Vegetarian Borscht

Before moving to NYC, I thought maybe I’d find an awesome bagel spot that I’d make “mine”. Or a pizza place, or a coffee shop. I wasn’t expecting becoming a regular at a Ukrainian/American eatery serving up pierogi, borscht and blintzes next to eggs Benedict and chocolate chip pancakes as if the most natural thing in the world, but I did. And while Veselka, as this cultural landmark is called, was a favorite of Michael’s too, I’m proud to say I’d been there multiple times already, when meeting him! (I believe this scored me some extra points there, early on you know) We’ve enjoyed more delicious meals at Veselka than we can count – for example, the thought of a large plate of potato pierogi was the only thing that could get Michael out of fetal position and up from the couch after his first half marathon distance run. It was also the place I took my parents for brunch when they came to New York for the first time, and they did in fact order said chocolate chip pancakes… Whenever we go back to visit these days, a dinner there beats any temptations the fancy restaurants throw at us – and we’re lucky that our brother/brother-in-law doesn’t turn down an opportunity to get his Ukrainian food fix, so we can combine seeing Max AND eating potato pancakes with apple sauce and sour cream. Win-win.

Borscht is a traditional Ukrainian beet soup, in which you normally put beef stock. Veselka did serve a vegetarian version though, and it’s from that one we’ve drawn inspiration for this recipe. Beets are a staple vegetable around our house, and they work in soups just as well as they do roasted, boiled, in patties etc. This soup is a true beet feast – not only does the recipe call for grated beets as a base, it also comes with a generous amount of beet juice (from cooking, no purchases needed), which will dye the soup the most glorious color. It’s a fairly substantial dish – you’ll find potatoes, carrots and beans in the mix, among other things – but we always eat it with a thick slice of bread on the side.

You’ll end up with some leftover beet “pulp” – but whatever you do, don’t discard this! Instead, refrigerate and make patties out of it whenever you have time. It’ll last in the fridge for up to a week. Now, let’s eat, shall we?

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Makes 4 big servings

1 kg + 500 g beets, scrubbed clean but not peeled
400 g potatoes, peeled and cubed
400 g carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
500 g green cabbage, shredded
4 tsp + 4 tsp + 5 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp bouillon powder
5 dl cooked white beans, drained and rinsed

  1. To make the beet “juice”, roughly chop 1 kg of the beets and place in a large pot. Pour in 2.5 liters of water and add 4 teaspoons of vinegar. Bring to a boil, and then let simmer – uncovered – over low heat for approx. 2 hours. When the beets are very soft and the liquid beautifully red, strain out the beets (keep in the fridge for another recipe) and set the juice aside. You should have approx. 1 liter of juice.
  2. In the meantime, place the remaining 500 grams of beets in another pot and cover with water. Boil for about 45 min, or until the beets are tender. Add 4 teaspoons of vinegar to the water, and let cool (don’t pour out the water, just set the whole thing aside). When cooled off enough to handle, peel the beets and grate them, using the largest holes on your box grater. Set aside.
  3. In a large pot, pour 1 liter of water and stir in the bouillon powder. Add the carrots. Bring the pot to a boil and let simmer for about 10 min. Add in cabbage and potatoes, and continue simmering for about 20 min, or until carrots and potatoes can be pierced with a fork.
  4. Stir in the beans and let them heat through.
  5. Turn off the heat, and stir in beet juice as well as grated beets. Add the remaining 5 tablespoons of vinegar. You might want to add a pinch of salt here, but it depends on your bouillon (or vegetable stock, if using that instead). We usually don’t need to add anything else at this point.
  6. Serve with a thick slice of bread and a dollop of crème fraîche, sour cream or thick yogurt on top. A sprinkle of fresh parsley is also recommended. Bon appetite!

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