Dr. Zhivago Borscht

By • February 23, 2010 • 56 Comments

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Author Notes: I had a low red blood count at birth so doctors in Russia suggested that my mother start including beets in my diet to increase my iron within the first year of my life. How did my Mother prepare beets for me when I was an infant? It's reasonable to assume that beet juice was my other 'mother's milk'. This vegetable and I really have been inseparable friends for all of my life.

Over the years, I watched my mother make borscht countless times. When my mother made it (and she never wore gloves), the kitchen smelled of earth, which belied the surprisingly sweet flavor of this amazing root. In high school, I began refining the recipe, dispensing with my mother's use of sour salt and replacing it with more fresh lemon juice. In my twenties, I subtracted parsnips and dill stalks and used fewer carrots and potatoes. Every change I made allowed the focus of the recipe to return to its original beet flavor. My favorite borscht allows me to experience the contrast between sweetness and tanginess, and to adjust that contrast with my own preferred blend of sour cream and garlic slivers and juniper berries. Finding the balance that works for your tastebuds is the heart of this recipe's sex appeal.
NakedBeet

Food52 Review: We've never tasted borscht this pure and clean. Naked Beet's broth is supremely light, a clear essence of beet spiked with a healthy dose of lemon juice and perfumed with a large handful of dill. The carrots, potatoes and celery bob amongst the ruby shards of beet, so that each mouthful is substantial yet straightforward. We salted the soup towards the beginning so that the veggies would absorb some salinity, and we added plenty of lemon juice at the end. Don't skip a generous dollop of sour cream; when swirled gently into the soup, it lends just the right amount of richness. - A&MA&M

Serves 8

  • 10 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaves
  • 3 medium sized beets
  • 2 medium sized carrots
  • 1 large potato (1 yukon or 2 small red)
  • 1 celery stalk, cut into thin moons
  • 1/4 bunch fresh dill, minced
  • 1/2-1 whole lemon, juice of
  • 2-3 teaspoons salt
  • dash freshly ground pepper
  • 12 whole juniper berries (optional)
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream (per bowl)
  1. Set your pot of water on low heat. Add in 1 tbsp of oil, chopped onion, bay leaf and juniper berries. Peel the beets and cut them into halves if they’re small enough or into thirds or quarters if they’re very large. You want them to be of relatively equal size. Drop them gently into the water as you continue working on the rest of the vegetables.
  2. Peel and cut the carrots into rounds, and for the potatoes, cut them into 1/2? size cubes or small chunks. (I prefer my vegetables small as I find they distribute a lot better into individual bowls.) Add them to the pot as they're ready. Then add the chopped celery and the juice of 1/2 of a fresh lemon. Bring your heat up and cook the soup until a fork easily pierces through one of the larger beet pieces; this should take about 15 minutes on medium low heat.
  3. While the beets are getting tender, you should skim the soup from some of the foam that will form. By doing this, you will inevitably be taking out some of the oil along with it. Once you’ve skimmed it, put in an additional 1/2 tablespoon of oil.
  4. Once your beets are done, scoop them out of the soup (bringing back into the pot any vegetables that might have clung to the beet) and let the beets cool for 2 minutes so you can handle them more easily. At this point, you can turn the pot to low heat. I’d advise wearing gloves for the next part so you don’t have to take beet stains off your hands. Using the large holes on your grater, shred your beets. Once you’ve grated all the chunks, carefully put all the shredded beets back into the soup pot and let this cook for an additional 10 minutes.
  5. The soup should have a sweet tart taste. After the 10 minutes, add in the dill and taste the soup to adjust flavors accordingly. Add salt, a tad of pepper, and if the soup is still too sweet for you, another tablespoon or 2 of fresh lemon juice. Remember that if your soup is very hot, you will not taste the actual level of salt, so err on the side of less, as each time you reheat the soup, it will get slightly saltier. This soup is the perfect example of melded flavors getting better in the following days.
  6. Notes: Serve hot or cold, with sour cream or not, but eat this with black bread. If you want to make the soup a bit spicier, add thin slices of garlic to the soup before serving. If you want just a hint of garlic, then rub a cut clove over the crust of your bread. In the Winter, if you want to experience an even more authentic Russian meal, serve this soup with a side of mashed potatoes topped with sardines. Let the juices of the sardines drip into the butter- or milk-mashed potatoes. If you cook this in the Summertime, omit cooking with juniper berries and use a topping of cubed persian cucumbers or a hard boiled egg split in half.
Jump to Comments (56)

Comments (56) Questions (3)

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8 months ago Nancy Henderson

Making this soup for the 2nd time - it was so good!! Have a cooking question though. What is the purpose of skimming the foam off. Realize it's not a critical step... Forgot to do it last time and still came out great (will do it this time and add additional olive oil), but just curious about why I'm doing this? Great recipe! thanks!

Stringio

9 months ago Stas Solon

On the South of Poland we used to sort off, "pickle" the beets. Sometimes over one full week. Just put the beets, in a big jar, add garlic, salt a bit of honey, leave for about 4-6 days, and use as a Base to the soup. The soup will gain some serious taste.

