Russian Soups and Borsch

Borsch community photo

Borsch (борщ)

Perhaps at the beginning we should explain that to some Russians, and Ukrainians and Belorussians, Borsch is not soup.  At the same time, soup is not borsch to these folks.  Borsch often is categorized as a soup for convenience, and to most Westerners it looks and tastes like a very delicious soup, but if you want to stay clear of arguments, never speak of Borsch as a soup unless your hostess says otherwise..

So, with that bit of cultural information clear, we can proceed to the most popular “liquid meal” in the Russian diet.  When we first introduced the recipe for Borsch here at the Mendeleyev Journal, readers emailed quite a variety of borsch recipes.  No matter where travelers venture in the former Soviet Union, there will be many recipes for borsch which claim to be the original, best, correct, etc.  And on and one goes the idea.  It has been our pleasure to taste white Borsch with boiled eggs in Poland, clear Borsch in Ukraine, and all sorts of ‘traditional’ red borsch recipes.  Honestly, each has been enjoyable and it is hard to find a borsch recipe that is not filling and delicious.

Is it necessary to add meat?  Not at all.  The use of beef is one traditional way to cook Russian Borsch, but often pork or other meats will be used, as are borsch  will make this dish with vegetables, especially during the Orthodox fasting cycles.  Vegetable borsch is an excellent menu item during the Easter and Christmas Lenten fasts.

Here is a recipe for Vegetarian Borsch:

So after all the travel and tasting, which is the best borsch?  When it comes to the final analysis, good borsch is good borsch no matter where you find it. So, enjoy your hand at making borsch.  Just don’t call it ‘soup’…at least not when anyone with a Russian accent is lurking nearby.


Here is an excellent vegetable recipe for Borsch (борщ):


600 g chopped red beets

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 400 g chopped root vegetables (traditionally celery root, parsnip, cabbage, carrot)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • salt, black pepper to taste
  • vegetable broth
  • chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • sour cream (to garnish)
  • horseradish (to garnish)


Peel the red beets and chop into bite-sized pieces. Heat the oil in a pan and brown sliced onions and garlic. (if you re thinking about the meat version, add the sliced pork/beef cubes at this stage and brown properly). Add the cumin seeds and the chopped vegetables. Coat well and fry over low heat until the veggies are soft, but crispy. Add the broth to cover the vegetables. Bring to boil, cover and let cook until soft. Add the black pepper and salt to taste and squeeze in the lemon juice.

Puree half of the soup (unless there is meat in it) and bring back to the boil. Mix in the parsley leaves and serve.

Shred the horseradish very finely and mix in with the sour cream. Serve the soup with a slice of black rye bread.

Another great tasting borsch recipe can be found here.

For our Russian language readers, here is a Ukrainian red beet borsch recipe. Note: even if you don’t speak Russian, watching this video will be all you need to make borsch with meat:

Щи (Shchi)
The popular soup known as “Shchi” has been around Russia since the ninth century, an import from the Greeks and Turks. Over the centuries a popular expression evolved which says, “Щи да каша — пища наша.” (Translation: Shchi and Kasha are our foods.)
Shchi PD
To pronounce this correctly, try saying “she” with emphasis on the “sh” sound and extending the “e” a little longer.

We really like this recipe from Russia Beyond The Headlines:

1) Cut the meat – put it in a pot with a whole onion and a whole carrot. Bring it to a boil, but don’t let it boil all the way so that the broth remains clear. If any foam forms, remove it.

2) Cut all the vegetables and then set aside to saute them later.

3) Stew the cabbage. The best way to stew it is in pork fat, but one can also use butter.

4) When the broth is ready, take the meat out and cut it into small pieces, removing it from the bone and then placing it back in the broth.

5) Add the potatoes and fried vegetables. Once the potatoes are boiled, add the cabbage and millet (if you want to make the soup thicker). Boil it for another 15 minutes and then turn off the flame.

6) Let it stand for at least an hour.

What is “millet?” If you are familiar with the term “kasha,” then you’ve arrived at the right ingredient. If unfamiliar with kasha, then look for “millet” in a supermarket. This is a buckwheat grain grown primarily in India and Africa. There are two types found in Western markets, one of them is a course grain grown as a bird feed. Make sure to purchase the millet that can be boiled for human consumption, generally found in a grain aisle or whole foods section.

If unfamiliar with the term “gammon,” here is a handy reference from the BBC: What’s the difference between ham and gammon? “Simply put, gammon is raw and ham is ready-to-eat. Gammon has been cured in the same way as bacon whereas ham has been dry-cured or cooked. Once you’ve cooked your gammon, you can call it ham.

