Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Borscht Belt

Borscht. It is one of those quintessentially Eastern European dishes, one which every Russian or Ukrainian will argue is made best by their own babushka. And one that Rhea and I decided to make last week. After all, how can we live in Russia without experiencing borscht? (Next up: I want to tackle making blinis!)

We loaded up on the ingredients - beets, carrots, celery, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and cabbage - at the Spar grocery store across the street from Rhea's flat. Then we got to cutting, peeling, boiling, and slicing up all the veggies:

We decided to make a vegetarian (or "Christmas") version, although it can be made with beef and pork fat as well. It is a very hearty soup, especially with the potatoes added in, and is one of those soups where the flavour actually just keeps improving. Rhea and I both love beets, so we added in lots, but you can make it a little less beet-centric by increasing the ratio of the other veggies.

The HUGE pot we used!

Stirring the onions and cabbage together, after saute-ing them

We also used vegetable stock in addition to water. We were going to add in the water that the beets had been boiling in, but it was just too much liquid, even in that big pot! We made enough soup for both Rhea's household (Iain certainly lucked out with his flatmate!!:) and mine, as well as some leftovers to give to Oleg, who still hasn't claimed his...I may just keep his jar and not say anything about it! I froze some as well for some point in the winter when I'm feeling cold and lazy! This soup is really tasty, and for anybody who might be thrown off by the traditional assumption that borscht = beets, I urge you to give it a shot. Served with a dollop of smetana (or sour cream for non-Russian readers) on top, with a bit of fresh dill and a wedge of warm brown bread, this is a perfect, simple meal for cold fall evenings. It is also VERY colourful, with the bright red beets and orange carrots. I don't know about you, but I love colourful foods; they just make me happy!

Rhea and I followed it up with a quick beet salad she whipped up with mayonnaise and dill, and added in some vodka for what was definitely a very Russian meal! Then we sat down and watched Trans-Siberian, an absolutely awful movie where the Americans act like they own the place and the Russians are portrayed as evil and sadistic (I can think of a few other movies where that's the basic plotline :). You might think two Russophiles like Rhea and I are biased, but seriously - watch this movie and I think you'll agree! (Its a little like Taken, where the girls are just such idiots about being in a foreign country!) But enough griping. It really was an awesome night in, and the best part was that there were so many leftovers!

Vegetarian "Christmas" Borscht:


- 2-3 raw red beets
- 1/2 cabbage, shredded
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 potato, diced (optional)
- 1 large onion
- 2 liters (8 cups) water
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp. white vinegar or lemon juice
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 tbsp. tomato paste, or take 5 tomatoes, boil them, peel them, and mash them together before adding them into the soup, as Rhea and I did
- 1 tbsp. chopped dill
- Salt and pepper

  1. Drop the beets into boiling water and cook until they can be pierced easily with a knife. Place into cold water until cooled. Peel the beets (the skins should now slip off easily) and cut into thin strips, or chunks, whichever you prefer.
  2. Sauté the onion in the oil until softened but not browned. Add the garlic and cook a minute longer.
  3. Add the beets, carrots, potato and water and cook until the vegetables are just tender.
  4. Add the shredded cabbage and cook until tender. Add the tomato juice or paste, dill, salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Add lemon juice or vinegar to taste to make the borshch slightly tart. Simmer (the longer, the better!) and serve very hot, with a dollop of sour cream and some warm bread. Enjoy :)


  1. Did we not make Borscht on one of our many "Cultural Nights"? Please perfect the art of making blinis before you come home. I adore them. Mum xoxo

  2. Hey mum (Mrs. Starr) it looks like I'll be flying over there for winter break, will make sure she can make blinis :) Gonna take one for the team!

    P.S. I miss your pancakes!

  3. look at you, being so cultural ;) what if you never want to leave?! :O