by Cat, Oct 2008 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Even though we ate a lot of beets when I was a child, I’d never had borscht, until I was in my 20s. The story of that first borscht is one of my favorite memories.
I’d taken the bus from Portland to Spokane, on the way to visit my Mom in Montana. The bus route from Spokane to the Flathead was horrible, so Mom agreed to drive to Spokane to pick me up. It was November. As we pulled out of Spokane it started to snow, and by the time we got to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, it was beginning to be a blizzard. Mom didn’t want to cross 4th of July pass in the bad weather, so I suggested we turn north to Sandpoint and spend the night with my college friend, Heidi. So we pulled into a gas station and I called Heidi to let her know we were on our way, and to get instructions to her house out in the country.
- See also: 1. Soups & Stocks Menu; 2. Root Vegetables (About), 3. How to cook beets;
- Other Sites: 1. Mercola: Benefits of Beets (3)
An hour later, driving through foot-deep snow in the fading evening light, we pulled into Heidi’s yard. She opened her kitchen door, warm light spilling out onto the darkened porch, and gave us each a big hug. “Come on into my kitchen, I’m making dinner.”
We shook the snow off our shoulders and shoes, and stepped inside. Heidi opened her oven door, took out a loaf of black bread, and set it on her table. “When you called, I decided to make something special. I’ve never made either of these before, but I found the recipes in that cookbook you gave me for Christmas last year,” (2) she said, as she lifted the lid from the soup pot. “I just love that book!” *
Mom and I walked over to her stove and peered into the pot through the steam. It was as red as a bowl of rubies, and the smell was heavenly.
“Borscht,” Heidi said.
That was the most wonderful dinner. She put a dollop of sour cream on each of our bowls of borscht, and served the bread with homemade butter from her own cow’s cream. We forgot about that blizzard outside. We forgot about the frozen roads. Our hearts melted as the soup warmed us from inside out.
‘* The Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas (2)
Borscht is a common food in eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Russia. There are many versions, including:
- Clear Borscht (strained of the vegetables so only the red stock/broth remains), which can be served warm or chilled;
- Vegetarian Borscht with chunks of veggies;
- Crimean Borscht, made with chunks of beef or wild game in addition to the veggies; and
- Borscht with tomatoes added (this is an Americanization, and I don’t care for it).
My favorite is Crimean Borscht, and is the recipe I present here, adapted from Soup, by Coralie Castle (1). The vegetarian suggestions are from the Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas (2), which is the version Heidi served.
Most borscht includes other root veggies besides beets; most commonly carrots, turnips or rutabagas, parsnips, potatoes and onion. Cabbage is also a common ingredient. All of these veggies will keep through the winter in cold storage.
Why use bones to make the stock? Cooking the bones in water provides many health benefits, primarily from the bone marrow and connective tissue, including:
- Important minerals and vitamins (4);
- Aids in digestion of foods (4);
- The amino acids in bone stock, including glycine and arginine are anti-inflammatory (4);
- Collagen and gelatin from the bones improve joint health (4);
- Gelatin also helps your skin glow (5);
- The amino acid glycine, found in bone broth, may help you relax, and promote sleep; and Boosts your immune system (5);
- Improves heart health (5).
I provide two versions of the recipe:
- This first one is made with homemade beef stock, and beef in the soup;
- The second one is vegetarian and uses Potato Peel Broth and mushrooms. See “Vegetarian Adaptation” near bottom of page..
It serves 6 – 10 people depending on serving size. My Nov 30, 2020 testing (with beef and beef stock) made enough to fill 7 pint Mason jars with enough leftover for my dinner.
- Make the complete recipe, including the red wine to deglaze the pan, then freeze half the borscht for future. OR
- Prepare stock, including the red wine to deglaze the pan. Then freeze half of the stock for future use. With the other half of the stock, make a half-recipe of borscht. In this case, after searing meat and sautéing the stock veggies, I remove all and deglaze the pan with ½ cup red wine. Then add all back to the pan and simmer.
The original recipe calls for long marrow bones, but they can be hard to come by. As a substitute, you can use oxtail or short ribs (with the ribs). Stew meat would be a good substitute for brisket, but for maximum nutritional value, I recommend adding “dog bones” (sections of beef bones).
For a different flavor, slice a Granny Smith apple and add with the beets and veggies.
- Stock: 1½ pounds beef brisket or meaty, lean short ribs, cut up
- lard (optional, for searing beef and bones)
- ¼ cup minced fresh parsley
- 1 carrot, chopped or sliced
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 leeks, white part only, sliced
- ½ pound salt pork, diced (optional)
- 3 Tbsp butter
- ½ cup red wine (optional)
- 8 cups filtered water
- 6 peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp Unrefined sea salt
- 1 – 2 lb beets,* cut in ½ inch dice or shredded (I prefer dicing to give texture to the soup)
- 1 carrot, sliced
- ½ lb rutabaga or turnip, OR 2 potatoes plus ½ cup diced turnips; cut in ½-inch dice*
- 1 parsnip, cut in 1½” dice (optional)
- 1 cup or more reserved meat (from the stock/broth)
- 3 cups finely shredded cabbage (note: this is added on day of serving)
- 1 tsp sour salt (citric acid) or a few drops wine vinegar
- 1 tsp Rapadura sugar
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- Unrefined sea salt to taste
- sour cream
- minced fresh dill, or dried dill weed
- 2 bowls (to hold prepped veggies)
- 2 – 3 quart stock pot
- Beets: my original adaptation used “6 beets,” but didn’t specify the size of the beets. Based on Anna Thomas’s borscht recipe in The Vegetarian Epicure Book Two (2b), I’ve concluded to use 1 – 2 pounds beets for 2 quarts of water in the stock.
