Guest Post | Recipes | Soups

Cold Borscht, a Russian Classic

Written by Irene Kopitov

There is a reason Dwight Schrute has always been my favorite character on The Office.

When he steps away from his day job as paper salesman, Dwight pursues his real passion as proprietor of the family-owned Schrute Farms and dedicated harvester of the best beets in Scranton, PA.

Most laugh at his ridiculous pride in growing one of the world’s least sexy vegetables. Not me. Beets have a very special place in my heart.

cold borscht with garnishes
Photo: Casey Barber

So, when we made plans for yet another monthly gathering of the Glory Salon in the hot and humid thick of summer in New York, my friend Stela made the most brilliant suggestion: cold beet soup, or as the Russians call it—cold borscht.

This also fit in nicely with my long-standing mission of learning more Russian dishes.

Growing up in a Russian family and having a mother who is an incredible cook, I often take the amazing meals she whips up (seemingly in an instant) for granted and have been wanting to spend more time with her in the kitchen actually paying attention.

cold borscht with garnishes
Photo: Casey Barber

Beets often being a star ingredient in Russian cuisine, cold borscht was the perfect place to start.

I should note that my mom has been known to skip a step or two in the past when giving me a recipe. Perfect roasted chicken? According to her, it’s simple: “Just salt, pepper, oven, you’re done!”

These trivial in-between steps have become intuitive and she forgets her daughter is still very much a work in progress in the kitchen.

When she told me cold borscht couldn’t be easier and emailed me the recipe, naturally I was skeptical. No, she assured me, it’s really that easy, just try it.

I did. She was right.

cold borscht with garnishes
Photo: Casey Barber

The incredible flavor and color of beets infuses the soup instantly and the whole process really only involves three ingredients: beets, potatoes, and water.

Once your soup has simmered and cooled, a dollop of sour cream gives it a brilliant fuchsia color (committing Russian heresy, I used low-fat—sorry, mom).

The real key is in the garnish, where you get to play and put in the things you love. My cold borscht had dill (of course), chopped scallion, and diced cucumber.

You can also add in delicate slices of hard-boiled egg for extra heft. Your kitchen may have purple splatter splashed everywhere when you’re done, but it will be well worth it.

cold borscht with garnishes: scallions, radishes, sour cream, and hard boiled egg
cold borscht and garnishes

Cold Borscht

Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 8 hours
Total Time: 8 hours 45 minutes

Cold borscht, the classic Russian beet soup, makes a great summer dish. This 3-ingredient recipe lets you garnish each bowl as you wish.

Ingredients

Soup

  • 1 1/2 pounds Russet potatoes
  • 1 pound red beets
  • salt
  • juice of 1 lemon

Garnishes

  • sour cream
  • 1 cucumber, seeded and cubed
  • 1/2 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 bunch dill, chopped
  • 1 hard-boiled egg, diced
  • 2 radishes, thinly sliced

Instructions

  1. Peel the potatoes and beets and place, whole, into a medium (3-4 quart) saucepan.
  2. Fill with water just to cover the veg and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes (check beets and potatoes with a fork; you may need to extend the simmering time by a few minutes depending on the size of your veg).
  4. Remove the beets and potatoes and let cool for a few minutes, reserving the water.
  5. Once the veg are cool enough to handle, grate the beets coarsely, either by hand or in a food processor, and dice the potatoes.
  6. When the water has cooled to room temperature, put the beets and potatoes back into the soup and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight (the longer the flavors can marry, the better).
  7. When ready to serve, add salt and lemon juice to taste, sour cream, and additional desired garnishes.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 168Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 32mgSodium: 183mgCarbohydrates: 34gFiber: 4gSugar: 8gProtein: 6g

The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.

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Born in the Ukraine and raised in Boston, Irene Kopitov is a publicist specializing in design and the arts. She loves nothing more than a whole grilled fish and a Negroni on a sunny summer day.

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11 Comments

  1. love this post and never knew beets could be so tasty! thanks irene and look forward to futre posts from you : )

  2. Another Russian here. I serve borscht mostly in winter. But, hey, cold? Sure, why not. Interesting to note you do not add any vinegar, which American recipes often call for.

  3. Okay, weird finicky question that will reveal my OCD tendencies: Is there a trick to cooking with beets so they don’t stain everything in sight? Every time I need to chop beets I end up with stained cutting board, stained counter, stained dishes, stained clothes… then I’m reluctant to do it again!

    1. Melanie, not sure if there’s ever a truly foolproof way to keep beets from staining the kitchen. I have a dark green apron (for ALL my messes, not just beet-related ones) and put old towels under my red cutting board to mop up extra juice. I try not to peel/chop beets on days when I know I have to meet non-food-obsessed people, because they won’t understand my pink fingers, but the dye usually dissipates with a few showers, right?

  4. My grandma used to make borscht. But we’ve never had it cold. I’m sort of scared to try it COLD but it sounds sooo good.

  5. I was just talking to a woman last night at my daughter’s school open house who recently moved to the US from Russia. Of course, I asked her about what foods she craved and she mentioned borscht. I haven’t thought of having it cold either.

  6. Ah! I must share this recipe with my daughters who Russian! When they came to the US I found a vegetarian hot borscht recipe that they love, but I have to admit they ran circles around me in the kitchen – what amazing cooks they were as kids (and still are).
    All I can say is, keep the Russian recipes coming (esp vegetarian ones)!

  7. My dad had two recipes he made at least once every summer; borscht and sour cherry sauce for pies and over ice cream. His parents were Russian and he probably learned from his mom. He didn’t use potatoes, just raw beets grated coarsley. Then he added some finely grated onion and a little salt and cooked it just barely. When it was cool he added some lemon juice to taste.

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