Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Beef Borscht – You Really Can’t Beat This Beet Soup

This delicious and vividly colored beef borscht is the first soup I can ever remember eating. Every summer, we’d drive to New York City to visit my father’s side of the family. His father was Ukrainian, and his mother was Polish, and like the pierogis they’d have ready for us, this beef and beet soup was always a very welcomed part of the trip.

It was also this soup that started my lifelong love of adding sour cream to things. The way the tangy, rich cream melted into the hot, beefy broth was a wonder to behold, and unlike any other soup I’d eat the rest of the year. Speaking of beefy broth, I only used one measly piece of shank, but you are welcome to add one or two more to make this even more awesome.

Of course, there are a thousand versions of borscht, and as usual I have no idea how authentic this is, which is fine since, well, it’s soup for God’s sake. Beside what vegetables to add or delete, there is also the question of temperature.

Word on the street is that the Ukrainian/Russian versions are served piping hot, and that the Polish versions are served chilled. However, there does seem to be a general agreement as far as beverage pairings go. I’ll let one of my YouTube followers, Afterapplepicking, explain:

“Hot, beefy, red, Russian borscht is only to be served with copious amounts of beer or vodka. Which is quite a distinction from the cold, vegetarian, pink Polish borscht, which is only to be served with copious amounts of beer or vodka.”

Well said! Anyway, I hope you give this blast from my soupy past a try soon, and as always, enjoy!

Ingredients (amounts not critical!)
2-3 quarts of beef broth
(to make your own: simmer a well-browned beef shank or two in 3 quarts of water for 4 hours, or until the meat is falling off the bone, and completely flavorless)
1 bay leaf
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 onion, chopped
3 cups sliced beets
2 cups chopped cabbage
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup white vinegar, or to taste
sour cream and dill or chive to garnish
*This soup doesn't require a lot of thought. Simply simmer everything until tender!

View the complete recipe


*SpArKy* said...

Looks awesome! I am actually from Odessa, so I have quite a bit of experience with this stuff. Gonna try your version this week.

As a fun aside, my grandmothers usually sweat the vegitables before boiling them, they also add red kidney beans, which go amazingly well with borscht.

*SpArKy* said...

OMG it just occured to me that u forgot the potatoes!!!!!!

Daytek said...

Hi chef John,
As a proud Eastern European I really enjoyed your take on this dish, just a quick tip: if you ever get your hands on dried boletus mushroom put some in your borscht and any Eastern European girl won't be able to resist you.
P.S. for me potatoe is a must in a beatroot soup as it gets coloured by a beet and gives a nice mushy texture.

Joanna said...

It is great to see another Polish dish! Polish cuisine is so good (although not very slimming...). It is the ultimate comfort food, I have no idea why it is not too popular abroad. Anyway, in Poland we make also the summer version of borscht using young beetroots together with leaves and stalk - it is very tasty! Most like it chilled for hot summer day (I am a firm believer that every soup is ment to be at least warm) and also add some chopped cucumber believe it or not. Another possible and often used addition is boiled egg. Potatoes, sour cream and dill is a must. You may like to try some lemon juice for taste instead of vinegar. And some garlic! Whole clove just dumpted into pot. For this version vegetable broth is better and no other vegetables are needed in the soup so it is even easier to make :)
Thanks Chef John!

Morgan R. said...

And here I thought I was the only one who enjoyed beet-stained fingers!

Axel14222 said...

This recipe and the previous comments are why I love this site. I learn from it every day. Thanks Chef and fellow fans

Adriana @ FoodCocktail said...

Love the colour! Once you stir and mix in the cream and starts looking pink, it resembles a lot with my red orach sour soup. And even here in my country, Romania that is, we eat these sort of soups cold. I prefer it straight from the fridge actually during hot summer days :)

Anonymous said...

Mildred says...
I do prefer this version of borscht soup...without the addition of potatoes! ;) Once again, Chef John, you displayed boldness and creativity in this soup recipe! Love it!

S/V Blondie-Dog said...

Hey again Chef,

There for a moment you even had me salivating over a bowl Tricked-Up Beets.

Whut-up next?? ... Tricked-up Okra?

C'mon Man!! How 'bouts 'sum real 'merican food 'fer a change...

'Fer instance sumpt'n like a short-cut version of puertorrican red kidney beans or sumptin'?

Thanks anyways!

Michelle et Abigail said...

Chef John, the Borscht video isn't up anymore, it's the Ham & Red Eye Gravy video.

Lisa said...

I loved this recipe. I loved how it smelled as it simmered. I loved how my daughter, the hater of cabbage, wolfed it down. Thank you!

Orestis said...

Would greek yoghurt (full fat of course) work at the end?

Chef John said...

Never tried!

Unknown said...

It's great to know you love and cook this soup.
Generally in Ukraine we add tomato paste or blanched tomatoes with skin removed on the final stage instead of vinegar (works in a similar way adding a slightly sour flavor + changing the colour)to make it "borsch". Otherwise (tomato-less) it is called "svekolnik" - meaning the beet soup.

WoundedEgo said...

I just wanted to tell @Oldga "Thank you" for the rich insight into the soup from someone who's culture has perfected it!

WoundedEgo said...

@Lisa, that was an encouraging comment! Children can be so fussy!

Unknown said...


Little bit of confusion here, on your video here when you add the beets and cabbage it shows the broth with the onion and carrots, however, in the "View the full recipe link" it says to strain the broth before going on the the beets and cabbage. Wouldn't the carrots be about as tasteless as the meat after 4 hours and verging on mushy? I would think if you wanted more "stuff" in the soup you would strain it and add fresh carrots with the beets and cabbage and cook until soft. If you don't use your own broth and use pre-made broth as well you will be sans carrots and onion as well.


Chef John said...

Must be a typo (I don't do those documents). You can strain out and add fresh, but I just added as is. Yes, the favor is already in the broth, but adds nice color and some texture.

Unknown said...

Hi chef John! I have to say I love your blog. I cooked many of yours recipe. And never had bad experience. But this is not a borscht. I'm from Ukraine, and I tasted this soup from many cooks. Some skipping on beans, what's a shame, because that makes big difference. But NO potato in any type of soup for ukrainian it's surprise. And yes has to be some kind of tomato product.