Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Mama's borscht

Every time my Mum stays with us (it happens once a year, when Mum makes her long journey from Russia by coach, she cannot fly for the health reasons and travels by train to Moscow which takes 22 hours and then several days by coach from Moscow), I ask her to cook a big pot of borscht for me.

This is not the first time I write about this Russian soup (scroll down for the vegetarian versions).
However, I thought I might bring to your attention an authentic version of borscht (I was terrified to see in the last but one issue of MFR a recipe for the so called Russian borscht, where the soup has been blended in the food processor and it was also cooked with the Cajun seasoning. I screamed in horror: This is just a beetroot soup, not a borscht! Call it anything else but... How would you Brits feel if someone abroad blitzed, let's say, fish and chips, and called it a British dish?! And Cajun? why, tell me why?)

3 chicken thighs
3-4 medium potatoes
3-4 medium carrots
2 beets
5 tomatoes
1 sweet pepper
beet leaves from 4 beets
1/2 onion
1tsp cider vinegar
1/2tsp sugar
1tbsp tomato paste
1 garlic clove
fresh flat parsley (to serve with)
salt, pepper

My good old Mum cooking borscht

Make the chicken stock with the chicken thighs and plenty of water.
Chop all the vegetables. First add the chopped beets to the frying pan with 1tbsp of sunflower oil (you can use the olive oil as well, or the rapeseed oil, but the sunflower oil brings the air of authenticity to the dish). Cook, stirring, on low for about 10-15 minutes, kind of sweating the veg, which brings the sweetness out, and the beets acquire a deeper flavour. If you are short of time, skip the frying bit and chuck all the sliced/chopped veg together, but you won't get the same depth of flavour. Remove the cooked beets and add them to the chicken stock.

Repeat the process with the chopped carrots. Slightly fry them with the finely sliced onion and garlic. Add the tomatoes to the pan with the tomato paste and a spoonful of vinegar (it helps to keep the beautiful deep colour). You might also add a bit of sugar to fight the acidity of the tomatoes and vinegar.
All the veg in the pan should be immersed in water. If there's not enough chicken stock, add more hot water. Cook for half an hour.
Add the chopped potatoes and chopped beet leaves, cook for another 10-15 minutes.

Russian beet soup

Serve hot with the soured cream or Greek style yogurt. Sprinkle some flat leaf parsley.
From my childhood memories: when we visited my grandma and aunt who lived in the South of Russia (Rostov-Don area), they used to serve the borscht with the chunks of bread that have been smeared with the salty galic (they would dip the garlic in rough salt and rub the bread with it, so that the bread would have a garlicky sticky surface). Yum, and triple yum.

For the vegetarian versions of borscht please read
Spring borscht with beet leaves and nettle
Vegetarian borscht with mushrooms

P.S. I'm not going to enter into the argument about the origins and semantics of borscht. There are claims in both Russia and the Ukraine as to which country could be called the mother of borscht. The origins of many dishes are very blurred. Both countries have been parts of one big state for many centuries, and only the die-hard nationalists can be stubborn enough to re-write the history and insist that only their version of the events is the true one.


  1. I have to admit that this is a food that I avoided for a long time because I was certain I would hate it and boy, was that a mistake! This is such a flavorful soup, that is as beautiful as it is tasty. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

    1. Corinne, I don't blame you, it can be pretty boring. From my school days I remember some pretty abysmal borscht with the cabbage cooked to death, yuk.

  2. I love how special this is that your mom makes it. Thanks for the recipe!

    1. Thank you Katherine! I always ask her to cook the dishes that I remember eating as a child.

  3. Thanks for sharing! The ingredients all seem pretty healthy!

  4. This recipe looks great! Thank you so much for sharing! This is the first time that I have stumbled onto your site but I can't wait to look around. Now all I need to fully enjoy this soup is a nice Russian bread recipe which I have a feeling there might be one on this site. Once again thanks!