Borscht is one of the most recognizable words in the world. A hearty soup served in all regions of the Former Soviet Union. From the nobles to the peasants, borscht has graced the tables of generations of Russians, Ukrainians and many other Easter European cultures.
Regional politics aside, the history of borscht is quite difficult to trace. Most gastronomic historians do agree that it likely originated in ancient Kievan Rus. Back then Kiev was the capital of greater Russia and likely was the birthplace of this marsh of beets, carrots, onions, potatoes and cabbage.
The name is derived from the Slavic word “borschevik” translated as “hogweed” in English. Hogweed is a sturdy plant, and distant cousin of modern-day carrots, that still grows in many parts across Russia and Ukraine.
Its shoots have been used for hundreds of years as a sugar substitute due to their sweet flavor. The leaves were often used for salads or as a side dish of greens. Boiling the leaves produced a wonderfully aromatic stock for soups, adding a distinct mushroom aroma. It’s not far fetched to think then, that original recipes of borscht called for borschevik, rather than beets, as its main ingredient.
Today, there are hundreds of varieties of borscht with each country, region and family claiming the superiority of their own recipe. While the classic concoction calls for meat stock as the basis, vegetarians have embraced an all-veggie variety that tastes just as great with a few secret ingredients.
One thing is certain no matter what recipe you use – borscht, like fine wine, gets better with time. So go ahead, make a large pot and savor the flavor with each passing day!
Our favorite recipe calls for the following:
Makes about 6-8 servings.
- 1 large beet
- 2 small carrots
- 1/2 cabbage
- 2 medium potatoes
- 1 small onion (or 2 shallots)
- 4-5 slivers of garlic
- 1 small lemon
- 2 tbs tomato sauce
- 1 cup chopped parsley (or cilantro)
- 1/2 cup chopped dill
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 10 pepper corns
- 1 cup red kidney beach
- 2-3 tbsp olive oil
- 6-8 cups boiling water
- sour cream
- salt & pepper to taste
- Wash and peel all veggies. Grate beets and carrots on a medium size grater. Finely chop onion or shallots, and smash or rough chop garlic slivers.
- In a deep pot heat olive oil and drop in smashed garlic. Let the garlic infuse the oil for a minute and add onions. When the onions are translucent, add beets and carrots, and let cook for about 2-3 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.
- Once the veggie juices start to release, add boiling water and let simmer for a few minutes. Chop potatoes into small cubes and finely cut the cabbage.
- Add potatoes to the boiling mixture and drop in the peppercorns and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper and allow to boil for another 5 minutes or so.
- Add the finely chopped cabbage, kidney beans and tomato paste and season with more salt as necessary. Add lemon juice and roughly chopped parsley and dill and bring to another boil, about 7-10 minutes.
- Once the borscht is cooked, turn off the heat and let it sit for about 10-15 minutes. Add freshly chopped dill and parsley, a dollop (or two!) of sour cream and enjoy the warm and delicious medley of all-veggie flavors.
Prep time: 15 minutes | Cook time: 35 minutes