borscht without tears

Borscht ‘n’ no Tears


Let me explain. There is a restaurant in London called “Borshcht ‘n’ Tears” where a  very good friend of mine used to work when we were at Uni. So for me, borscht is always Borshcht ‘n’ Tears. This version, however, is vegetarian and with only one onion there are no tears.

Borscht is a difficult dish to define. It is associated with – and claimed by – numerous ethnic groups: Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Lithuanian, and Ashkenazi Jewish(1). It reached the West (and the rest of world) with migration and – at least in part –  by way of the chef Marie-Antoine Carême (The cook of kings and king of cooks) and then Auguste Escoffier. There are countless variations: my 1961 copy of Larousse Gastronomique (complete with a preface by Escoffier) has 4 versions. So, I had no qualms about making some small changes.

I have swapped out the traditional sour cream topping for a dollop of my favourite creamy yoghurt, a grating of lemon zest, and a squeeze of lemon juice – to lift and brighten the flavours. And, although this version was absolutely delicious, my next borscht will have to include the very traditional addition of fermented beetroot liquor – kvas; which will mean starting the proceedings 7 days prior to actually cooking anything. The upside is extra tang and probiotics – so, I’m sure it will be worth it.

serves 2

2 tablespoons of olive oil

a knob of butter

1 red onion

2 carrots

1 stick celery

1 red pepper

2 potatoes

1 green pepper

5 thyme sprigs, leaves picked

3 beetroots (Beets Am)

5 garlic cloves

¼ cabbage

Maldon sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar

2 dollops of your favourite creamy yoghurt

juice  and zest of ½ an organic lemon

a few mint leaves


  1. Clean and peel, where necessary, your vegetables  (except the cabbage). When handling beetroots it is advisable to wear rubber gloves. I don’t. But then I enjoy the comedy red hands.
  2. Now for your knife skills… When prepping and dicing your veggies, try to get the same size small dice* throughout – for both the texture and look of the finished dish.
  3. Heat a large pot over a moderate heat before adding the oil – and then butter.
  4. First, add the diced onions, carrots, celery, and beetroots. Sweat them off for 5 minutes – stirring or shaking to prevent catching and burning. Then, add the red and green pepper. Continue to sweat off for a minute or 2 before adding the diced potatoes.
  5. Cover with filtered water and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, shred your cabbage. And, when the 15 minutes are up, add it to the pot.
  7. After about 1 minute (I like a bit of bite to my cabbage), remove from the heat.
  8. Stir in the crushed garlic and season with the salt, pepper, and cider vinegar.
  9. Ladle into a bowl and finish with a dollop – or 2 – of yoghurt, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a few mint leaves.
  10. Enjoy.


small dice* = about 6mm X 6mm X 6mm

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