A bright pink sweet and sour tasting soup called borscht surely will catch your eye and tempt your taste buds. This traditional Ukrainian soup, when fixed in the United States, typically is beet-based, but there are different versions of borscht recipes out of former Soviet-influenced countries in Eastern Europe. Recipe developer Alexandra Shytsman of The New Baguette, whose family hails from the Ukraine, explained that there’s both a hot beet version and a cold beet version made with buttermilk in the summertime, along with a sorrel-based green soup. A popular beet-based Polish Christmas Eve soup is another variant, except the vegetables are strained out before serving and the broth has mushroom dumplings in it.
Some recipes use pork sausage or beef shank and even bacon for extra flavor. A few others call for the addition of beans. Whether you prefer your version vegetarian or with meat, you’ll love this sweet and sour soup brimming with healthy ingredients.
Gather up the borscht ingredients
This vegetable heavy recipe calls for russet potatoes, fine sea salt, extra virgin olive oil, an onion, a carrot, a beet, tomato paste, white vinegar, granulated sugar, green cabbage, black peppercorns, garlic cloves, and optional sour cream and dill.
"This borscht should be a bright fuchsia color and have a puckery, sweet-sour flavor. The vinegar — you can also use lemon juice — is key to preserve the color of the beet. The amount of seasonings you use, the salt, sugar and vinegar, will depend on the sweetness of your vegetables, so be sure to season the soup to taste before serving it," Shytsman said.
The borscht prep process
Shytsman recommended having all of the vegetables chopped, minced, shredded, and ready to go before you begin cooking. For an easier time, she suggested using a food processor with the shredding attachment to prep the veggies.
"Be sure to shred in the following order, as you don’t want the beets staining the rest of your vegetables: cabbage, carrot then beet," she said. Another suggestion — wear dark colored gloves and an apron to avoid staining your clothes and hands.
Meat-free Ukrainian borscht
Some borscht recipes use beef broth or a meat source, but not Shytsman’s.
"My family has always made this soup meatless, even though we were not raised vegetarian. I assume, again, this is for reasons of poverty. Meat was really hard to come by in the Soviet Union so people made do with what they could get," she said.
This recipe takes only 15 minutes to prepare and 30 minutes to cook. Grab a large soup pot and combine two peeled and cubed medium-sized russet potatoes with three quarts of water. Cover the soup base, bring to a boil then simmer until the potatoes are halfway cooked, which takes approximately five minutes.
Cook the borscht vegetables
While the potatoes are simmering, heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a large high-sided skillet over medium-low heat. Add in one diced medium onion with a pinch of fine sea salt. Cook until the onion softens, approximately four minutes. Add in one peeled and grated medium-sized carrot and one peeled and grated large beet. Cook the vegetables until they are soft and mushy, stirring occasionally approximately 15 minutes.
Stir in 3 tablespoons of tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of white vinegar and 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar. Cook the mixture for two more minutes.
Pay attention to the potatoes of your borscht
Turn your focus back to the potatoes. When they are almost cooked through, but not completely, add 4 cups of shredded green cabbage to the pot and simmer for almost two minutes until the cabbage softens. Transfer the vegetables in the skillet to the pot, add 10 black peppercorns and simmer for approximately ten minutes.
Turn the burner heat off and stir in two minced medium garlic cloves. Taste and season with more salt, sugar, and vinegar if needed. Serve warm with a dollop of sour cream and dill.
Borscht has been around for centuries
As someone who follows a primarily vegan lifestyle, Shytsman’s borscht is vegetarian while other families make theirs with beef broth. The recipe she shared with Mashed hails from her great grandmother’s treasure trove of goodies.
"I love knowing that I can recreate my great-grandmother’s recipe more than 20 years since her passing and I look forward to passing down this dish for generations to come," she said. "Like all peasant cuisine from long ago, this soup was created because people would use what they had easy access to in that part of the world: root vegetables and cabbage."
- 2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
- 1 large beet (about ¾ pound), peeled and grated
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 4 cups shredded green cabbage (about ¼ head of cabbage)
- 10 black peppercorns
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- sour cream and dill, for serving
- In a large soup pot, combine the potatoes and salt with 3 quarts of water. Cover, bring to a boil, and simmer until the potatoes are halfway cooked, about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large high-sided skillet over medium-low heat and add the onion with a pinch of salt. Cook until it softens, about 4 minutes. Then add the carrot and beet, and cook until all the vegetables are soft and mushy, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, vinegar, and sugar, and cook for 2 minutes more.
- When the potatoes are almost cooked through but not quite, add the cabbage to the pot and simmer for about 2 minutes, just until the cabbage softens.
- Finally, transfer the skillet mixture to the pot, add the peppercorns, and simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Turn the heat off and stir in the garlic. Taste and season with more salt, sugar, and/or vinegar, if needed.