Borsch (or Borscht) is an intensely red beetroot-based soup. It is a traditional Ukrainian dish that was originally made with common hogweed (borschevik), hence the name. The soup’s history dates back for many (at least ten) centuries. Over time, as other ingredients, like beetroot and potatoes, were introduced to the area, borsch evolved into what it is today. There are hundreds of borsch variations nowadays. The most traditional, so to speak, is made using three kinds of meat: pork, beef and chicken. It is also made with potatoes, carrots, cabbage, tomatoes and beets, of course. Borsch is traditionally served with sour cream and garlic bread rolls. Meat-based borsch (also with bacon or traditional smoked sausage) was served for centuries as a full-sized dinner. It is a very nutritious and high-calorie meal, it served as a rich source of energy for a hard working population. In modern days, having a variety of other foods to choose from, borsch can be enjoyed without the necessity to add any meat products or even potatoes. Other borsch variations may include large white kidney-shaped beans, separately boiled and added close to the end of cooking. Also borsch can be served with various kinds of dumplings or a kind of gnocchi.
Vegan borsch can be as tasty as its original version, as long as the tastes are balanced the right way. Just like with many soups, borsch is a combination of several tastes: sweet, sour, with a hint of bitter and salty. Beets (sometimes with some help from sugar) will provide the sweetness; tomatoes (also tomato paste and optional lemon juice) will give the necessary sourness; bitterness will come from the bay leaves; salt will be added to taste at the end of cooking. Sour cream in the original borsch recipe is added to contrast the beets’ sweetness; it can be substituted with vegan yogurt.
Thanks to its mild sourness, light vegan borsch will make a great appetizer; it can be served with gourmet wheat strips, or even croutons. A real borsch must be intensely beetroot-red, almost like paint, it shouldn’t be too watery or transparent.
To achieve this, many people prefer to bake whole beetroots first, and then grate them into the soup. This is a good and fancy way of cooking borsch; however, it adds an extra baking step, which is time-consuming. In some of the recipes sourness is achieved by using marinated beets instead. It is also a good way of making borsch. However, properly marinated beets take a couple of weeks to prepare. The version of borsch in this recipe takes just over an hour of cooking. It contains several rather non-traditional ingredients, like olive oil, tomato paste and lemon juice. Olive oil is much healthier than the traditional sunflower oil. It is not that good for frying at high temperatures or let alone deep frying, but it is a good choice for sautéing. Olive oil in this recipe can be substituted with coconut oil. Lemon juice will help balance sourness, as well as the tomato paste, which will also enhance the color.
Beets have many health benefits, especially for athletes. They may be consumed either cooked or raw. Raw borsch is also a popular option among vegans on a raw diet. It is usually made with beet and carrot juice, also with some sauerkraut and herbs. Grated boiled beets also make a quick, easy and nice salad. Raw beets have a good liver-cleansing effect but can cause an upset stomach. Beets, especially in a form of fresh beet juice, are efficient at lowering blood pressure. This is thanks to natural nitrates that are converted into nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide relaxes the blood vessels and helps lower blood pressure. It is most convenient to take beets for this purpose in a form of a supplement. Note, that a glass of fresh beet juice can cause a significant drop in blood pressure, which can cause rapid fatigue and even lightheadedness!
For two servings of borsch, you will need:
- 3 medium-sized beets; beets have to be ripe, with an intense color, preferably not whitish
- 1 carrot
- 1 white onion
- 1 large tomato, or equivalent of smaller ones
- Some tomato paste
- Some parsley, dill and optional sorrel leaves
- 1-2 garlic cloves
- 1 small parsnip, optional, for extra flavor
- 1-2 bay leaves
- Some olive oil
- Demerara (brown) sugar, Himalayan salt, lemon juice and pepper (or paprika) to taste
- Optional umami powder to taste
- Scotch bonnet tropical sauce to taste (optional for extra spiciness)
- 4 cups of water (hot boiling water to save time)
As mentioned above, beets can be baked first, which can be more time-consuming. However, this will ensure the most of the beetroots’ juice and flavors are extracted. A properly baked beet tastes like a candy, it is quite sweet. In this recipe, all the ingredients will be finely chopped or grated. Subsequently they will be sautéed, which will produce a similarly tasty borsch. Many people dislike borsch because of the vegetable pieces in it. As these pieces leach out most of the juice to the soup itself, they become quite tasteless. Grated veggies don’t really have this disadvantage because they are sliced very thin. Therefore, they are well soaked in a rich soup, so they always have enough flavor. Alternatively, borsch can also be served “liquid only”, with the veggies removed with the sieve.
Chop the onion finely, place into a saucepan with some olive oil and set to a medium heat.
Add some brown sugar and sauté until golden color.
Blend tomatoes and garlic together, this is better done with a handheld blender.
Add the mixture to the onions; blend in some tomato paste as well. This step resembles a pizza sauce preparation, then sauté for another five minutes.
Meanwhile, grate the carrot, finely chop the herbs and the sorrel leaves, and add all to the saucepan. Continue sautéing for another five minutes, make sure to mix all thoroughly.
After that, add grated beets and optional parsnip, mix all well and carry on sautéing until the beets’ texture is soft.
Pour hot (boiling water) into the saucepan, add bay leaves and simmer on a low heat for about 30 min. Adding the hot water will save cooking time.
Once almost ready, taste your borsch.
Add lemon juice, salt, pepper, and optional umami powder and spicy sauce to taste. Do not hesitate adding lemon juice (up to several tablespoons). Borsch should be of a pronounced sweet and sour taste. If beets themselves are not sweet enough, you may want to add some more sugar as well. Once happy with the taste, remove from the heat and take out the bay leaves.
Depending on your preferred taste, borsch can be consumed hot or cold (even refrigerated), with the vegetables and greens in it or without. If you prefer a “liquid only” version, pour it through a sieve into another pan or bowl.
Borsch is usually served with sour cream, which can be substituted with plain or vegan yogurt.
It is also common to add some minced garlic into it. A “liquid only” version can be served with separately cooked beans, dumplings or croutons. Garnish your borsch with fresh herbs, crispy garlic or wheat strips.