Make Ahead

Dr. Zhivago Borscht

February 23, 2010
6 Ratings
  • Serves 8
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

Test Kitchen Notes

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&M —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 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. You might be tempted to add salt at this point as you do with other soups but doing that now will prevent the beets from properly leeching all their juice and sweetness into soup and you will get a less than burgundy, deep beet flavor.
  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.
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64 Reviews

Katie December 12, 2022
The dill shines and it has a lovely earthy-sweet-sour-rootiness that sends me to the moon. I added 2 tbsp of sherry vinegar after shredding the beets, in addition to the juice of a whole lemon already in the recipe to lift the acidity a bit more. So yummy and I can tell it will only be better tomorrow and the next day.
NakedBeet December 12, 2022
Hi Katie, glad you added to taste! Yep, a lot depends on the beets and how much sugar they have as they cook. One thing to note about the sourness is that when the soup is still warm it’s hard to tell how the flavors will settle, so once it cools off, you can always add more salt or lemon juice before eating.
Nancy H. January 7, 2014
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!
NakedBeet December 12, 2022
Typically, root vegetables will deposit some of this, just like in chicken soup, it’s not harmful, just makes the soup a bit cleaner in terms of the taste. I’ve recently come across people not skimming chicken stock foam off, so you’re in good company!
Stas S. January 5, 2014
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.
Rachel S. January 6, 2014
sounds delicious. I was just wondering if you peel & cut the beets or just put them in whole & unpeeled? Thanks!
Stas S. January 6, 2014
i do peel them but i try to kinda slice them in thick parts, about 1,5 cm wide. big ones, but cut.
Rachel S. January 6, 2014
Thanks! I'm going to give it a go
ChefFace September 30, 2013
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 :)
Zipi S. January 15, 2015
Juniper berries have the taste of Gin.
NakedBeet December 12, 2022
Full disclosure, I don’t always have fresh dill on hand, either. And the juniper berries are a modern twist! Glad to hear you have some beet converts!
Ugn? A. August 29, 2013
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 (:
Mark M. January 15, 2015
Definitely! I see lemon juice is listed here but I know vinegar is used in most classic recipes.
Hilary G. August 9, 2013
Excitedly awaiting making this for the upcoming Jewish holidays. It is beautiful in the bowl, as you have it pictured.
Hilary G. August 9, 2013
Also, I love your serving suggestions for different seasons!
Eleana February 19, 2013
I tried this tonight and love it! I didn't have juniper berries but had a few blackberries to toss into it.
braide22 November 27, 2012
IS it easy to add beef to eat? My husband wants beefy borscht...
NakedBeet December 12, 2022
There are definitely borsch recipes with meat stock and beef, I suggest you take a look at Ukrainian recipes, also delicious, and a very different take from this.
Sarah I. September 16, 2012
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.
Sarah I. September 16, 2012
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.
Condolini January 4, 2012
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.
NakedBeet January 10, 2012
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!
Condolini January 4, 2012
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.
kdjmom3 January 3, 2012
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!
NakedBeet December 12, 2022
I will have to try this for the sake of experimentation, just to see if flavors are different.
Oksana December 6, 2011
Perfect soup served cold during hot summer day.
lovelola November 3, 2011
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!
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!
NakedBeet January 10, 2012
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!
rayva February 4, 2011
This is such a delicious soup! My favorite kind, broth-y with clear distinct flavors. I will make this again and again!
aricooks December 19, 2010
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!
friendlyoaks October 28, 2010
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?
Allison C. March 10, 2010
I'm so glad to see that this recipe got an "editors' pick" designation, because to me... it's still the beet winner! :-)