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Borscht – authentic Polish soup, is also known as Barszcz Czerwony. It’s a classic dish that is traditionally served on Christmas Eve. It’s made from beets and it has a clean, almost see-through consistency; it can be served in mugs to drink, or in bowls with Polish mushroom “uszka” pierogi, or Sauerkraut and Mushroom Pierogi.
Borscht – Traditional Polish Soup Served on Christmas Eve
Clean red borscht (Barszcz czysty czerwony) is served in most Polish homes for Christmas Eve. Some families have a different tradition of serving a mushroom soup, but in my house, this borscht was always served on Christmas Eve. I brought this tradition with me to America. I make it once a year for Christmas Eve, and it’s become something that my family and I are looking forward to during the holidays.
If you’re a bit curious about some of the Polish Christmas Eve culinary traditions, I wrote more about it in this post for Polish Pierogi with Potato and Cheese and how much my American side of the family loves all these dishes.
I also get a lot of requests from readers to make more Polish dishes, as a lot of them are looking for recipes that their grandmas used to make. So here’s traditional Polish borscht that is made with simple ingredients that can be found in any American grocery store. But, as always, I’ll show you also a few other options too.
What are the Ingredients in Polish Red Borscht
The ingredients needed for the borscht are super simple and can be found in any grocery store. Here’s your shopping list:
- Celery Root
- Dry Porcini Mushrooms
What Spices to Use In Polish Borscht
There are a few critical spices to use in borscht, as well as a couple of pantry staple condiments to make it super flavorful and delicious. Here’s your list:
- Bay leaves
- Whole allspice
- Dry Marjoram (not a marjoram powder)
- Lemon Juice
- White Vinegar
How Do You Make Authentic Beetroot Borscht
The process to make authentic Polish borscht is two-fold. First, you’ll need to make a broth:
Step 1: Place dry mushrooms in a bowl and cover them with hot boiling water. Let them soak for 5 minutes.
Step 2: Peel, wash and cut into chunks, your vegetables (carrots, parsnip, celery root, leeks, and parsley);
Step 3: Place your vegetables and your soaked mushrooms in the large pot, cover with water, add a tablespoon of salt, bay leaves, and allspice and boil for about 30 minutes, uncovered; (tip: mushrooms can be sandy, so don’t stir the water when picking them up; you can use a strainer to add some of the mushroom water into your pot).
Step 4: Prepare beets – peel them and slice in 1/2 inch slices; peel your garlic and slice the apple;
Step 5: Add beets, garlic, apple, and spices (salt, sugar, and marjoram) to the vegetable broth. At this time add 1 tablespoon of vinegar and 1 tablespoon of lemon to preserve the beautiful color of the beets. Cook it for another half hour uncovered;
Step 6: Add the remaining vinegar, and adjust seasoning with vinegar, salt & pepper, as needed.
Step 7: Discard the vegetables and pour your borscht through the strainer either into mugs for drinking or into bowls to serve with mushroom pierogi.
Other Methods to Make Polish Red Borscht
The method that I presented above uses ingredients that can be easily found in any grocery store. However, if you live close to any Polish specialty grocery store then you can get something that is called Beet Concentrate.
Borscht with Beet Concentrate
Basically, this is a very concentrated borscht. It is very flavorful and I typically like to add it to my borscht. But, if you use it then your method of cooking needs to be a little bit different.
When you cook your vegetables broth use very little salt as the beet concentrate is pretty salty so it will be better to adjust seasoning at the end.
Once you have your vegetable broth cooked, add beets, garlic, apple, and half the bottle of the beet concentrate (do not add sugar, vinegar, lemon juice, or salt, or other spices). Let cook for a half-hour and then taste.
At this point, you can add a bit more of the concentrate, a little at a time, until the right amount of acidity and sweetness suits you, and if needed add salt & pepper.
Borscht using Beet Kvass
In a lot of Polish houses instead of using vinegar or beet concentrate, the cooks would make beet kvass to use for the borscht. I love beet kvass and we drink it in my home all the time.
If you want to use this method, make beet kvass from my recipe (that can be found here) 5 days prior to making your borscht. You should use this instead of vinegar and lemon juice. Also, be mindful that beet kvass is salty, so be sparing with your salt until the end of the process.
To make borscht using beet kvass, you will start the same way with vegetable broth. Then when you add beets, apples, and garlic, you would add 1 cup of beet kvass and let it all cook for half an hour. Then add more kvass and seasoning as needed.
Here is why I don’t use this method. Beet kvass is a wonderful source of good bacteria and nutrients. Therefore we love to drink it alone. The cooking process will kill the beneficial bacteria; so in my opinion, it is better to use vinegar and lemon juice for the borscht and drink beet kvass….but that’s a personal preference.
Anyhow, you have options here. Use whichever works best for you!
Other Polish Recipes often served on Christmas Eve
- Sauerkratut and Mushroom Pierogi
- Pierogi with Potato and Cheese
- Bigos – Polish Hunter Stew
- Kapusta – Sauerkrout and Mushrooms
- Russian Salad (Olivier Salad or Salatka Jarzynowa)
What is your traditional recipe that is served on Christmas Eve? Let me know, I’m curious.
Here’s Your Printable Recipe for Borscht
Borscht (Authentic Polish Recipe)
- 4 Carrots medium size
- 1 Parsnip medium size
- 1/2 Celery root If it's big then 1/4 will be enough
- 1 Leek
- 4 sprig Parsley
- 1 cup Dried Porcini Mushrooms
- 2 Bay leaves
- 4 whole Allspice
- 6 Beets medium size
- 1 Apple any kind, sliced with the skin
- 3 cloves Garlic peeled
- 2 tbsp White Vinegar + more if needed
- 1 tbsp Lemon Juice freshly squeezed
- 2 teaspoon Sugar + more if needed
- 2 tbsp Salt + more if needed
- 1/4 teaspoon Marjoram dry
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- Place dry mushrooms in a bowl and cover them with hot boiling water. Let them soak for 5 minutes.
- Peel, wash and cut into chunks, your vegetables (carrots, parsnip, celery root, leeks, and parsley);
- Place your vegetables and soaked mushrooms* (see notes below) in the large pot, cover with 10 cups of water, add a tablespoon of salt, bay leaves, and allspice and boil for about 30 minutes, uncovered;
- Prepare beets - peel them and slice in 1/2 inch slices; peel your garlic and slice the apple;
- Add beets, garlic, apple, and spices (salt, sugar, and marjoram) to the vegetable broth. At this time add 1 tablespoon of vinegar and 1 tablespoon of lemon to preserve the beautiful color from the beets. Cook it for another half hour, uncovered;
- Add the remaining vinegar, and adjust seasoning with vinegar, sugar, salt & pepper, as needed.
- Discard all the vegetables and use a strainer to pour your borscht either into mugs to drink or to bowls to be served with mushroom pierogi.