Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Russian ABC: B Is for Borscht

I have had this idea for a while to write a series of posts about my native culture. I sort of naturally started doing this and introduced you to such very Russian phenomena as banya (here) and traditional Russian platok (here and here). I thought it could be fun to do one Russian cultural phenomena for each letter of an alphabet, and borscht would be my pick for B, as it is one of the most famous and delicious soups in world cuisine. Then I received a request from a friend to give her a recipe, and as I stayed at her house, I cooked borscht to share with her, and decided to photograph the process and finally write a recipe for my blog. When Shawna posted her yummy Italian soup, I saw that it is just the right time to finally begin realizing my idea about the "Russian ABC" series, which will not be in alphabetical order though, as I don't want it to become something forceful and too "thinky" - I enjoy the natural pace of life, and a spontaneous approach to my blogging is a must for me.

From left to right: Mama, Dedushka (Granddad), Babushka (Grandma), myself with my favorite doll, Uncle Seryozha, Aunt Lida, Uncle Kolya, Papa (Dad). I am guessing 1977-78. Angara River, Siberia.

This is my "Russian" part of the family - on my Dad's side. I told you about my Siberian ("Asian") side of the family in this post. Dad's family relocated from Central Russia to Siberia when he was 11 and spoke their own Northern dialect. My "Russian" grandma has never relearned her pronunciation and has never considered Siberia as Russia, not even after dozens of years living there. :)

My daughter Anya with my old doll Lena (same as on photo above with me), and her new doll from Russia which she named Snezhinka (Снежинка - Snowflake). Tacoma, USA, 2012.
You met my old doll in this post.

I can't, unfortunately, tell you that what I am about to share with you is a century old recipe passed on my by my babushka (grandma) which was passed on her by her babushka. Grandma cooked borscht while living in Ukraine for a few short years, and I remember I was really surprised how tasty it was. It has a bit of personal history with me. I had a weak health as a kid, and my mama believed in natural remedies as much or even more as medical doctors advice. One of Mom's finds was that beet juice pressed out of this raw root vegetable was good for me. She did not even have a juice maker and used grater and cheese clothe to hand press juices from carrots and beets for me, such a hero she is, my mama. But as a kid, I found the taste of beets completely repulsive, I am so sorry to say, and actually threw up once, after which I never was forced to drink it again. Although, as a result, for many years, I did not eat beets (Beate, you can relate to this, right?). Until one day I tried babushka's borscht. It was like little magic in a bowl. As beautiful as it is cozy and tasty! My Mom is a wonderful woman, talented teacher and writer, but not much of a cook, and I don't remember her ever cooking borscht. So as I grew up, I was on my own in the quest to find The Perfect, The Right, The Only One recipe of this magic soup. I tried many! I experimented a lot! I made it with sour cabbage (квашеная капуста, similar to sour kraut, only with no vinegar added, made by a natural fermentation process by just adding salt to cabbage). I tried it with vinegar. I tried it with tomato paste. I tried adding all sorts of things. I also asked every person I met how they make their version of borscht. Especially Ukrainians (they are famous for it). Until I came up with this recipe which is as simple as it is absolutely delicious. I do not claim that it is the old traditional Russian/Ukrainian borscht, oh no. There are probably hundreds of ways to cook it. People add beans, peas, eggplant, mushrooms, sausages... you name it! Originally, it was made from a fermented drink, beet kvas (свекольный квас) made out of beetroot, which is why some cooks are going for extra sourness in borscht. This recipe is just the way I make borscht, and what I enjoy about it is the combination of soft root vegetables with crisp juicy green ones (that is why they are added right in the end), the sweetness and sourness of it, though in a delicate way, and the fact that it is very satisfying yet fresh. We eat it year round, and I am yet to find a person who did not appreciate my borscht when they tried it. I am very modest, I know. Let's just say it's a Russian thing. :)

Just so you know, we do not pronounce "t" in the name of this soup (there is also no "t" when we write this word in Russian). I suspect that "t" came from Russian Jews who immigrated to European, most probably German part of the world. I have no evidence, of course, it's just my pure linguistic instinct. We pronounce it [borsh], with soft [sh] sound. I am sure your Russian friends will appreciate when you show off your correct way of saying борщ

Oh, and one more thing. You know I grew up in Russia, right? I have never ever heard about cold borscht when I lived there. I am sure there are regions of Russia where they eat cold borscht, but I haven't heard about it until I came to the US and found out that it is the most commonly known kind of "borscht" out here. Hmm... We have other cold soups (some of them using beetroot like kholodnik or svekolnik, amazingly tasty), but we do not call them "borscht", as they are completely different summertime dishes.

