (or 30 minutes for store-bought chicken), add 1 cup of water to the broth and let it boil for a few minutes. Then add the big chunks of vegetables. Let them boil with the meat for another 30 minutes.
6. Strain the Broth
Strain the broth to remove the meat and vegetables, setting them aside for the next steps.
7. Add Meat and Minced Vegetables
Before putting the meat back to boil, scrape the big bones for additional meat. Put the meat back to boil, add water if necessary, and let it boil for a few minutes. Then add the minced vegetables and tomato juice. Let it boil for 25 minutes.
8. Prepare the Borscht
If using borsch, boil it separately for 2 minutes. This step is optional but recommended in case the borscht is old.
9. Add Noodles and Borscht
After 25 minutes, add the homemade noodles to the main pot and let them boil for 5 minutes. Then add the borscht and let it boil for 2 minutes. If not using borscht, skip this step.
10. Final Touches
Turn off the stove and add the chopped lovage. If you’re souring the borscht with lemon salt or juice, add it now. Let the chicken borscht rest for 15 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to combine.
Serve the chicken borscht in bowls with some fresh peppers or a dollop of sour cream if desired. Enjoy your meal!
How Can I Achieve the Perfect Sourness in My Chicken Borscht Without Using Bors?
Achieving the right level of sourness in Chicken Borscht is crucial to its authentic taste. If bors is unavailable, there are several alternatives you can use:
- Vinegar: White vinegar or apple cider vinegar can be used. Start with a small amount and adjust according to taste.
- Lemon Juice: Freshly squeezed lemon juice provides a natural tanginess. It’s best to add it towards the end of the cooking process to preserve its fresh flavor.
- Pickle Juice: This might sound unconventional, but pickle juice can be a fantastic souring agent. It not only adds sourness but also a hint of saltiness and depth.
- Tamarind Paste: Tamarind is naturally sour and can be used as a substitute. However, it has a distinct flavor, so use it sparingly.
- Sour Cream or Yogurt: While these won’t make the soup as tangy as bors, they can add a mild sourness and creamy texture.
The Importance of Using Fresh Ingredients
Just like the Romanian cheesecake, which is distinct from its American counterpart due to its unique ingredients like unsalted cheese, the Chicken Borscht (Ciorba de pui) too relies heavily on the freshness of its ingredients. Fresh vegetables and herbs not only enhance the flavor but also pack the soup with essential nutrients.
What Are the Best Side Dishes or Accompaniments to Serve With Chicken Borscht?
Chicken Borscht is a hearty and flavorful soup that can be enjoyed on its own. However, if you’re looking to create a more elaborate meal, here are some accompaniments that pair well with it:
- Fresh Bread: A slice of fresh, crusty bread is perfect for soaking up the delicious broth. Whether it’s a traditional Romanian bread or your favorite loaf, bread is a must-have accompaniment.
- Sour Cream: A dollop of sour cream on top of the soup adds creaminess and a touch of tanginess.
- Spicy Peppers: For those who like a kick, serving the soup with spicy peppers can elevate its flavor.
- Wine: A light white wine can complement the soup’s flavors. Alternatively, a Romanian Țuică (plum brandy) can be a delightful accompaniment.
Remember, the best accompaniments are the ones you enjoy. Feel free to experiment and find your perfect pairing.
How Can I Store Leftover Chicken Borscht, and How Long Will It Last in the Refrigerator?
Storing leftover Chicken Borscht is simple and ensures you have a delicious meal ready for later. Here’s how to store it:
- Cooling: Before storing, allow the soup to come to room temperature. This prevents condensation inside the storage container, which can affect the soup’s texture and flavor.
- Storage Container: Transfer the cooled soup to an airtight container. This helps preserve the soup’s freshness and prevents any odors from the refrigerator from affecting its taste.
- Refrigeration: Stored in the refrigerator, Chicken Borscht can last for up to 3-4 days. It’s essential to ensure the container is sealed tightly.
- Freezing: If you want to store the soup for a more extended period, consider freezing it. Transfer the cooled soup to freezer-safe containers or bags, leaving some space at the top for expansion. Label the containers with the date and contents. Frozen Chicken Borscht can last for up to 2-3 months.
- Reheating: When ready to eat, if frozen, thaw the soup in the refrigerator overnight. Reheat it in a pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it’s hot. If the soup has thickened after storage, you can add a bit of water or broth to adjust its consistency.
Storing and reheating Chicken Borscht properly ensures you can enjoy its delicious flavors even days after it’s been made.
Can I Freeze Chicken Borscht, and if So, How Should I Reheat It?
Yes, Chicken Borscht is freezer-friendly, making it perfect for meal prep or saving leftovers for a later date. Here’s how to freeze and reheat it:
- Cooling: Before freezing, ensure the soup is entirely cooled to room temperature.
- Freezing: Transfer the cooled soup to freezer-safe containers or heavy-duty freezer bags. Leave about an inch of space at the top of the container or bag to allow for expansion during freezing. Seal tightly, removing as much air as possible. Label the containers or bags with the date and contents.
- Storage: Store the soup in the freezer, ensuring it’s kept flat, especially if using freezer bags. This makes for easier storage and quicker thawing.
- Thawing: When ready to eat, move the frozen soup to the refrigerator and let it thaw overnight. If you’re in a hurry, you can use the defrost function on your microwave, but be sure to transfer the soup to a microwave-safe container first.
- Reheating: Pour the thawed soup into a pot and reheat over medium heat, stirring occasionally. If the soup has thickened after freezing and thawing, you can add a bit of water or broth to adjust its consistency. Bring the soup to a simmer, and it’s ready to serve.
Freezing Chicken Borscht is a convenient way to have a delicious meal on hand, ready to be enjoyed with minimal effort.
How Can I Make a Vegetarian or Vegan Version of Chicken Borscht?
Creating a vegetarian or vegan version of Chicken Borscht is quite straightforward. Here are some steps and alternatives to consider:
- Replace Chicken: Omit the chicken and use hearty vegetables like potatoes, mushrooms, or even tofu as a substitute. These ingredients provide a satisfying texture and absorb the flavors of the broth well.
- Vegetable Broth: Instead of using water or chicken broth, opt for a rich vegetable broth. This will enhance the depth of flavor in the soup.
- Vegan Sour Cream: For those who like to top their borscht with sour cream, there are many vegan sour cream alternatives available in stores. Alternatively, you can make your own using cashews, lemon juice, and nutritional yeast.
- Additional Protein: Consider adding beans, lentils, or chickpeas to the soup. They not only provide protein but also give the soup a hearty texture.
- Enhance Flavors: Since you’re omitting the chicken, you might want to amp up the flavors using herbs and spices. Consider adding more lovage, dill, or even some smoked paprika for a touch of smokiness.
By making these adjustments, you can enjoy a delicious, hearty, and entirely plant-based Chicken Borscht that’s both satisfying and flavorful.
Exploring More Romanian Delicacies
If Chicken Borscht has piqued your interest in Romanian cuisine, there’s a world of flavors waiting to be explored. Dive into dishes like Zacusca, the Romanian eggplant stew, or indulge in the creamy delight of Ricotta Cheese Doughnuts. Each dish tells a story of Romania’s rich culinary heritage and the love and care that goes into preparing each meal.