Lentil and Winter Vegetable Borscht

February 06, 2018

If you don't know borscht, you should! It's an easy vegetarian - vegan in this case - beet soup made with root vegetables, usually flavoured with dill, and topped with sour cream or yogurt. My mom made it all the time when I was small (again, no idea where she found out about it); it's an eastern European classic, and popular with the descendants of eastern European immigrants to Canada and the US. We had it whenever there were beets in the garden and I make it through the winter now. This version has lentils for a little heft and protein, and I've diced the veggies instead of grating them to make a heartier soup overall. If you prefer to have a finer texture I've included instructions for that at the end of the recipe.

If you're a die-hard occasionally eggs fan, you might know that this is the second borscht recipe I've posted since starting the blog. A few years ago I shared 'not your baba's borscht' (this was back when I had jokes) but didn't give a lot of guidance on how to make it. If you want to have a really traditional meal, serve it with some dark rye bread and if you're not sure you're ready to go quite that far, any nice crusty bread is good. Ideally this should have been topped with fresh dill but I can't seem to find any at this time of year, so I've used dill seeds (from a seed packet to plant!) in the soup. Graham pointed out that the pictures needed something green, so that was helpful, hah. In addition to beets, there are a few other winter veggies packed in here, including some red cabbage. 

Borscht is infinitely better with a little swirl of something creamy, so Graham has regular yogurt and I'll usually use an oat or almond based cream. It's good without, too, just not quite as nice. The borscht turns the same shade of pink after a while - when you first make it it'll look like the photos with a range of red, pink, and purple, and then after a day it'll be a uniform deep fuchsia. Like most soups the flavour improves on the second day, and you need to have a pretty heavy hand with the salt. Use a nice tasting vegetable broth (like this one) and add more salt if you need to at the end of the cooking time. I have a lot of readers who tell me they're no good at soups but you just need balance of acid, sweetness, and salt. If it's bland it almost definitely just needs a little salt!

Sorry there are a million photos, I'm loving lightroom.

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Vegan Borscht
Serves 4-6

1 teaspoon oil (sunflower, olive, avocado)
1/2 medium / 70 grams yellow onion
6 small / 400 grams beets
3 medium / 200 grams carrots
2 medium / 200 grams potatoes
1/2 small / 300 grams red cabbage
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 litre / 4 cups vegetable stock
180 grams / 3/4 cup brown lentils
2 tablespoons fresh dill, plus extra for topping*
Plant-based yogurt, for topping

Heat a large pot over medium heat with the oil. Dice the vegetables into 2cm pieces and set aside. Add the onion and sauté for a couple of minutes, or until softened and fragrant. Stir in the beets, carrots, and potatoes, and cook for five minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add the cabbage and cook for an additional two minutes, followed by the garlic for another minute. Stir in the salt, paprika,  pepper, and cayenne pepper. Add the mustard and the balsamic vinegar, stir, and pour in the vegetable stock.

Increase the heat to high and bring the soup to a rolling boil. Add the lentils and reduce the heat to medium-low, then simmer for 40-45 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened. Stir in the dill, taste, and add seasoning as needed. Serve hot with a little yogurt and dill. The soup freezes well and will keep in the refrigerator for up to three days. 

• If you prefer the texture of shredded vegetables, toss all of the veggies into your food processor with the grating attachment in place. Cook the vegetables down for about five minutes before adding the spices, broth, and lentils, and simmer for 20-25 minutes instead of 40.

1. As I wrote above, in the winter I sometimes have to use dill seeds in place of fresh. If you also can't find fresh, substitute 1/2 teaspoon of crushed dill seeds or 1 teaspoon of dried dill. Fresh is infinitely better if you can get it though. 

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