I am going to start this by saying borscht is one of my favourite soups. For me, borscht is a comforting sweet and savory red beet soup, often with beef simmered until falling apart tender but there are many variations and I didn’t even realize how many variations until I was researching for this post. Many recipes are vegetarian, some contain beef while others contain pork, some use only light beets while others are deep red or purple and some are green with sorrel or other greens! There are still more variations using tomato, sometimes fermented, others no tomato, likewise with potatoes or even turnips and it can be served warm or cold. Borscht is originally Ukrainian but has long been traditional in Russia and most other Eastern European countries and it’s no wonder with how much borders changed throughout the last 1000 years in that area. My great grandparents home was sometimes called Poland and other times called Ukraine. I found a really cool video on YouTube with a time lapse of the borders changing which helped me put the stories in perspective. Check it out here if you’re interested.
Initially I did not set out to post a borscht recipe because I felt it was so basic and not really “my own recipe” but then I opened the boxes of my Grandmother’s china. I was immediately transported to her kitchen with the smells of her delicious soup, cabbage rolls and pierogies in the dishes she served them in, my memories of her lovingly making the Ukrainian food she grew up with and serving to us at large family gatherings felt surprisingly fresh. I have regrets of not spending more time with her learning the recipes better. I have thankfulness that my mom did spend some time learning these special and meaningful recipes and that she has shared the recipes with me and sometimes makes them for our family gatherings now.
My grandma usually made her borscht vegetarian, likely borne of necessity during her parents time during war and their subsequent immigration to Canada which was not as easy as they likely had hoped, but this borscht recipe is based on my mom’s version which includes beef. Meaty, rich, sweet, sour and savory, full of healthy vegetables and at the same time warm and comforting. It is not a difficult soup, it just needs time to simmer and although my favourite version is this one with beef, it is very easy and tasty to make it vegetarian (omit beef and substitute veggie stock) and I have made it multiple times that way too. It is a great use for beets (and beet greens if you have them), carrots, onions and cabbage from the garden, all the vegetables that keep well into winter, sometimes I will even add a diced apple for extra sweetness. Served with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt and garnished with dill, this is gorgeous, rich and comforting fall food at it’s best.
Beet and Beef Borscht
A great way to use winter vegetables and if your beets have their tops, use them in this soup too. This is warm, hearty, sweet, savory and a touch sour, quick to prepare but needs to simmer for a few hours for the meat to become tender. Alternatively you could make this in a slow cooker or in a Instant Pot pressure cooker. If you omit the beef, this only needs to simmer for 45 minutes and this is soup gets better with time so feel free to make it up to 3 days ahead.
- 1-1 1/2 lb Stewing Beef, Cubed Short ribs work well too, but skim the fat during simmering
- 1 tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 Onion, Coarsely Chopped (1 Cup)
- 2 Carrots, Diced 1/2" (1 Cup)
- 1/2 c Tomato Sauce
- 1 tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
- 6 c Beef Stock If you are using a store bought stock that is salty, use 4 c of stock and 2 c of water.
- 2 c Beets, Diced 1/2", (Green Tops Coarsely Chopped Optional) About 3 medium beets
- 2 c Cabbage, Shredded
- Salt And Pepper To Taste
- 3/4 c Sour Cream
- 1 Small Bunch Dill, chopped
Preheat a large, wide heavy bottomed pot on medium-high. Once hot, add oil and then beef in one layer without crowding. Let it brown without stirring until it is well caramelized, then flip and brown other sides.
Once beef is well browned, add onion and carrot, stirring gently. This will create a bit of moisture and steam and will help loosen the brown bits on the bottom of the pan.
Add in tomato sauce, vinegar and stock, bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low and simmer 2 hours.
Add in beets, beet tops if using and cabbage and simmer 1 more hour. If the soup is reducing too much, put lid on for last hour.
Season with salt and pepper and then serve adding a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of dill to each bowl.