A Ukrainian feast in one bowl. This beetroot soup is an absolute jewel. Ruby red and juicy, brimming with vegetables, it can be served as a starter, or as a meal in itself. My recipe is meat-free vegetarian borscht, just as filling and easier to digest.
Serve with a thick hunk of my rye bread to dunk and then mop the bowl clean.
The literal translation of borscht is ‘cow parsnip’ or ‘hogweed’. It’s no wonder it has never been anglicised as it makes this incredibly intense tasting soup sound far less appetizing. Although these were the key ingredients of early borscht, you can rest assured you’ll find no weeds in this recipe!
As a family of vegetable-lovers, and with roots from the same far off soil, you can rightly imagine that this is a favourite. Nowadays, considered a ‘celebration’ soup, vivid bowlfuls will be found on the table at Christmas Eve and Easter in my house.
What is borscht?
Borscht comes from humble beginnings. Originating from what is now Ukraine, it was a food for the rural poor. Since then borscht has taken an evolutionary journey. It’s changed colours and ingredients, and delighted diners the world over.
At first borscht didn’t even contain beetroot and was considered ‘peasant’ food. Consisting of roots, shoots, flowers – stems and all – whatever was growing nearby went in the pot.
Then, it was probably a clear or greenish, slightly meaty broth that was quite sour in flavour due to fermentation. And reputedly good for the medieval hangover!
Over the centuries it picked up ingredients and found it’s way onto the feast tables of nobility. Eventually leaving Europe and satisfying folk as far flung as the U.S. These days, borscht is instantly recognisable by it’s red hues, still sour, but grounded and earthy flavour and its trademark dollop of sour cream.
Variations do exist though. Check out my green borscht for a lovely summer soup, with no beets in sight!
At the root of any borscht are, yes, roots; beetroot, potato, carrot, and onion. Cabbage is the only non-root recipe must.
Other classic ingredients are a little meat; beef or chicken, and stock. But don’t be afraid to go vegetarian, or vegan, like my version. Mushrooms, tomatoes and herbs can also be added depending on what you like and what you want using up.
The colour of the borscht will be dictated by your root selection and mix ratio. As well as trademark red, this sour soup can be green or white. And, interestingly, depending on the religious event a different colour is served.
Recipe tips and notes
- This is a stewy vegetarian soup. Thick, chunky, hearty. It’s meant to look like that!
- Uncooked beets will offer the most intense deeply earthy flavour, so if you can, use those. If not, opt for pre-cooked vacuum-packed. Just avoid the canned ones.
- Dried mushrooms add a deeply earthy flavour to the stock and will elevate the soup to another level. Porcini or mixed mushrooms are best. However, if needs be, a high quality vegetable stock will suffice.
- In this vegetarian borscht, I’ve substituted the traditional beef for cannellini beans. They offer protein and added bite. Cannellini are nutty and keep their shape when cooked. But you can experiment with whichever beans you have in your stores. Red kidney beans are in keeping with the colour theme, and borlotti beans are creamy and smooth when cooked.
- I love a chopped herb on anything! Fresh dill and parsley contrast dramatically against the earthy flavours and vibrant colours. And don’t forget the sour cream!
Traditionally, borscht was served as a first course to be followed by meat and potatoes or some other main. Things are different now, and borscht is often seen as a meal all on its own.
You’ll almost always see borscht served with a dollop of sour cream and a healthy sprinkling of fresh herbs such as dill and parsley. I also add a few slices of sourdough or some other lovely fresh bread with a smear of butter.
Storage and leftovers
Without the sour cream, any leftovers can be covered tightly and kept in the fridge for 2-3 days. There is even an argument that borscht tastes better the next day after all the flavours have mixed and melded together.
Although you can freeze it, bear in mind potatoes don’t love being frozen and then defrosted. So I don’t recommend it!
More vegetarian soup recipes
- Harvest Minestrone Soup
- Curried Cauliflower and Cheese Soup
- Cream of Broccoli Soup with Smoked Gouda
- Roasted Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup
- 10g/1/3 cup dried porcini mushrooms
- 250ml/1 cup boiling water
- 2 litres/8 cups vegetable stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 medium beet peeled and grated
- 180g/2 cups sliced cabbage
- 2-3 medium potatoes cut into chunks
- 400g/14oz canned cannelloni beans or kidney beans drained
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil
- 2 medium carrots grated
- 1 onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- Salt to taste
- ½ lemon juice only
- 2 tbsp fresh dill and parsley for serving (optional)
- Sour cream or creme fraiche for serving
- Pour the boiling water over the dried porcini mushrooms and set aside for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile get the vegetables ready by peeling and grating 1 beetroot, removing the core and slicing the cabbage, grating the carrots, peeling and cutting the potatoes into chunks, chopping the onion.
- Remove the re-hydrated mushrooms from the liquid and chop them. Reserve the liquid to use in soup.
- Add the vegetable stock, chopped mushrooms, the bay leaves and the reserved liquid to a large soup pot and bring to simmer. Once it’s simmering add the beets, potatoes, beans, tomato paste and cabbage and cook for 20 minutes.
- In the last 10 minutes of the cooking time, sauté the chopped onion and carrots in the butter and oil over low heat until the onions are slightly brown, then add the minced garlic and sauté for 30 seconds longer. Add to the soup and cook for 5 minutes longer. Then add the fresh lemon juice to the soup and salt to taste.
- Serve with fresh herbs and sour cream.