My family immigrated from Ukraine in the late ‘70s. Although they quickly adjusted to life in America and started cooking in new ways, there were certain foods from the Motherland (or the shtetl) that were always fixtures growing up: beet salad, stuffed cabbage, piroshki, marinated and pickled vegetables, and borscht.
There are countless recipes for borscht, and they widely differ from home to home. In our family, borscht is always made vegetarian, served warm, and with a dollop of good sour cream. This is my grandmother’s recipe, which she gratefully passed down to me. Her borscht has been and will always be one of my favorite foods.
4 medium beets (about 1 pound), peeled
2 large carrots (about 1 pound), peeled
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3-4 Tablespoons oil, or as needed
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup chopped fresh tomatoes, or canned tomato puree
1 pound potatoes, diced into small cubes (Yukon Gold)
10-12 cups homemade vegetable broth or water
1-2 bay leaves
3 cups chopped cabbage, or other dark leafy greens
2 Tablespoons dill stems, chopped fine
1/2 cup dill fronds, chopped
1/2 cup parsley leaves, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste
sour cream or crème fraiche (to serve)
freshly chopped dill and parsley (to serve)
- Using a food processor with the shredding disc attachment, or using the medium-size hole on a box grater, grate the beets and carrots. You can also dice the beets and carrots small if you prefer borscht with diced vegetables.
- Add the oil to a large pot on medium heat. Add the shredded beets, carrots, onion and salt to the pot. Sweat the vegetables over medium heat for 8-10 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened. Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 more minutes, until the garlic is fragrant. Add the tomato paste, and chopped tomato to the pot, and stir well.
- Add the diced potatoes, broth or water, and bay leaf. Bring the liquid up to a simmer, then turn down the heat. After 30 minutes, add the chopped greens, and chopped dill stems to the soup. Simmer for 15-20 more minutes, or until the greens and all of the vegetables are completely soft and tender. Turn off the heat, and add the chopped dill fronds, parsley, and lemon juice. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Add more lemon juice if desired.
- Serve hot with sour cream or crème fraîche and a sprinkle of fresh chopped dill.
Tomato is an important ingredient in this soup — it lends a note of acidity and depth to the sweet beets. When they’re in season it’s best to use fresh tomatoes, but that said my grandmother has even been known to use jarred Marinara sauce in a pinch.
Sonya Sanford is a writer and chef based out of Portland, Or. She is a screenwriter, and food writer specializing in Ukrainian and Soviet food, modern Jewish food, and seasonal cooking. Her culinary background includes cheffing, food styling, teaching, and food writing, and she was the founder and owner of Beetroot Market & Deli. She is a regular contributor to The Nosher, and you can find her recipes there, on her Instagram @sonyamichellesanford, and on her website www.sonyasanford.com.
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