Nicola Galloway: This nourishing beetroot Borscht soup is a hug in a bowl
Looking for some souped up inspiration for the colder months? Try this nourishing soup packed with vegetables and pantry staples
For many years my go-to soup for the cooler months was my Nana’s chicken soup. When someone was unwell in our whare the first thing I would do is make a large pot of chicken soup. I am sure many can relate to this nurturing act and the resulting soul-warming soup.
Over the last few years I’ve started making a different soup. One that is loaded with vegetables and pantry staples that I always seem to have on hand. A soup that feels like a hug in a bowl with layers of flavour and texture with each mouthful. This soup is Borscht, an Eastern European soup with history and many iterations (and spellings) depending on the region or country it is made.
I love the simplicity of Borscht and its a heavy focus on vegetables. I have tried many recipes and different styles with the common elements being beetroot, cabbage and often potatoes, with the essential herb of dill, and some balancing sourness. Traditionally the sour flavour would come from the addition of fermented vegetables, but a splash of quality vinegar also can also deliver this flavour balance.
The vegetable-based recipe I share below was inspired by Ukrainian cook and baker, Katrya Kalyuzhna (@seldonenko). I have changed up the recipe somewhat as her original recipe uses freshwater fish heads, a traditional Borscht addition for the southern Kherson area she is from. Freshwater fish is not an easy ingredient to find here so I instead focused on the vegetable base of the soup.
I have lost count of the number of times I have made this soup now, it has become ingrained in my kitchen rhythm. The recipe below makes a large pot that can be shared, or freeze some for another day. I hope you will also find nourishment in this soup, and maybe it just might become your new go-to soup too.
BEETROOT BORSCHT SOUP
This is a soup of many layers. Like the tale of the ‘stone soup’, little by little different ingredients are added to the pot. With each new addition I add a pinch of salt – a trick I learned during my chef cooking days to season in increments rather than all at once at the end of cooking. This results in the soup being seasoned from the inside out.
Dill is an essential ingredient in this soup. A fresh herb that isn’t always easy to find unless you have it in the garden. Excess can be chopped and frozen in a free-flow bag. Or use dried dill, I am not usually a fan of dried herbs beyond oregano, but used quite generously it can deliver the required flavour to the soup. Parsley can be used as a stand in, but it really doesn’t compare in flavour.
One last point: if you have sauerkraut on hand (see my recipe for Autumn sauerkraut here) it can be used to replace 1 cup of the fresh cabbage, adding the sauerkraut when serving so the healthy bacteria aren’t destroyed with the heat.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
2 medium beetroot (400g)
2 litres (8 cups) water or stock
Salt to season – 1-2 teaspoons
4 medium potatoes (600g) – Agria are my top choice for this soup
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large brown onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, grated
1 ½ cups tomato passata (or use 400g can chopped tomatoes)
2 x 400g cans cannellini beans, undrained (or use 3 cups cooked)
3 cups shredded green cabbage
Large handful of fresh dill and/or parsley, roughly chopped + extra or serving
Generous grind of black pepper
1-2 tsp apple cider vinegar
Peel the beetroot and chop roughly into 2-3cm chunks. Place into a large saucepan, add the water with a generous pinch of salt. Cover and bring to a simmer then cook for 20 minutes until the beetroot is just beginning to soften.
After this time, chop the potatoes into 3-4 large chunks and add to the pot along with another pinch of salt. Cook gently for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are just tender.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a moderate heat. Add the onion and grated carrot along with a pinch of salt. Saute gently for 8-10 minutes until beginning to caramelise. Add the passata or chopped tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes.
Once the potatoes are tender add the carrot and tomato mixture to the pot. Followed by the cannellini beans, including liquid from the can or cooking water, and the shredded cabbage. And yes, add another pinch of salt. Continue to cook for a further 10 minutes until the cabbage is soft.
Stir through the chopped dill or parsley and season very generously with cracked black pepper – at least 1 teaspoon – the more the better. Add a splash of vinegar and extra salt to taste – this soup can take a lot of salt with all the vegetables and legumes to soak it up, so don’t hold back.
I recommend making this soup in advance so it can mingle for a few hours to let the flavours infuse. It is even better the next day!
Serve with bread, and a sprinkle of chopped herbs and cracked pepper to taste.
Nicola Galloway is an award-winning food writer, cookbook author and culinary tutor. Find more seasonal recipes on her website.