Borscht: it's all about the colour

Borscht: it's all about the colour

Recipes have a soul

I only tasted borscht once, in a restaurant, many decades ago. I still remember the deep crimson colour and the rich sweet-and-sour flavour of this iconic beetroot soup popular in many versions throughout Eastern Europe.

I had never thought of making it myself, but the other week I asked my Ukrainian friend Luba to show me how to make it.

We stood together in my mum's kitchen, and I watched as she made it. Her family recipe unfolded live in front of me, step by step.

A completely different experience to simply reading a recipe, and one I don't often get to have, so it felt really special.

When I look at a recipe, I'm the kind of person who immediately looks for ways to adapt the recipe to my own taste and mood of the day. I never see a recipe as set in stone. Some might say, I don't respect a recipe.

Sure enough, as I watched Luba cook I had 'my own ideas' too - thoughts like “I would rather add this”, or, “I would not do this that way”.

But I kept my mouth shut and just watched. As the recipe was enacted right in front of me by its owner it felt wrong to interfere, or even comment.

It was her recipe, and her family memories locked inside it, and I sure have respect for that. It felt like the recipe had a soul, coming alive as we stood in the kitchen together.

But I asked questions to better understand why she did things the way she did - my brain always wants to know why!

Luba’s most resolute bit of advice: “Don't overcook the beetroot or it will loose its colour. We want a vibrant colour here!”

What other veggies get added to the soup, whether the broth should be meaty or not, or what herbs to add - those were all flexible details that didn’t matter much. The colour is the main thing!

To her, that is the soul of the recipe.

This instruction is now saved at the top of my mental notes to pull out when I make my own version.

It's actually quite easy to make - at its heart (the underlying pattern) it's still just a simple vegetable soup.


What you need

  • broth or stock (fresh, frozen or from a cube)
  • beetroot (one per person)
  • other root veggies (typically potatoes, carrot, cabbage)
  • some leafy green veg (typically cabbage, but kale, spinach or chard work just as well)
  • vinegar
  • herbs & spices of your choice (cumin, parsley and dill are lovely)
  • optional: added 'substance' e.g. meat, pulses or pasta
  • sour cream or yoghurt to finish


How to make

If making fresh broth:

  • chop potatoes, a carrot and/or other root veg 
  • add meaty bones or other stewing meat (optional)
  • cover with water, season and simmer for at least as long as you prepare the rest, ideally longer.

Otherwise use frozen broth/stock or stock cubes.

To prepare the veggies:

  • chop an onion
  • finely chop or grate beetroot (one per person) and carrot
  • season and add any spices (cumin would be nice here)
  • sauté the veggies in a separate pan until just soft

Putting together the soup:

  • chop any leafy veggies 
  • if using, remove bones from the broth
  • combine the broth/meat and sautéed veggies and leafy greens
  • add any cooked pulses or pasta
  • add vinegar, enough to add an acidic layer to the flavour
  • simmer briefly (5-10 mins) so that flavours combine but the beetroot colour doesn't 'wash out'
  • check for seasoning - you are looking for a balance between sweetness of the beetroot and the acidity of the vinegar


To serve, add a handful of fresh herbs and a dollop of sour cream or yoghurt.


Categories: COOK


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