My Mom’s Super-Quick Vegetarian Borsch

My mother, Larisa, was born in Odessa, Ukraine, and has made borsch all her life. ’This is the hot winter version: vegetarian and super-quick to prepare but also hearty and filling, with a lovely sweet-sour flavor and gorgeous red beet color. It’s served garnished with fresh herbs and a dollop of sour cream.


  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 3 tablespoons canola or other neutral vegetable oil

    TST-NATIONAL DISH Book Cover NATIONAL DISH: Around the World in Search of Food, History, and the Meaning of Home Anya von Bremzen
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced

  • 1 small rib celery, diced

  • 1/2 medium tart green apple like Granny Smith, peeled and diced

  • 1 medium carrot peeled and grated

  • 1 medium bell pepper (any color) cored, seeded, and diced

  • 2 cups finely shopped or shredded green cabbage

  • 1 large beet, peeled, washed and grated

  • 2 medium-size boiling potatoes such as Yukon Gold, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

  • 2 quarts boiling water, or more as needed (non vegetarians: feel free to use chicken stock for richer soup)

  • 3 heaping tablespoons tomato paste

  • 1 bay leaf

  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

  • 1 heaping teaspoon sweet paprika

  • 1 large pinch hot paprika, chili flakes, or Aleppo pepper

  • 3 large cloves garlic, crushed through a press or grated

  • Juice from 1 large lemon

  • 2-3 teaspoons sugar, or more to taste

  • Sour cream (low fat is fine) or plain Greek yogurt for serving

  • Finely chopped dill, parsley, and scallions greens for serving


In a 3 or 4 –quart soup pot, preferably non-stick, melt the butter in the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until it begins to color, about 5 minutes. Add the celery, apple, carrot, pepper, and cabbage and sauté, stirring, until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes, adjusting the heat of they brown too much. Stir in the grated beets and potatoes. Add the hot water or stock and bring back to the boil. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the potatoes and all the other vegetables are nearly soft, about 20 minutes. In a bowl, dilute the tomato paste with some of the hot liquid from the soup. Stir into the pot. Add the salt, pepper, sweet and hot paprika, bay leaf, and garlic and cook until the flavors meld and the potatoes are soft, about 15 more minutes. If the borsch seems too thick, add a little more water. Right before borscht is ready stir in the sugar and lemon juice. Taste and correct and seasoning. The taste should be sweet-sour and vibrant.

Ladle into bowls, garnish with herbs, and add about a heaping teaspoon of sour cream to each bowl.

Excerpted from National Dish: Around the World in Search of Food, History, and the Meaning of Home by Anya von Bremzen. Reprinted by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) Anya von Bremzen, 2023

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