Authentic Vegetarian Borscht (Борщ) Recipe

This family recipe has been passed through the ages until it landed in the lap of my wife Maria – native of Russia, holder of a German passport, speaker of many languages and insanely good maker of Borscht.

Traditionally speaking, most people know Borscht as a Ukrainian-Russian soup filled with beetroot and beef but there are plenty of versions out there, probably millions made through the many households of the ex-Soviet states, and so naturally, this one’s going to have some odd bits and bobs that you may or may not have seen in Borscht before…. 

And this particular Borscht is a vegetarian recipe and relies on a big mix of vegetables and spices to bring out those enticing, homely scents of a Russian Winter. 

Some Tips Before You Start

In remembrance of the late Keith Floyd I always try to cook with a glass of wine in hand. I suggest you do the same. Though feel free to substitute it this time for a glass of vodka and a little caviar on buttered bread – should the mood take you.

  • Masha’s Borscht recipe uses a Georgian spice mix called “Khmeli suneli”. It’s a subtle blend of spices (namely coriander, dill, basil, bay leaf, marjoram, blue fenugreek, parsley, saffron, black pepper, celery, thyme, hyssop, mint, and hot pepper) which is used throughout Georgian cooking (in particular in a soup called Kharcho) and by many Russian cooks. It’s not the end of the world if you can’t find any but before you give up, do try your local Eastern European store and ask for it by name if you’re unsure and of course, take a look online.  The Spice Shop has a version though I can’t attest for it’s quality having never tried it.
  • Get some Smetana (an Eastern European sour cream) from either a local Eastern European store or, if you’re lucky your local supermarket. For those living in England – you can actually get a good Polish Smetana from most supermarkets that have a Polish section. Otherwise substitute this with your favourite Crème fraîche such as a good quality Crème fraîche d’Isigny.

Ingredients (makes 2 litres of soup):

  • 2 litres water
  • 1 cube of vegetable stock
  • 4 large potatoes – peeled
  • 1 small cabbage (preferably white cabbage)
  • 2 large carrots
  • Tablespoon of oil
  • 1 onion
  • 4 large cloves of garlic
  • 1 Can of chopped (400 gram) tomatoes or substitute with fresh
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 500 gram beetroot
  • Splash of vinegar
  • 1 can (250 – 400 grams) of butterbeans (feel free to substitute with haricot or other favourite bean)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Two tablespoons of khmeli suneli
  • 10 peppercorns
  • 1 bunch of parsley – finely chopped – including stalks
  • 1 bunch of dill – finely chopped – including stalks
  • Smetana (see tips above) or Crème fraîche – for serving
  • Salt & pepper to taste


1. Put all the water into a good sized soup pot and begin to boil.

2. While that begins to boil peel and chop the potatoes into cubes and add them to the pot.

3. When the potatoes are half cooked, julienne the cabbage and add them to the potatoes. Turn the heat down to a medium heat.

4. Chop the onions and the garlic and fry them in a shallow frying pan in the oil until golden – over mid heat. Once golden add the chopped carrots and all of the tomatoes.

5. Let that come together for a minute or two and then add the tomato paste.

6. Grate the beetroot and add it to the pot of potatoes and cabbage and add a splash of vinegar at this point – which helps the beetroot keep its colour.

7. Let the beetroot mix and once the onion mix is cooked (approx. 10 minutes) add it to the soup pot.

8. Stir that all together and crumble in a cube of stock and leave to simmer for 15 minutes.

9. Add the beans – add as little or as much as you like – and let the soup simmer for 10 minutes.

10. At this point – take out a small plateful of potatoes and beans and use a spoon or potato masher to squash them together – when they are mixed add them to the pot.

11. Now add the khmeli suneli, the peppercorns, bay leaves, parsley and dill and salt and pepper to taste.