Borscht is a beautiful, tangy, delicious beetroot soup. It’s associated often with Russian, though its origins are debated and generally it’s thought that the beetroot based version of borscht originated in the Ukraine. It’s got such an amazing balance of sweet and sour flavours and it’s best served with crusty bread for dipping!
Beetroot is an absolutely wonderful vegetable. It’s easy to grow, it keeps well, though you can eat it raw it’s also easy to cook and prepare. Pickled beetroot is a really common way to store it so that it can be eaten throughout the Winter months, and this soup imitates the flavour of pickled beetroot with its sharp tanginess. The taproot is what’s most commonly eaten, but the leaves are also great in salads or as a wilted side veg. Over the years, we’ve managed to grow several different varieties of beetroot, which all have their distinct colours and flavours, ranging from dark, rich and almost meaty to vibrantly striped ones that look like candy canes. Try and get hold of heirloom varieties such as golden beets or chioggia if using them in salads as they are so beautiful!
A good stock is an essential component of borscht, as it is with almost all soups. Traditionally borscht is made with meat stocks, such as bone broths made from boiling bones and marrow. Beef or pork are the most common meats used to prepare these stocks. If making a vegetarian version of the soup, consider using a wild forest mushroom broth instead of regular vegetable stock as it will add a greater authenticity to the flavour.
Borscht’s origins are somewhat debated, but typically the Ukranians lay claim to the soup. It’s certainly a firm staple of the Ukranian diet, they have a saying which goes Борщ та каша – їжа наша (Borshch ta kasha – yizha nasha). This roughly translates as ‘borscht and porridge are our food’. Strangely, the word borscht isn’t to do with beetroot at all. It actually comes from the Yiddish באָרשט (borsht) which is an old word for common hogweed, a spice that was traditionally used to flavour the borscht. Though the most famous borscht is made with beetroot, there are in fact so many different versions of the soup. Russian borscht is normally thick, more like a chunky beetroot stew, though they also have a green borscht which is made with wilted sorrel leaves. Polish borscht is often white with fermented grains or cereal.
The borscht that we made, pictured above, is based on the first time we ever ate it in Finland, using sour cream to give the soup an extra layer of silkiness. This is traditional in Lithuania as well, where borscht is always mixed with sour cream or yoghurt. The Ukrainian and Russian borschts tend to consist of a much clearer, dark red broth, served with cream on the side.
WHAT YOU NEED
Where possible, try to buy local, seasonal, free range and organic ingredients. Apart from it being better to support local businesses and good farming practises, it does make a huge difference to the taste of your food!
1 onion, diced
2 medium beetroots, peeled and grated
200g shredded white cabbage
1 coarsely grated carrot
2 tbsp tomato paste
A large pinch of sugar
2 cloves minced garlic
2tbsp white wine vinegar
A glug of olive oil or a large knob of butter for frying
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tbsp sour cream, to garnish
A handful of freshly chopped dill and sliced spring onions, to garnish
For the stock:
700ml Homemade bone broth with beef or pork is traditional, if vegetarian try forest mushroom stock or vegetable stock
Prep Time: 10 mins
Cooking Time: 20-30 mins
- Heat the oil or butter in a pan on a medium heat, stir in the onions with a pinch of salt and cook until translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Turn the heat down if the onions start to colour.
- Stir in the garlic, beets and carrots and stir until cooked (about 2-3 minutes). Add more butter or oil if the mixture looks dry.
- Add the tomato paste, vinegar, stock, sugar and cabbage. Simmer for 10-20 minutes, until the soup has reduced and the flavours are combined. You can cook it for much longer if you have the time. You can also let it sit for a few hours or overnight to intensify the flavours.
- Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Ladle into bowls, stir in the sour cream and sprinkle with dill and spring onions. Serve with crusty bread and butter.
LF – omit the sour cream or use a lactose free substitute
GF – this dish is naturally gluten free, you can serve it with gluten free bread
V – use vegetable or wild mushroom stock
Ve – use olive oil, plus vegetable or wild mushroom stock, omit the sour cream