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8 months ago Rachel Sperber

sounds delicious. I was just wondering if you peel & cut the beets or just put them in whole & unpeeled? Thanks!

Stringio

8 months ago Stas Solon

i do peel them but i try to kinda slice them in thick parts, about 1,5 cm wide. big ones, but cut.

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8 months ago Rachel Sperber

Thanks! I'm going to give it a go

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12 months ago ChefFace

Thanks for the recipe! I used it as a guideline, but we have dill haters and no juniper berries available: I added 10 blackberries instead of juniper berries, doubled the lemon juice, and only used 6 cups of water and pureed the veggies towards the end, we wanted a thicker pureed version. I topped each bowl with thick sour cream, parsley oil (lemon infused olive oil and fresh parsley blended), and pepper. HUGE HIT! I convinced 4 people that they actually LOVE beets. Lovely :)

Stringio

about 1 year ago Ugn? Ak

Borsch is very common in Lithuania, but i add a little bit of balsamic in them, it balances the sweetness of beets. You can also use apple vinegar, or juice (:

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about 1 year ago Hilary G.

Excitedly awaiting making this for the upcoming Jewish holidays. It is beautiful in the bowl, as you have it pictured.

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about 1 year ago Hilary G.

Also, I love your serving suggestions for different seasons!

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over 1 year ago Eleana

I tried this tonight and love it! I didn't have juniper berries but had a few blackberries to toss into it.

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almost 2 years ago braide22

IS it easy to add beef to eat? My husband wants beefy borscht...

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about 2 years ago Sarah in Texas

Y'all: go make this as quick as you can. It is stoopid good! It's so simple and straight forward that even my one-flavor/texture-at-a-time kid liked it.

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about 2 years ago Sarah in Texas

Y'all: go make this as quick as you can. It is stoopid good! It's so simple and straight forward that even my one-flavor/texture-at-a-time kid liked it.

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over 2 years ago Condolini

Made it and shared at the office. Everyone liked it! I added a dash of cider vinegar because I'm used to beets/greens with butter and vinegar. I'll make it again.

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over 2 years ago NakedBeet

If you can't get good lemons or you want to give this soup even more acidity (fresh beets are sweet!) cider vingar is definitely the way to go, nice addition and so glad everyone at your office enjoyed it!

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over 2 years ago Condolini

Made it and shared at the office. Everyone liked it! I added a dash of cider vinegar because I'm used to beets/greens with butter and vinegar. I'll make it again.

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over 2 years ago kdjmom3

I am asking something I think someone else already asked--can you peel and shred the beets before cooking, or do you have to grate them after they have cooked for a while in the broth? Can't wait to make this soup, looks soooo good!

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almost 3 years ago Oksana

Perfect soup served cold during hot summer day.

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almost 3 years ago lovelola

I've made this soup twice since its recent discovery, and my partner and I are completely hooked. Thank you for sharing the recipe. Its such a healthful, strengthening meal- I'm expecting a child in a few months, and this soup is certainly one my body craves, especially as the weather cools!

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about 3 years ago rachel.elizabeth.carleton

Just had to say I made this tonight and it is DIVINE. Totally economical too, for an unpaid intern living in NYC. Thank you for sharing!

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over 2 years ago NakedBeet

You're welcome! Beets are definitely a super cheap and hearty for lunch and dinner. I've also been known to eat this for breakfast!

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over 3 years ago rayva

This is such a delicious soup! My favorite kind, broth-y with clear distinct flavors. I will make this again and again!

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over 3 years ago aricooks

This recipe converted me to borscht! So fresh and delicious. The one thing I would recommend, is possibly tying the juniper berries up in a little cheesecloth sack that can be removed before serving. Not everyone loves biting into those pine-y little guys, but they do contribute a great flavor. Thanks Naked Beet!

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almost 4 years ago friendlyoaks

Eight months later and I finally tried this. It is perfect - except I would add a few more potatoes because the beet-potato combination is heavenly. I am now trying to locate old-style fermented beets because a friend of mine has a long-ago childhood memory of the best soup ever made with them. As a beetlover, Naked Beet, (if you are still logging in here) do you have suggestions on how I can find them?

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over 4 years ago Allison Cay Parker

I'm so glad to see that this recipe got an "editors' pick" designation, because to me... it's still the beet winner! :-)

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over 4 years ago Stovetop Wrastler

This looks delicious. Can't wait to try it out.

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over 4 years ago NakedBeet

Thanks for all the support everyone, it's deeply appreciated and I'm thrilled for the nomination. I just want clarify the seasoning aspect of my recipe. Hold off on the use of salt until after the grated beets cook. If you salt the water before that, the beets will seize up as they cook and will not release their full color, sweetness, and flavor into the soup.

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over 4 years ago allie

I am in the middle of making it - waiting for the beets to get tender. Realized we don't have a regular grater, so am going to grate in food processor - and save my hands from pink stains. Have you tried shredding the beets before cooking?

My mom makes a spicy tomato cabbage beet borsch that I need to replicate, but she finds cooking from recipes beneath her, so I need to figure out how to replicate.

