Simply Borscht

It seems as if you can make any soup with beets, add a dollop of sour cream on top, and call it Borscht (or Barszcz, or Borshch, or Borsch).  There are so many variations, and if any other cultures' have a beet-based soup, everyone else still calls it borscht.  If there are beets in it, it's Borscht.

There are hot Borschts and cold Borschts but most commonly it will contain potatoes, cabbage, carrots, beef and/or pork.  Sometimes it is flavored with dill, other times with parsley.  Some recipes have such disparate ingredients as tomatoes, bell peppers, the beet leaves, sausage, cubed rye bread, horseradish, or vinegar.

Recently my father gave me about 15 books from Time Life Series called Foods of the World.  We recently posted Easy Beef Stroganoff and we were feeling a bit like Comrades, so we decided to follow up with something from the book on Russian Cooking.  I just bought the biggest beet I've ever seen in my life, Borscht felt appropriate.

Russian Cooking by Time-Life

The Russian Cooking book in the series was written by Helen and George Papashvily.  George was most famous for his sculpture and came from Georgia (the country), he and his wife Helen authored several books together.  The Time Life books are amazing and I will write more about them but let's cut to the Borscht.  

This recipe is a pretty loose adaptation of the one in the book.  The original contained not only ham, but frankfurters, and brisket.  it also had huge chunks of beets; 1/8th inch by 2 inch strips.  I thought a uniform dice would be classier.  Otherwise, I followed their procedure pretty closely.  

I think what makes this Borscht so delicious is how the earthiness of the beets and the cabbage play nice with the smokiness of the ham and the herbaceous-ness of the parsley.  The sour cream really makes for the pièce de résistance, adding a richness and stark white contrast to the deep red soup.

Simply Borscht (printable recipe)


  • 1/2 onion chopped into a small dice
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1.5 pounds of beets, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 quart (32 ounces) beef broth
  • 1 - 28 ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 head of cabbage, shredded
  • 6 ounces of smoked ham, cut into 1/8th inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup of finely minced parsley
  • 1/4 sour cream, for garnish
  • Salt and pepper

Place a large pot over medium head and add the onions, butter, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and cook until the onions have turned soft and translucent, about 6 minutes.  

Add the beets, sugar, olive oil, vinegar, 1/2 cup of the beef broth, the tomatoes and the juices from the can, a teaspoon of salt, and a half teaspoon of pepper.  Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer.  Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.

Once the simmer is completed, add the cabbage, ham, parsley, and the remaining beef broth.  Reserve some of the parsley for garnish.  Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  Cover and cook for another 15-20 minutes.

Serve hot in bowls, garnish with sour cream and more finely chopped parsley.  Imagine yourself basking in the afternoon sun on a porch in Makhachkala as you eat your Borscht.  The gentle waves of the Caspian lapping at the shore beneath your feet...

Authordavid koch