Now, finally, on to the recipe.


You will need: 
about a 4 qt cooking pan, 
a deep frying pan, 
a grater 
and a sharp knife.

- meat if you are a meat lover (I use pork or chicken, but many people prefer a combination of pork and beef) - about 1 pound. (If you want a vegetarian soup, just skip meat - or you can add mushrooms (wild variety is always the best, most flavorful). Russians cook their soups without meat too, we call it постный борщ (Lent borscht).)
- 1 medium size beetroot shredded
- 3-4 large carrots shredded (there should be a bigger volume of carrots then beet when you shred the veggies; both vegetables give sweetness and great color to your borscht)
- 3-4 medium sized potatoes cubed (medium sized cubes, not too small, not too big - just enough to fit nicely in your spoon and eventually your mouth :)
- 3-4 medium to large size tomatoes cubed
- 1/2 small head of cabbage finely shredded
- 1 bell pepper finely cut
- 1 biggish onion sliced
- vegetable oil (I use canola oil) -  a few spoons for sauteing vegetables
- salt (about 1 table spoon), black pepper, bay leaf, bouquet garni, sugar to taste (you may also add a bit red hot pepper or garlic if you like)
- green onion, parsley, dill and sour cream to garnish


I would guess the whole time is about 1 hour to 1 h 30 min, it depends whether you start with a ready stock (or you make a "speedy stock" - I talk about it below), or you include making a "proper" homemade stock into your time of preparation.


I will also tell you that many Russians don't care for "light" cuisine and leave as much fat as they can in their dishes. It is not always so, but in general country cuisine (and borscht is definitely a country style dish) is fatty - our ancestors had the whole day of working in fields, so they needed a lot of energy! So feel free to remove any extra fat from meat, sour cream, vegetable oil as you please, but remember that it will affect the taste too.



Soups begin with a good stock, right? I never use a store bought stock. It's pretty easy to make to your own taste, and it freezes well too. If you make it to freeze, then don't salt it - you will add salt later, when you actually cook soup. If you use bones (ribs etc), then fry it on a dry skillet over a hot temperature before adding to your cooking pan with water. If you use a boneless meat, then cube it and just bring it to a boil. Make sure you leave enough room for other ingredients in your borscht, for example if you use 4 qt pan, then fill only half of it with water, as vegetables will happily take the rest of the space. Russians usually add a bay leaf to a stock, it gives away a very nice smell and flavor. You may also add some of your favorite aromatic vegetables like celery, the whole onion (with a peel), carrot. Just wash them and add to the stock. You will remove them as soon as your stock is ready, so no need to cut them. I also love adding a bouquet garni to my stock which is again very easy to make out of your favorite herbs. Boil your stock for 1 hour or so. (I often just boil the cubed meat for a short while (about 30 min) with bay leaf, black pepper and salt - speedy stock!) You can freeze a portion of it (I use air tight containers for that) - so you have it ready for the next soup! It will stay in a freezer for a month or even longer.


While the stock is cooking, prepare vegetables. I use a simple old fashioned grater, large openings, for shredding carrots and beet. I hear that "real cooks" only use a knife, and that's all wonderful, but I like the convenience, and I know that my borscht is as good as theirs or even better. :) I do slice onion, cabbage and bell peppers with a sharp knife. Potatoes and tomatoes need to be cubed. Add vegetables to a frying pan as the previously added ones get softer. Here is my sequence:

- fry onions in a small amount of vegetable oil over medium heat until golden color
- add shredded carrots
- add shredded beetroot
- add cubed tomatoes
- 1-2 tea spoons of sugar (it compliments tomatoes)

Add more oil if the original amount is not enough. I use non-stick pans and medium heat. Do not fry till it's mushy - just let vegetables get softer, that's all. They will pick up again in the cooking pan!