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over 4 years ago NakedBeet

Hey Allie, that's a good question and I'm definitely going to test that out next time around. The only real difference I find in my grater vs. the food processor is that the processor makes thicker cuts of things. I noticed this the last time I made potato pancakes with a grater side by side with potatoes cut on the processor. The grater made them just that much thinner, which I preferred.

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over 4 years ago Rhonda35

I have the same question - why not grate the beets BEFORE cooking? - fishing out hot beets and then trying to grate them seems a bit backwards. Anyway, I will look forward to seeing what you all discover. I am looking forward to trying this since I love beets but have never cared for borscht - hoping this will change my opinion!

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over 4 years ago allie

The finished borscht was great -- food processor and all. Thanks for a wonderful recipe.

Amy

over 4 years ago Amy_N-B

I made your borscht last night, Naked Beet, and I used my food processor to grate the beets and it turned out perfectly. I have never been a borscht fan, but this was delicate and graceful, and deserving of the Dr. Zhivago (favorite movie, near perfect book) title. I can just imagine Lara and Zhivago eating this in the house in Yuriatin.

Amy

over 4 years ago Amy_N-B

I did have a hankering to add the beet greens. I know that as a winter soup, Russians and Poles would be unlikely to have greens (the beets being stored in a root cellar), but I love them so. I may sautee the greens and serve them with the leftover borscht.

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over 4 years ago Polish Dog

I am going to make this recipe this week. I can't tell my mother. She will be so jealous that I am not using her recipe, which is similar. Dr Zhivago's version promises to be even better.

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over 4 years ago NakedBeet

LOL! I hope the soup doesn't cause a family rift. ; ) Do you know the joke about the wife burning the beef stew? The husband is ecstatic and says to his wife, "Finally, it's delicious, just like my mother's."

Amy

over 4 years ago Amy_N-B

I can't wait to try this! It looks delicious.

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over 4 years ago NakedBeet

I am embarrassed to say that I discarded the beet greens until recently because I never realized they were so delicious. An Italian friend fed me some sauteed greens with garlic and olive oil. That's all I wanted to eat, even though she made so many other great things. So glad you liked it!

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over 4 years ago monkeymom

this is so beautiful. congrats! I can't wait to make it and try borchst!

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over 4 years ago Allison Cay Parker

This is amazing. Great recipe, fabulous writing, tasty beets! So deserving of publication in the cookbook... you got my vote! No contest.

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over 4 years ago KelseyTheNaptimeChef

Fabulous recipe and I love your headnote, too.

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over 4 years ago Culinista Annouchka

This looks wonderful, it def rivals my Polish aunts borscht

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over 4 years ago meredithhimelfarb

This recipe has made me feel nostalgic for my time abroad...in France. Our program had a Russian cook who made borscht all the time, which was perfect for a the cold, mistral winds of Provence. Glad to see this recipe is a finalist, looking forward to making it!

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over 4 years ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Made this yesterday - YUM! I am going to have it for lunch today, too!

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over 4 years ago NakedBeet

Oh Wow! That's awesome. Did you like the tartness? I have some leftovers myself.

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over 4 years ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I did indeed - perfect balance with the beet and the lemon. I am so happy because I have made borscht in the past and it has been not-so-good, finally I have a great recipe! I will be making this again and again!!!

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over 4 years ago student epicure

i just made this for dinner tonight -- delicious! i love all the vegetables -- they really make this feel like a complete meal. i used some beef stock too. thank you for sharing the recipe!

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over 4 years ago NakedBeet

I missed your comment that you made this. So glad you liked it! I bet the beef stock made it a lot heartier, too.

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over 4 years ago mrslarkin

Mrs. Larkin is a trusted source on Baking.

Love the story, the recipe, the title too!

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over 4 years ago lastnightsdinner

Since I discovered (too late) the allure of beets, I've been searching for a great borscht recipe, and this sounds like just the thing.

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over 4 years ago GoodFoodie

My 6 year old daughter was adopted from Russia. She thinks borscht is 'her' soup. Looking forward to making this for her....thanks.

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over 4 years ago NakedBeet

That is adorable, "her soup"! I know every region has its own take on this and I hope she likes it.

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over 4 years ago GoodFoodie

Yes, that is what I hear from my friends. My Polish friend made us a Polish Christmas borscht - perfectly clear, spiced red consomme. Fascinating variation.

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over 4 years ago Lizthechef

You are the beet queen and I look forward to making your recipe. I love cooking something that has evolved over time and has family roots. Like your mother, pink fingers never bother me! Thank you for such a complex recipe.

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over 4 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Mmmm, yum. I love recipes that the creator has been working on and perfecting over time. I plan to make this in the next few days. Do you add the potatoes and carrots to the pot right after cutting them? Thanks! ;o)

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over 4 years ago NakedBeet

Yes Antonia, add the potatoes and carrots into the water as soon as you're done preparing them. Thanks for catching that!

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over 4 years ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Thank you so much for posting this! I am VERY excited to try it ... it looks and sounds exactly like what a perfect borscht should be ...