Polish Borscht


Last week I brought my leftover Roasted Beet Risotto with Feta Cheese, Thyme and Poppy Seeds to work for lunch and got two very different reactions from two coworkers.

When I showed Coleen my lunch, she wanted to dig in, too. We sat facing each other eating the risotto commenting on how amazing it was and reveling in its deliciousness. Then my coworker, Katie, who sits across the aisle from us burst into our reveling and asked very sharply what I was eating. I was prepared to bring the dish closer so she could see and/or try it, too. Join in our reveling. And then she said, It smells like cat food.

My nose scrunched up and my smile fell from my face. All I could think of as I took additional bites of my risotto was … cat food. It was almost like I really was eating cat food at the point.

After lunch Coleen asked me if I had ever had Borscht. What? No.

She described a soup/stew made of beets. She told me she loves it and suggested I try making it. Given my recent semi-obsession with beets, I decided I would try it the following weekend.

Borscht has its roots in Russia but it seems like almost any Eastern European country can lay its claim on Borscht. I found Russian Borscht recipes, Ukrainian Borscht recipes and Polish Borscht recipes. I never found the same recipe twice, but I did find many that called for several common denominators like dill, parsley and shredded cabbage.

I chose a Polish recipe as an homage to my grandpa and because the recipe was about the easiest one I could find. Below I’ve listed the actual ingredients first. Afterward I explain what I did and what I would have done differently.


  • 1 1/2 lbs. pork spare ribs
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 peppercorns
  • 2 T. white vinegar
  • 5 medium beets
  • 2 c. sour cream
  • 2 c. milk
  • 3 T. flour
  • Salt and pepper


  1. In a large pot combine the spare ribs, onion, bay leaf and peppercorns, vinegar and cover with water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the meat is tender, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  2. In another pot, cover the scrubbed beets with water and bring to a boil. Simmer the beets for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the beets are tender. Drain and rinse the beets under cold water until they are cool. Peel and grate the beets.
  3. When the meat is tender, Remove the bones and strip off the meat in bite size pieces. Return the meat to the broth and stir in the grated beets. Season the soup with salt and pepper.
  4. In a large bowl stir together the sour cream, milk and flour. Add two cups of the hot stock to the sour cream mixture and stir to combine. Pour this mixture through a strainer into the soup. Heat the soup over medium heat at a gentle simmer, but do not allow it to boil. Boiling will cause the sour cream to curdle. Serve immediately with boiled potatoes and pumpernickel or rye bread.

I made a couple of small changes to the ingredients:

  • I cannot find medium beets. They seem to come in small or large. So I used three large beets instead of five medium ones. When all was said and done, I would have used four large beets as I didn’t think the Borscht had quite enough beet taste. I pureed one beet with a bit of the broth, grated another beet and cubed the last one. I think two cubed beets would be optimal.
  • I upped the quantity of peppercorns to about half a tablespoon and then I added some whole allspice, too. The peppercorns, allspice and bay leaves went into a tea infuser which I clipped to the side of the pot.
  • I added about three pounds of red potatoes (cut into cubes), about 20 minutes before the pork was done. Most recipes I found involved potatoes so I thought red potatoes would be a good addition here.
  • Because I had my blender out to make the beet puree, I ended up using the blender to ‘mix’ the milk, sour cream and flour mixture. This actually worked really well. I wasn’t able to add two cups of broth into my blender, so I had to work with the sour cream mixture in two batches. I read somewhere that Borscht is best the next day. This is actually true with a lot of soups and sauces, so as much as it killed me, I only tasted the Borscht the first day I made it. I saved the real meal for the next day.
  • I love meat. If I could make this dish over again, I would double the meat as I didn’t feel the pot contained much meat at all.

As the Borscht was cooling down on my stove, my sister walked into my house and asked me what I made. Spaghetti? She asked from near the door. No. Borscht. She actually knew what Borscht was (how have I never heard of this before?) and responded, You’re like grandma – she loves beets. Dad and I do not like beets. (I recently found out my dad doesn’t like beets when I tried to tempt him by making Roasted Beets.)

Surprisingly, my sister volunteered to try the Borscht. Even more surprisingly, she liked it. While I haven’t convinced her that she now likes beets, I have convinced her that she likes Borscht. Thank God because I have a huge pot of the stuff and need someone to help me eat it.

My only complaint with this soup is that I wish it were thicker – a bit more stew-like. Though the simple way to fix that would be to add more vegetables and meat.

Recipe rating: 


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