As your stock is ready, add cubed potatoes to it. I love using young potatoes with delicate skins. I just wash them thoroughly and leave the skin on - I love that it adds to a texture (and there is the whole load of vitamins in the skins too). I noticed that in Ukraine (which may seem like pretty much the same as Russia to Western people, but to us, it is a whole different culture, climate, language and of course traditions and preferences), it is very common to add beans to borscht. If you wish to do it, then just add one can of baked beans (less potatoes then). Bring to a boil. Your borscht is still clear at this point, so I did not include a photograph of it - everybody can imagine boiling cubed potatoes. :)

Now add your sauteed veggie mix to your stock. Admire the bright color of your future borscht. Bring to a boil again.


The last, but not the least. Add finely shredded cabbage, finely cut bell pepper, and part of the greens (green onion, parsley and dill), reserving some for garnishing a bowl. Cover the cooking pan and turn off the stove. Let it sit for 15 minutes or so. I know, it is hard! But borscht has this amazing quality to become better after a while. So actually, it will be even tastier the next day. And the day after the next day. And the day after that. If there is anything left of course!

This is the most important step of all. Pour borscht in your favorite bowl. With lots of love and smiles. Anticipate. Garnish with dill or parsley, or both. Add a spoon of sour cream. Mix. Have it with a slice of good old fashioned bread (dark variety is my fave), in a company of your beloved people. Mmmmm! Food has never tasted so good yet!

A tip! Borscht freezes very well, so I sometimes fill an airtight container with some of the borscht I make and keep it in a freezer for about a couple of weeks for that rainy day when there is no time or energy to cook. 

I hope I did not forget anything important. Let me know how it went if you decide to make borscht. I think I'll go and cook one now! ;)

Приятного аппетита! Bon Appetit! 

My Mannik (Russian semolina cake) recipe is HERE.
My blini (Russian pancakes) recipe is HERE.


  1. I had no idea so many different ingredients went into borscht - I have eaten it (and enjoyed it) before but never made it myself. Yours does indeed look delicious. I do think homemade soups are a real joy, like any food that relies on love in the preparation and heartiness, rather than great technique and expensive ingredients!
    It is always so interesting to read about your family history, Natasha (I am choosing your informal friendly name today!) The photo of your father's side of your family is fabulous, I love how your mum is smiling across at your dad, and look at his confident, comfortable posture. What a handsome family!
    I wonder if your recipe will convince Beate that beetroot is good... xxx

    1. I couldn't agree more, Curtise! Love and heartiness are the key in cooking. I know my cooking is not the same when I am exhausted - we usually just eat out then. :)

      In different regions, they use somewhat different ingredients for borscht. I red that some don't add cabbage, and also there is beetless variety of borscht which really surprised me because I thought of borscht as "beet soup"... Some country cooks prefer a very thick, stew-like borscht with lots of beans, sausages, bacon, and they cook cabbage till it is very soft. All varieties are very yummy! You just can't go wrong with borscht.

      I adore this family photo - it' one of my favorite! How sweet of you to notice my mom smiling at dad - I just love it. These two are still in love after almost 50 years together. My brother and I are very fortunate to be their children. I guess, my brother is behind the camera - he was interested in photography since he was very young boy (5 years older than me). My parents just discovered this photo at Grandma's sister who is well in her 80s, and made a copy for me before they visited in 2012.

  2. oh - i can almost smell it!
    maybe i use only one teeny tiny beetroot for a 10l pot....

    love all the family pictures in both posts (this and the asian one). for the western eye - especially the north american - the midcentury pictures must look like around 1900. when I saw the photos, I've become quite melancholy, no idea why it touched me so. genes? sadly i lost all my russian language i learnt in school. it's like with the red beets - if you are forced to something then you can not like it....
    btw - in the gdr we called it "borschtsch". no idea where this came from. and i have a question: is "soljanka" really a russian soup? or is it just made up by clever gastronomes like toast hawaii?

    i wish you and your little family a happy easter!!!!

    1. It's funny that only after I posted this, I read what Wiki has to say about borscht. There are a few different spellings! My guess it all depends what region it came from - and what language adapted it. There are only 4 letters in borscht in the Russian language... but there are other Slavic languages (like Bulgarian) which have more letters. Languages are fascinating to me...

      I am very touched that you are touched... do you have Slavic roots, Beate?

