Vegetarian Borscht

Yesterday I had some friends come over for dinner so thought I’d prepare a vegetarian feast and the full borscht experience. Since we had a few in the group that don’t eat meat I though to make it without any meat this time. I was really in the mood for some Borscht, and it was cold, pouring rain and miserable weather outside so this was perfect to have next to the fireplace and on such a cold night. I made the borscht mostly based on what I had at home – I used some leftover lentils and mung beans that I had in jars in my pantry which was so satisfying to finally use up! You can use red kidney beans, white beans, any others really. I do recommend soaking any beans/legumes over night or for at least an hour. Just transfer them into a a bowl and cover with plenty of water.

For this borscht recipe, I add in the cabbage at the end so that it doesn’t over cook, and so that it still keeps a bit of the crunch to the natural texture of it. If you really would like to add it in earlier as many recipes do, then you can also do that. You can also use some fermented cabbage (sauerkraut) if that’s what you have instead. Thats the great thing with borscht – so many variations and it’s such a great soup to add in any veggies that you need to use up. The main thing of course that you do have to use in Borscht is the beetroot and some form of cabbage.

On the side I made some Belyashi (which you can find the recipe for here). I filled them this time with pumpkin puree as I have so much pumpkin at home. They were SO good with the borscht. To start, we also had ikra (a eggplant dip), a tomato and fennel chutney, and baked brie with crackers. For dessert we had a nice Italian citrus rice cake – I used a recipe from the Two Greedy Italians cookbook. The only thing we were missing from the dinner was some ice cold vodka to go with the Borscht – but next time I’ll be better prepared!

There are many variations of Borscht. There are rich red meaty borschts’ that are made with meats cooked on the grill thats directly placed on top of a fire (these add a smokey chargrill flavour) or on stove tops, as well as lighter varieties that use beans, or mushrooms or other veggies. The origin of Borscht is from Ukraine, but this soup is a staple now also in all of the surrounding countries with slight varieties and differences based on households, preferences etc. You can add pears or apples to Borscht – that are fresh or dried fruit. My Babushka in Belarus has a huge apple tree in her backyard so to save the bucket loads of apples that it produces during an Apple year – she slices them and dries them. She does the same with mushrooms so that she can use them to add to soups and stews any time of the year. There are also green, white, summer, winter varieties of Borscht but generally the most common one that most people know of is the rich meat based winter borscht. There’s so much more to write and say about Borscht but I finish with mentioning, that having Borscht is a whole experience..with soft buns or fresh bread on the side, the sour cream, the variety of herbs and very often..a shot or two of ice cold vodka. It’s such a rich, nourishing dish.

I really hope you like this recipe and do let me know if you have any questions when you make it!

Ingredients

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time 30-45 minutes

Serves 8

8 cloves of garlic (keep the skin on 4 of the cloves and remove the skin from the other 4 cloves)

1 whole red capsicum

2 onions (finely sliced)

1 large carrot (grated or sliced into fine matchsticks)

3 beetroots (medium size) (ends removed, skin on, grated or sliced into fine matchsticks)

1 apple (green or red) (grated or sliced into fine matchsticks)

1 tbsp of adjika or a capsicum relish, a chilli paste or use a tomato paste (this is optional to include)

400g passata or crushed/diced tomatoes

1 cup raw mung beans (or any other small sized beans) (soaked overnight or at least 1 hour unless you’re using ready made ones from a can)

1 cup raw green lentils or French green lentils (or other lentils) (soaked overnight or at least 1 hour unless you’re using ready made ones from a can)

1 bay leaf

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp sweet paprika

1/3 tsp cayenne pepper (optional – this adds heat and chilli so use less or more)

600g potatoes (washed, skin kept on and sliced lengthways into wedges – keep in a bowl with water so that the potatoes don’t discolour)

1/4 red cabbage (red or white cabbage suits) (shredded/grated)

1 bunch of parsley (roughly chopped)

1 bunch of dill (roughly chopped)

a few stems of spring onion (roughly chopped)

1 cup sour cream or yoghurt

salt and pepper

olive oil (or any other preferred oil)

Serve as is or with fresh rye bread, sourdough, pampushky (buns with a garlic and parsley topping), belyashi (filled hand pies)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Place 4 cloves of the garlic and the capsicum into a small tray and drizzle with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Cook for 20 minutes in the oven until the garlic has softened and so has the capsicum. Remove from the oven when ready, discard the skin from the garlic cloves and use a fork to mash the softened garlic together into a paste like form. Remove the stem and any seeds from the capsicum and slice into smaller pieces.
  2. Place a large pot on top of a medium – high heat. Add a large drizzle of oil, the onion and the carrot. Cook the onion and carrot for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in the beetroot and mix through, cook for 2 minutes. Add the passata, the capsicum, the cooked garlic paste, adjika (if you’re using it), the apple, beans, lentils, bay leaf, smoked paprika, sweet paprika and the cayenne pepper. Pour in a large amount of water – add enough so that it fills a bit more than 3/4 of the pot. Season with a good few pinches of salt. Cover with a lid and cook for 15 minutes on a low-medium heat so that the soup is lightly simmering. After 15 minutes add in the potatoes and cook for another 15 minutes or until the potatoes have cooked through.
  3. Meanwhile, make a garlic and parsley paste topping by blitzing the garlic together with the parsley, a large drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Process until roughly half smooth, set aside.
  4. Add in the raw cabbage into the soup along with a spoonful of the garlic parsley paste and stir it through and cook for 2 minutes, turn off the heat and then taste and season with salt and pepper to your liking.
  5. Divide the borscht into bowls and serve with sour cream, and the extra herbs either directly on top of the soup or in the middle of the table on the side for everyone to help themselves.

Enjoy!!

Cooking notes:

If you are using beans that are from a can, then add them in at the same time as you add in the potatoes (otherwise they might overcook if you add them earlier). I really do recommend using beans from the raw form though as I prefer their flavour and texture.