- Turnips vs potatoes: Borscht goes back centuries in Eastern Europe, long before potatoes were discovered as native to the Americas. Back then, and continuing to today, turnips were used. My original recipe calls for both, but I prefer not to use potatoes on my keto plan; instead I use more diced turnips (1½ lbs instead of ½ cup). However, if you wish to use potatoes, use 2-3 depending on size, and the lesser amount of turnips (½ cup).
- Prep: Cut up beef and set aside;
- Mince parsley; chop/slice carrot, onion and leeks; and dice the salt pork; keep all together for the stock/broth.
- Slice carrot; Dice beets, rutabaga/turnip, potatoes (optional), and parsnip (optional); Combine all in a bowl and place in fridge.
- Shred cabbage finely into a separate bowl and place in fridge.
- Stock: If desired, sear beef and bones in hot lard until brown. Turn heat to lowest setting and use a simmer plate if necessary. Cover pot and let meat sweat about 20 minutes, then remove to a bowl or plate. (Sweating increases the intensity of the beef flavor).
- In same pot, sauté parsley, chopped and sliced veggies, and salt pork (if using) in butter or lard until golden.
- If desired, deglaze pan with red wine; this is especially good if you plan to reserve part of the stock/broth for another use.
- Add beef, water and seasonings. Cover; bring to a boil, and skim. Simmer for 2 hours or longer, as necessary for meat to be tender. (the longer you cook it, the more marrow from the bones).
- Strain off stock. Remove meat from bones and and dice; set aside. Compost the veggies.
- OPTION-1: Freeze half the stock in Mason jar(s) for future use, and make a half-recipe of borscht with the other half;
- OPTION-2: Make full-recipe of borscht using all the stock, then freeze part in Mason jar(s)
- Soup: Bring stock to boil. Add prepped carrot, beets, rutabaga/turnips, and optional potatoes and/or parsnips. Simmer 10 minutes.
- NOTE: If part of the borscht will be stored for a later meal(s), don’t add cabbage and reserved meat until you plan to serve the soup.
- On day of serving, add cabbage and reserved meat. Bring to boil then lower heat to simmer 5 minutes. Alternately, add the meat before bringing to a boil, and add the cabbage just before serving.
- Add seasonings, and adjust to taste.
- Serve, adding a dollop of sour cream to each bowl and sprinkling with a generous amount of dill.
- Serve with a hearty rye or black bread and plenty of butter.
Testing Meaty Crimean Borscht
I’ve made this recipe many times but have not recorded any batches as a “test;” that is, until I decided to test using a center-cut beef shank since I could not get brisket or lean short ribs at my local grocer.
Testing Nov 30, 2020 to test full recipe as borscht using 1.4 lb center cut beef shank for the bone and meat, with additional small “dog bone” for more healthful soup provided by the bone marrow (see Healthline (4) for more about the benefits of making stock with bones). Made full recipe as borscht (to refrigerate half including meat in pint Mason jars for use over the next week, and freeze the other half with meat). For stock, used 1.5 lb beef shank (cut up in chunks, with bone plus small “dog bone”), and the following veggies: beets, carrots, onion, leeks and parsley. Deglazed pan with Merlot, added back seared meat, sautéed veggies; added water, salt, peppercorns and bay leaf, and brought to simmer at 2:15 PM. Continued to simmer until 4:30 PM. For soup: strained stock, separating out veggies (to compost) and meat for ¾″ dice for the soup. Prepped and added veggies: for this test, I used 1.6 lb peeled, diced beets and ½ lb peeled, diced turnips, and 1 scrubbed carrot. OOPS, I also added the diced meat with the veggies (instead of after veggies reached al dente. Cooked about 15 min. Test-taste: Forgot to buy cabbage, darn. Ladled 1½ cups soup into bowl, including a bit of meat, beets, turnips and carrot; added a spoonful of sour cream and a small sprinkling of fresh parsley. It’s delicious, beef is nicely done, but veggies could have cooked longer (which is good because they will cook more when I reheat each serving), and I miss the cabbage. Storage: I strained the liquid into a bowl, divided the veggies/meat-mix between 7 pint Mason jars, then ladled the liquid into each jar within ¾″ of the top (to leave room for when jars freeze and gain in volume). There was about ¾ cup of the liquid leftover, which I will divide among the 2 jars in fridge. The other 5 jars are stored in freezer, with a note on each: “add cabbage and water.”
Sept 28,2021: I had one of the frozen jars from Nov ’20 for dinner (I let it thaw first). I didn’t have cabbage so used kale. Didn’t know how much water to add (the note on each jar didn’t say how much), so added about ¾ cup. That was too much water; should have added just ¼ cup.
Use 1 ½ – 2 quarts Potato Peel Broth (instead of 2-quarts of filtered water described in version above); include the veggies listed in above recipe (beets, turnips and/or potatoes, carrots, parsnip (optional), onion, and leeks. You can also add ½ pound dried black mushrooms when you start the potato peel broth, for a woodsy flavor.
- Soup, by Coralie Castle
- The Vegetarian Epicure (2a), and The Vegetarian Epicure Book Two (2b), pg 65 by Anna Thomas (see Beloved Cookbooks for more info)
- Mercola on Benefits of Beets: articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/01/25/beets-health-benefits.aspx
- Healthline: healthline.com/nutrition/bone-broth
- Taste of Home: tasteofhome.com/collection/health-benefits-of-bone-broth/