      I will be soooo happy if you just give it a try and add a tiny beet to your borscht. But don't force yourself. You apparently can make a beetless borscht too - that's what's common in some areas (I did not know about it). I will be very interested to learn what kind of borscht Olga makes - she is from Belarus, yet another culture and traditions.

      Yes, solyanka (or solianka, or soljanka) is a thick soup with variety of meats and sausages, pickles, olives, capers... super rich and super tasty! Mama doesn't make solyanka, and I tried it in other families, and probably tried to make it a couple of times myself. I found this recipe - so you can compare if it looks like something you've tried or not

      Happy Easter, my dear friend!

    2. thanks for the link - i have to throw the text in the translation programm...
      my mom used to make soljanka for partys, it was a huge trend in 70´s/80´s GDR - schaschlik and krimsekt too.

      i can not be sure about my roots. the problem is the grandparent generation would never admit to be not german, so any traditions or roots to the slavic ancestors are lost. i have only my feelings and my face and pictures of a maternal great granny (born at the curonian spit) and the paternal granny (iser mountains, now czechia), showing round cute faces :-)
      but apart from newer Slavic immigrants like my grannys the area here was already settled from slavs before the franc / German came, around 900. many locations here have Slavic place names. do you know Dresden? its the slavic "place in a swamp" :-)

  3. Jon's just snuck up behind me to marvel at your family photo. There's some very handsome men in your family, aren't there?
    When I trained as a chef we made Borscht and Blinis but that was another lifetime ago and I'm sure I could make a vegetarian version from your wonderfully clear instructions.
    Loving seeing Anya with your beloved dolly and very excited to glimpse your beautiful puss cat in the background. xxx

    1. Aww how sweet of Jon! Thank you for your kind words, my dear. They are a handsome bunch! And so very loving and kind, and accepting. How they even got to be like this? Amazing... Granddad was one of my most favorite people when I was little. He passed away when I was 7, so I don't have many memories of him, but I remember the way I FELT being around him... such unspeakable kindness... mt father and his brother are the same way. Just adore them.

      Thank you for your compliments to my recipe writing - it's a high praise coming from you. I tried to make it as clear as possible. It is considered a complicated dish, but really,,, it's easy... just fresh veggies and lots of love! :)

      I will make a post featuring my lovely cats. I showed them a couple of times before, but they are so cute and lovable - they deserve to be in a spotlight. :)

  4. Oh Yes! I love borscht! I have only eaten a proper one once, and had 2 dismal failures trying to recreate it, and now you have shared your wonderful recipe I am going to make it next week when the children are back in school, I just need to pick up a couple of ingredients and I'm ready!
    It's so lovely to see your family in the photo, I do like older family pics, funnily enough we had a lovely time yesterday at my Mum and Dad's going through our old family pics! I think it's lovely Anya has your old doll x x x

    1. There is something special to see my kid playing with my old beloved dolly, I have to admit. Not that she plays with it in reality, but it was touching to see them together, even for just a photo. :)

      I am sure you had lots of giggles and lovely memories with your Mum and Dad going through old photos. It is always so much fun and we all need to do it from time to time. I remember, I used to ask my mom to tell me stories of her childhood... loved them! She is too far away now...

      I hope you'll enjoy borscht! This recipe is a guaranteed success! :)

  5. I have never heard of nor tried this soup but my o my does it look delicious! I so wish you were my neighbor so I could pop over for some :), I will just have to try and cook it myself then. Yum, Yum, Yum.

    1. I'd be happy to be your neighbor and have you over for a nice hot bowl of borscht, Elsie! :) And I am glad that I was able to show you something new - you always share wonderful recipes which are absolutely new to me! :) Happy Borscht!!! :)

  6. I love homemade soup and make it often so I have something healthy I can eat when I get in from work, instead of diving into the biscuit tin. Your photo tutorial looks very easy to follow. I don't recall ever having Borscht but I like all your ingredients so I will give it a go, thank you.
    Love the family photos. xx

    1. Oh I will be so happy if you make it! I agree with you - nothing is better than having a homemade soup in a fridge for a day when you are just tired and need some reassurance. Well, maybe shepherd's pie is better. :)))

  7. What a cool photo and history! It is so wonderful that your daughter has your doll.

    This has made me very hungry. I love borscht. I have my own recipe but this looks lovely. Great job on the step by step detailed recipe!


