Hearty Beef and Beet Borscht

Few food dishes are as controversial as borscht. Multiple countries have long argued over who gets to claim the ancestral rights to this iconic soup. (Though the most universal consensus in support of borscht’s exact origin seems to be the Ukraine, I’m also looking at you, Russia, Hungary, and Poland!)

A few things we can all agree on, however, is that borscht has Slavic roots—and truly wonderful healing properties.

Borscht is touted as somewhat of a superfood in Eastern Europe, and it’s earned a cult following outside the region. When it comes to this beet soup, I’ve observed there are two types of people in this world: those who love it and those who can’t stand it. There really doesn’t seem to be much neutral ground with this one.

Me, I’m of the former opinion. (Obviously, since I’m the one writing an article praising its contribution to society.) I’m convinced that I could eat this soup every day of my life and be satisfied.

There are as many versions of borscht as there are regions clamoring to claim it as their own. Depending on the region and personal preference, some recipes call for potatoes and others have more of a tomato base. Some contain meat and others let the veggies shine on their own. Some serve it hot and some serve it cold. And though I’d be hesitant to say there’s a “correct” version, I’m still a bit of a purist when it comes this soup. I keep the ingredients minimal, and the only thing I occasionally switch up is adding meat or not. My preference usually depends on the season: hearty meat borscht in the winter and a lighter, meat-free borscht in warm months.

Now lets get to the health benefits of this lovely, medicinal soup. In my world, any soup I make always starts with a good-quality, slow-simmered stock. I prefer beef stock for this soup. However, though I believe this is more traditional for borscht, poultry stock would be a great alternative. (Nourishing Broth by Sally Fallon Morell and Kaayla T. Daniel will teach you everything you need to know about both of them.) Meat stock is collagen-rich, full of amino acids and minerals, and basically an all-around badass that promotes healing and supports the optimal functioning of our body. A well-made stock is the backbone of any good soup or stew.

 However, the real star of the show here is the one ingredient essential to any borscht—the beets. They’re rich in valuable fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They’re highly treasured for their detoxing abilities. And they’re exceptional assistants in purifying the blood and cleansing the liver. Beets are also a unique source of phytonutrient pigments called betalains, which provide further anti-inflammatory and detoxing assistance. Unfortunately, betalains undergo a significant decline the longer the cook time increases. But when used in borscht, the beets are cooked in the same liquid in which we consume them, which means we retain a whole lot more of the nutrients than in other cooking methods. All these benefits certainly give clout to the claims that borscht is the best hangover cure around!

One thing that all borscht recipes should have in common (in addition to the beets, of course) is cabbage. If there’s no cabbage, it’s not true borscht! Another superhero in the world of health, cabbage is a cruciferous veggie, joining the likes of cauliflower, kale, and broccoli. It’s an excellent source of minerals and vitamins (particularly K and C), and it’s extremely low on the glycemic index. Antiviral and antibacterial, cabbage has been used for centuries to aid and heal many ailments, strengthen the immune system, fight inflammation and chronic disease, and build bone density. It’s also particularly revered for its intestinal and gut-healing properties.

Some recipes use beet kvass, a fermented, sweet and sour beet drink, to give the broth a tangy taste. Though I’d never come across a recipe that called for beet kvass, it makes perfect sense to me—for both the taste and medicinal reasons. Further research led me to tons of recipes using both kvass and vinegar. I’d guess that the former might be more traditional, but don’t quote me on that until I’ve sleuthed a little more. The latter ingredient is better suited to more of a quick-and-easy version of borscht, for the home cook who doesn’t necessarily have beet kvass kickin’ around in their fridge. The kvass provides lactic acid and the vinegar provides acetic acid. Both of these acids are present in the body and are critical to healthy pH balance as well as feeding intestinal flora. But lactic acid has the added ability to culture other foods while acetic acid cannot. Either way, you’ll obtain health benefits and a delicious flavor from cider vinegar or kvass, so the choice is up to you.

With all that said, you can no doubt see why this soup is touted with so much praise. Make a pot today to assist with your overall well being, build your strength and immunity, and help you prepare for the oncoming cold and flu season. And of course, to make your tummy smile.

Hearty Beef and Beet Borscht

Prep time: 20–30 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour for soup, plus 3–4 hours (or so) for broth
Serves 6

For the broth:
2–3 lbs. assorted beef soup bones, such as ribs or shanks (use less if the bones are really meaty and more if there’s a higher bone to meat ratio)
2–3 quarts prepared beef or chicken stock (best option for a fortified broth), or water

For the soup:
1–2 tablespoons beef tallow, duck fat, butter, or other cooking fat of choice
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
3–4 medium-sized beets, peeled, then diced, sliced, or julienned
2 tablespoons dried dill or ⅓ cup fresh
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¼ cup apple cider vinegar or beet kvass (adjust to your liking)
4–5 cups chopped cabbage
Salt and pepper
Sour cream and fresh chopped dill, to serve


  1. Prepare beef: Place beef bones in a heavy pot and cover with stock or water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, partially cover, and simmer until meat is very tender, about 3 hours. Remove beef from stock with a slotted spoon. When cool enough to handle, pull meat off the bones in large, bite-sized chunks. Set aside meat. Strain and reserve stock. (You can do this step in advance and cool the beef completely before preparing soup.)
  2. Melt fat in a large, heavy pot. Add onions and sauté until translucent. Add garlic, carrots, and beets. Sauté for 5 minutes. Add dill and tomato paste, stirring to combine.
  3. Top veggies with reserved stock and vinegar or kvass. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30–45 minutes, depending on how you cut them. Add cabbage and reserved meat. Simmer until cabbage is tender and beef has soaked up some of the delicious broth, about 10 minutes.
  4. Adjust seasonings to taste, adding more vinegar or kvass if necessary. Serve hot, with sour cream and chopped dill.

Image from Briana Goodall. 

Briana Goodall, CPC

Briana Goodall is Chef and Owner of Green Cuisine Personal Chef Service. Visit her website at www.mygreencuisine.com.

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