The original meat in this soup was often fish, but over time the ingredients have evolved to include things like carrots and spices. Some chefs say that Russian cooks tend to use beef more often, while Ukrainian cooks prefer pork.

Ukha (Уха)

Fish: you can use any delicate or moderately firm fillet like branzino, sea bream, salmon, trout, cod, haddock, pollock, hake, halibut, sole, flounder, etc. The only types of fish to avoid are very dense (tuna, swordfish, mahi) and brown fleshed (bluefish, mackerel).

soup Ukha
(photo: Olga Mednikova)

2 Tbsp butter
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
2 carrots
2 stalks of celery
6 cups water or stock
2-3 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 Lb skinless fish fillets
Chopped dill and or parsley for garnish
Salt and pepper

Optional: 1/3 cup dry white wine; 2 whipped eggs

If using whole fish to make the stock, watch this video first:


  1. Set a large, heavy soup pot over medium-low heat. Add the butter, onions, and a generous pinch of salt. Cook stirring occasionally until the onions are translucent, but not browned, 10-15 minutes.
  2. Add the wine and fish stock. Bring to a boil and season to taste with salt. Remember this is a lot of liquid, so ditch your salt shaker in favor of few good handfuls of salt. Taste after each addition.
  3. Add potatoes and cook until tender when poked with a knife, 10-15 minutes.
  4. Take the soup off heat, add the fish, and wait until fish is opaque most of the way through (but not all the way), about 8 minutes per inch of thickness. To test, poke it with a fork or spoon. If it breaks into pieces in the thickest part, it is done. Pink fleshed fish (salmon, steelhead trout, and arctic char) are best served on the rare side. So don’t wait for them to flake.
  5. Garnish with dill and/or parsley and serve.

Uha fish soup 2

This is sometimes called the “fishermen soup” because of all the soups prepared outside along river banks, at campsites, etc, this is one of the most common soups cooked “on the scene” in Eastern Europe. This outdoor chef added egg, and cooked his potatoes separately in the fire.

Okroshka (окрошка)

Okroshka is an extremely popular cold soup for hot summer days.
Its base is “kvass” – a national Russian cola drink. Every housewife has her own recipe of kvass, and there are some patented kvass recipes. You can also buy it at any Russian store in large USA and Western cities.


0.5 lb boiled beef, or 0.5 lb boiled veal, or 0.5 lb ham
0.5 lb boiled and peeled potatoes
1.5 l kvass (about 0.5 G)
2 hard-boiled eggs
1 tsp mustard (optional)
1 tsp sugar
2 medium cucumbers
1 bunch green onion
1 bunch dill
Horseradish, salt on taste
1 tbsp sour cream for every serving


Blend egg yolks with mustard, sugar, salt, and horseradish, and mix with 0.5 cup kvass.
Pour this mix in a large and deep bowl.
Cut meat, potatoes, cucumbers, green onions, and egg whites into small pieces. The soup’s name, “Okroshka” is from the Russian word meaning, “to chop”.
Put these ingredients into the bowl, pour 2 cups of kvass over it, and mix very well.
Then, cover the bowl with a lid, and place the bowl into a refrigerator for 2-3 hours.

Before serving, add the remainder of kvass to the bowl, and mix. To serve, put 1 tbsp of sour cream, sprinkle with 1 tbsp of dill cuts, and pour soup in a serving plate, then mix in the serving plate.


Have you had “Green Soup” yet? Made of blended green vegetables, this Russian dish is delightful! Follow this link to photos and the recipe.

Salmon Soup:

Salmon soup is versatile in that it doesn’t have to be salmon. You can use just about any fish, or even chicken. If available, we prefer salmon however for the wonderful colour–and presentation does impact how food tastes. This is incredibly simple: Come up with a cream sauce, however you choose to make it, and add potatoe chunks, carrots, celery, onion. A bit of broccoli or peas actually adds a lot to the colour scheme.

Add the salmon last as it cooks so quickly. Garnish with parsley or cilantro. Season to taste and share with friends!

3 thoughts on “Russian Soups and Borsch

  1. kikimora13

    БОРЩ is counted like Ukrainian dish actually – for Russian national “soup” would be rather ЩИ but not БОРЩ
    And I always thought БОРЩ was exactly a sort of soup


  2. Pingback: No taste for Campbell’s soups in Russia « The Mendeleyev Journal

  3. Pingback: A taste of Russia with Andrew Zimmern of the Travel Channel « The Mendeleyev Journal

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