I grew up with a fairly simple variety of foods. It was farm-living and self-sustainability, which meant a lot of fresh fruit and fresh vegetables from the gardens, fields and orchards around me. One of my favorite food items growing up is borscht, the Eastern European beet soup. While a number of Eastern European countries and Russia have variations on the recipe, I’m going to focus on my homeland, Ukraine.
After pestering my mom for her recipe, she divulged her instructions along with a few key points:
“All cooks have a different take on the soup. Even the same hostess who often makes borscht will have slight variations from one time to the next. The ingredients are ballparked a lot of the time. Today’s carrots might be slightly bigger, or the cabbage a bit more bitter, imparting a different taste on the broth when cooked. Although borscht is often cooked with meat, a vegetarian option is easily attainable by leaving the meat out.
Make sure all the ingredients are fresh and good quality. When choosing beets, look for darker varieties for a flavorful punch. The taste of the soup depends on the taste of the beets, so it’s important to pay attention to this ingredient. For best results, buy two small beets that are dark in color, not one large one. If one of the beets isn’t too sweet, the second one might punch up the flavor with its juice. If you buy one large beet, it might not impart as much complexity.
Good borscht should be slightly thicker, so you can adjust liquid amount or simmer a little longer for the liquid to evaporate a bit. Cabbage adds a lot of the thickness to the soup.
Caloric Information: 1712 in whole pot or 204 calories per 2 cup serving.
- 4 liters (16 cups) water
- 2 medium sized beets, peeled
- 1 parsley root, split lengthwise
- 1 medium onion, whole
- 1 large carrot, whole
- 1 stick celery, whole
- 3 medium bay leaves
- 1/2 medium cabbage, shredded
- 3 medium potatoes, diced
- 1 can white beans, drained
- 1 small (6-oz) can tomato paste
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- green dill & parsley to taste, about 3 Tbsp each
- fresh ground pepper
- 1 large garlic clove
*Meat: Borscht can be vegetarian or with meat. This version is without, but if you prefer to have yours with meat, you can choose either rib, chicken or duck. It doesn’t have to be fatty, although if you’d like a richer broth you can use the darker meats and some with fattier trims. If cooking with meat, thoroughly rinse and cover in a pot with cold water. Place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. When it does, turn off the heat and drain the water. Rinse with water again and add 2 cups more water than listed in the ingredients. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 2 hours, skimming off the foam from the top in the process. Continue adding the rest of ingredients and cooking, the soup per instructions below.
*Beets: Make sure to cut, peel, and shred beets in your kitchen sink since they stain surfaces and materials easily.
Instructions: Place parsley root (peeled), whole onion (peeled), whole carrot (peeled) and celery stick into a large pot filled with 4 liters of cold water. Bring to a boil.
When water comes to a boil, place one peeled and halved beet inside. Boil all the vegetables on medium flame for 25 minutes. Add potatoes, cabbage, beans and bay leaves to the soup. Cover lid and leave to simmer for 35 minutes.
Add the pepper. Remove the halved beet from the soup and let cool. When the beet is cooled, cut it into thin strips, about the size of french fries.
While borscht is simmering, heat a frying pan with 2 Tbsp olive oil. Place the shredded beet inside and saute on medium heat for 5 minutes. Cover with lid and fry on low-medium heat for about 11-12 minutes, constantly monitoring and stirring.
When beets are browning and softening, add the tomato paste. Mix everything well and cover with lid. Keep cooking over low heat for 20 minutes, occasionally stirring.
*If you’d like your soup to be slightly lighter, add 2-3 tablespoons sour cream to this mix. Check that the vegetables in the soup are soft and cooked through.
Remove the onion, celery stalk, parsley root, and bay leaves. When everything is cooked, place the beets cut into thin strips back into the soup. After 3-4 minutes, add the shredded beets from the frying pan into the soup and mix well.
Remove from heat and add dill & parsley to taste. Add one large crushed garlic clove.
Taste the soup and add salt & pepper to taste.
Note: If the soup seems too acidic, add 1 Tbsp sugar and keep adding and tasting until it balances. If the soup is too sweet, add 1 Tbsp tomato paste and keep tasting until the flavor is balanced. Borscht can be eaten with a bit of sour cream or Greek yogurt mixed in to add slight tartness to the flavor.