    1. Thank you, Suzanne! I had fun writing it, and it actually made me VERY hungry! So I really ended up cooking borscht yesterday! Crazy, huh? :)))

  8. This looks so delicious and I can't wait to make it. Hopefully next week I will have a chance to get the ingredients. I am not really able to make my own stock right now, that's too much work for me though of course that's the way I used to do things. I might even invite a friend over to make it with me. That would be fun. I'm so glad to know that I can eat it hot and still be authentic. I never worry about fat in my diet, not healthy fats anyhow, I just avoid trans fats. It's sugars and starches I keep to a minimum.

    I love your idea of sharing your Russian traditions and history and the ABC idea is a good one! Love seeing the picture of your family too. Thanks for sharing it and so sweet of you to mention me.

    1. So glad that you mention the ABC idea. It won't be on regular basis, but I am very much looking forward to do it.

      I always liked the idea of cooking parties, but so far I did it only with my family - making traditional Russian dumplings is an old family tradition. We also made sushi a couple of times with my parents and Anya, that was fun! I think making borscht with your friend is a great idea. Some making, some wine... fun! :))

      I am sure that you will adopt this recipe to your liking. There are so many ways to make borscht. But it must be HOT! That's my requirement. :) Cold soups with beets have different ingredients, different technology, different names in Russian. And I don't think Westerners would appreciate them much, it's just too unfamiliar (it's like me with peanut butter... I of course CAN it it... but why bother? ;)) While hot country vegetable soup... what not to like about it, right? :)

    2. You haven't had peanut butter until you've had the real stuff, pure peanuts and a bit of salt. Don't eat that garbage with the sugar and oils added.
      I don't find the idea of cold soups appealing at all. It's like that French vishyssoise, which is potato soup and I would much rather have that hot. And cold fruit soups don't make any sense to me unless you stir them into yogurt or something like that. OH but I do like some Gazpacho recipes so I guess there is one cold soup I like.
      But mostly the appeal of soup is that it is hot and comforting.
      I love the idea of cooking parties but have never been to one nor held one. I am definitely going to try to convince my friend Sheila that she should come over to make borsht or at least drink wine and watch me make it. LOL I can't imagine wanting to adapt it much other than needing to use purchased stock.

    3. I looooove Gazpacho! I can eat it all day long! Till it is gone, as in "completely". And so are some other cold soups, including Russian okroshka - love it, love it! Cold soups are great on a hot day. I think you might not like them because you grew up in such a mild climate. It's rarely get hot here, and almost never humid hot. Very dry compared to what I get used to (both in Siberia and Midwest). Even though, I grew up in Siberia, I know what extremely hot Summer weather looks like. It can get close to 40 C in the area where I am from, not quite, but easily 33-36 C, and humid! Cold okroshka is the best kind of food on day like this. But it is not for everyone, I know. My brother doesn't like it, and he is Russian. :)) It is originally made with a fermented drink (kvas), but other variety can replace kvas with kefir or even beer (I haven't tried that one), or just water mixed with vinegar (I love that kind).

      I am OK with PB, just not my fave. I sure will eat it if there is nothing else available and I am hungry. Interesting to try real stuff! I am extremely curious about food and like almost everything. :) Not exactly, but you get my meaning.

      Nice chatting with you!

  9. What a lovely family photo! Thanks for this post. My Russian Grandma used to make borscht and it was wonderful. Alas, I am not sure if her recipe survives. Her daughter, my aunt, used to make it but hers had too much dill. I saw my Grandma not so often as she lived in another province, so borscht really reminds me of her. I will have to try your recipe. It looks intensive!
    P.S. Grandma would also make the best cinnamon buns. Not sure if they were from a Russian recipe but they rocked! Xoxo

    1. Oh I am so glad that this can be helpful to you! Dill is a must for me, but I usually put a little in the pot and just add more to my bowl. And only fresh dill - dry is just not the same... My grandma was also a wonderful baker. Oh the things she made! I wish I learned it from her.

  10. I love this post! Seeing you as a young girl with your family has me smiling and then to see your daughter holding your doll and her new one, is pretty special. I will try this recipe for sure. It's sounds amazing and full of LOVE!

    1. I'll be happy to hear about your borscht some day, Krista! I hope you'll like it. :)

      There is something completely touching when we post out childhood photos on our blogs. It's getting to know each other on a whole new level, much more intimate I think.