How to Prepare a Classic Russian Borscht with Beets and Dill Cream?

April 18, 2024

Borscht is an iconic and vibrant soup that originates from Eastern Europe. It is a staple dish in Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish cuisine. This sour and hearty soup traditionally features beets, cabbage, and beef, creating a unique blend of flavors that truly warms the soul. Today, we’re teaching you a classic Russian recipe. Brace yourselves as we guide you through the captivating palette of borscht, a dish that is both deeply rooted in history and wonderfully satisfying to the taste buds.

Choosing the Right Ingredients for Borscht

Before we dive into the intricacies of preparing borscht, it’s essential to spend a few minutes discussing the ingredients. The heart and soul of borscht are the beets; their earthy sweetness coupled with their vibrant red hue gives borscht its signature taste and look. Opt for fresh, firm beets with unblemished skins.

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The addition of beef provides a rich meatiness to the soup, although it can be omitted for a vegetarian version. Traditionally, a beef shank is used, but you can also utilize other cuts like chuck or brisket. The crucial thing is to use a cut that can withstand the long simmering time without becoming tough.

A classic Russian borscht recipe also includes cabbage, which adds a delightful crunch and complexity to the soup’s texture. Fresh green cabbage is the best choice, although red cabbage can be used in a pinch. The other key ingredients are potatoes, onions, carrots, and tomatoes.

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The Cooking Process of Borscht

Now that you have your ingredients ready, let’s move on to the cooking process. The first step is preparing the beets. They need to be peeled and shredded or finely chopped. Traditionally, the beets are sautéed in a bit of oil before being added to the soup. This step caramelizes the beets, enhancing their natural sweetness.

In a large soup pot, sauté the onions, carrots, and beets in oil over medium heat until they begin to soften. Add the tomatoes and cook for a few more minutes. Next, add the beef, followed by the cabbage and potatoes. This is the base of your borscht.

For the broth, add water and a couple of bay leaves for added depth. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer. The simmering process takes a couple of hours. This is necessary to extract the most flavor from the beef and vegetables.

The Sour Element in Borscht

A defining characteristic of borscht is its sour flavor, typically achieved by adding an acidic ingredient towards the end of the cooking process. In traditional Ukrainian recipes, the sour flavor comes from fermented beet juice. However, in the absence of this, vinegar or lemon juice provides an acceptable substitute.

The sour element should be added after the soup has simmered and the flavors have melded together. Add it gradually, tasting as you go until the soup has a pleasing tang. Remember, the sourness should complement, not overpower, the other flavors in the soup.

Serving Borscht with Dill Cream

To serve borscht, ladle it into bowls and top with a spoonful of dill cream. The cream provides a cooling counterpoint to the soup’s hearty flavors, while the dill adds a fresh, herby note. To make the dill cream, simply combine sour cream with finely chopped fresh dill.

In addition to the dill cream, borscht is often served with a side of dark rye bread. The bread’s robust flavor and dense texture make it an excellent accompaniment to the soup, adding another layer of comfort to this hearty meal.

The Versatility of Borscht

One of the beauties of borscht is its versatility. While we’ve given you a classic Russian recipe, there are countless variations of this soup. Each region, and even each cook, has their own version. Some recipes add kidney beans or mushrooms, others replace the beef with pork, and some even include apples for a touch of sweetness.

Whatever changes you make, it’s crucial to retain the essential elements that make borscht what it is: the vibrant beets, the sour note, the hearty meat, and the comforting warmth. With these elements in place, you’re sure to create a borscht that is both authentic and uniquely your own. Remember, cooking is about personal taste and enjoyment, so feel free to experiment and make this recipe your own. You might just discover a new twist on a classic dish that you and your loved ones will enjoy for years to come.

Adding Flavor Using Aromatics and Condiments

Let’s add some more flavor to our borscht recipe! Aromatics like garlic and spices such as black peppercorns, coriander seeds, allspice berries, and even a bit of cinnamon can be added to the broth, depending on your personal preference.

If you want an even deeper flavor, add a tablespoon of tomato paste into the pot along with the vegetables. Tomato paste gives an umami boost that enhances the overall flavor of the soup.

Another great addition is a splash of olive oil. Not only does it add another layer of richness, but it also aids in bringing out the natural flavors of the vegetables.

One more thing to remember is the seasoning. Proper seasoning with salt pepper can make or break your borscht. Don’t be afraid to be generous with the salt, as it helps bring out the flavor of the other ingredients. Just remember to taste as you go, so you don’t overdo it.

A tip for those who prefer a thicker soup: you can replace some of the cold water with beef broth or chicken broth. Just be mindful of your salt levels, as these broths can sometimes be quite salty. If you prefer a vegetarian version, a vegetable broth is a great substitute.

Finalizing the Borscht

The last steps in making borscht involve adding the beet greens, if you have them, and the tomato sauce. The beet greens add a nutritious and delicious element to the soup, while the tomato sauce contributes to the rich, robust flavor.

Once you’ve added these, cover your soup pot and let the borscht simmer for a few more minutes. The goal is to allow all the ingredients to meld together, creating a symphony of flavors that is characteristic of a good borscht.

Before you serve the soup, take a moment to adjust the seasoning. You might find you need a bit more salt, or perhaps a touch more acid. This is also the time to remove the bay leaves and any other large spice pieces.

To serve, ladle the borscht into bowls. Add a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of fresh dill. If you like, you can also add a clove of garlic, finely chopped and sautéed until golden brown. This adds a wonderful aroma and a touch of bite to the soup.


Making a classic Russian borscht might seem intimidating, but as we’ve shown, it’s a process that can be broken down into simple steps. The key is to use fresh, quality ingredients, and to give each step the time and attention it deserves. The result is a soup that is vibrant, hearty, and full of flavor.

Remember, the best borscht is one that suits your taste buds. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different ingredients and flavors. The important thing is to enjoy the process and the final result. So, why not roll up your sleeves and get cooking? A bowl of warm, comforting borscht awaits you.