Borscht…A Beautiful Soup for the Holidays

First let me preface this post with the statement that if you don’t like beets normally, you will love Borscht.

One thing that can said about me from birth, is that I have always sought out the new, different and loved to learn from others cultures. I could be never be one to fit into a  specific box . I have my mother to thank ,for nurturing  this curious spirit of mine. For some reason these days, I’m all into Russian food. If I cant travel, I visit through my kitchen. I even added to the final missing link to my Culinaria series, which was the Russian edition. A coworker saw me reading the Russian edition  and asked

“Why Russia?”

…and I replied “Why Not?”

to which he thought for a moment and said “Touche”

Admittedly , listening to my Russian co workers  has piqued my curiosity. Russian being used in the broadest terms,as each region has its own unique identity. The Polish co workers then pipe in with their versions of the same dish and we get into a whole discussion on recipes and traditions. This is what we do when bored, and I love it!

So lets talk about Borscht. The Ukrainians consider themselves the inventors of Borscht. This “land on the edge” with its main capital of Kiev. All the trade routes crossed this region and The Ukrainians have been under various rulers for centuries, until it was absorbed by the former Soviet Union. In 1991 the finally achieved their independence. The Ukraine can owe its rich culinary tradition to its lands that are known for its mushrooms, berries, grains, vegetables and other fruits. Even wines. Maybe their rich and varied diet contributes to  beauty of the Ukrainian people who seem to produce some of the worlds top models. Food for thought…

Now there are many variations for this beet flavored stew/soup Borscht. From totally vegetarian to more hearty like stew, like I made.  Originally Borscht was just a soup made from wild plants and oats. Beets evolved into the soup late on. The beauty of Borscht is that it can change seasonally with whats on hand. In conversations with my friends I find they like to add beef short ribs  to flavor the base and to add heartiness to the soup.  Potatoes, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms and even beet leaves or sorrel can be added. That’s the beauty of the soup. In Poland at Christmas barszcz , a thinner vegetarian Borscht is made  and served with dumplings called uszka. Borscht really celebrates natures bounty can really decrease waste. In fact it evolved as a way families saved vegetable scraps and  trimmings, and stored outside during the frozen winter, to make into soups later on. So think of all those veggies in your fridge that need to be put to use and make a borscht. Your family will thank you for it. Don’t forget to top it with the Sour Cream , that’s the best part many people believe.

I have techniques I use in soup making that may vary from traditional Borscht recipes.  I will give you a clear recipe but I wanted to explain my process and traditional processes. Whatever you do do , remember the beets are sauteed separate and should not be added until the final stage of cooking, We don’t want the beets to lose color and darken. We want to retain the bright red color. For my version I used beef shank because it was cheaper than short ribs, although not as much meat. It requires hours of cooking to make tender. I peeled chopped and diced my potatoes , carrots, golden beets, onions, and garlic and roated them first with my beef shanks to brown in dutch oven. Then I placed it stove top and added my liquids. I find roasting of veggies and meats coaxed the flavor out more rather than browning on the stove top. The ingredients can vary and be based on what you have.  For meat you can use pork, beef , chicken or lamb. Don’t worry about being exact. Cooking should be fun and improvisational, not rigid. Also note that borscht always tastes better the next day. But if you cant wait until then  wait for at least 40 minutes for flavors to merge before serving.

Borscht...A Beautiful Soup for the Holidays
Recipe type: Entree
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
A thick hearty soup from the Ukraine
  • 1-2 lbs beef short ribs, shank , etc. You can use whatever meat you desire form pork, chicken or lamb.
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 carrots peeled and chopped fine.
  • 3-4 medium potatoes peeled and chopped.
  • 1-2 golden beets optional* ( had on hand)
  • 3-4 cloves garlic minced
  • a touch of vegetable or olive oil
  • ⅛ tsp Celery seed
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 small head of white cabbage shredded
  • 3 qts or more of beef stock ( can use bouillon and water)
  • 3-4 large red beets peeled julienned into strips
  • ½ cup chopped fatty bacon, guanciale or other fatty pork
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • Bay Leaf
  • 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • 1-2 tbsp sugar
  • Sour cream to garnish
  • Fresh Dill & Parsley to garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 425.
  2. In a large Dutch Oven add the beef shanks, ribs, etc and the peeled and chopped potatoes, carrots, golden beets,onions, and garlic.
  3. Toss with a little oil , season with salt and pepper and roast for about 45 minutes to 1 hour until softened and browned.
  4. In a separate skillet , render fat a bit from the bacon or fatty pork product and the peeled and julliened red beets. Saute for a few minutes.
  5. Add the tomato paste to the beets. Continue to saute.
  6. Add the vinegar to the beets and mix well. Remove from heat and set aside.
  7. Remove the Ducth Oven form the oven and place on stove top.
  8. Add the 3 qts of stock or water and bouliion.
  9. Bring to a simmer on a low heat and adjust seasonings to taste. Now's the time to add more salt etc.
  10. Add cabbage, celery seed, bay leaf.
  11. Cover and simmer for 2-3 hours until beef is tender. At this point you may add more liquid if needed.
  12. For the last 10 -15 minutes of cooking add the red beets, tomato mixture to the soup base. Add sugar.Simmer uncovered .
  13. Adjust seasonings( maybe add more vinegar ,salt or pepper).
  14. Remove from heat after 15 minutes.
  15. Let sit for at least 45 minuted before serving.
  16. Garnish with fresh sour cream , dill and parsley.
Do not overcook the beets in the soup. Only add at the last stage and cook no longer than 15 minutes in the soup. You can adapt this recipe to incorporate may types of seasonal produce or using what ever meat you like on hand. You can also make it completely vegan by omitting the animal products and meat.



Comments Closed

9 thoughts on “Borscht…A Beautiful Soup for the Holidays

  1. Olga @ MangoTomato

    SWOON! I grew up in Russia and moved to the States when I was 13. This is one of my most favorite soups ever, and my dad makes the best one 😉

    Sometimes we use mayo instead of sour cream and mostly make it sans meat.

    Looks great!

  2. Lori Lynn

    Hi Courtney – my paternal grandmother was born in Kiev. She made a wonderful borscht. Wish I had her exact recipe, in addition to the memories.
    Your soup sounds fabulous, I never think of it as a holiday dish, that is one terrific idea.
    Merry Christmas to you and CS!

Comments are closed.