Today’s vegan borscht recipe is the exact version of the classic Russian borscht my mom used to make when I was growing up in what’s now ex-USSR. Except I’ve cut out all the animal products to veganize this family favorite soup.
Ready for a taste of Russia?
Traditional Russian cuisine is quite heavy in meat, eggs and dairy. However, veganism has deep roots in Russian history. Some of the best-known Russian foods like borscht, a hearty beet and potato soup, are quite easy to veganize.
Let me tell you: in Russia, borscht is a
big deal VERY BIG DEAL. There are plenty of Russian borscht legends:
– Every little girl is told that nobody would ever marry her until she learns how to make borscht, and perfects it. (Not sure if there’s any statistics to back this up though.)
– Russian people can eat borscht for breakfast, lunch and dinner. As a kid, I witnessed this at my distant relatives’ house in the village where my mom was born. In their house, a new pot of borscht was made as soon as the old one was finished. Once we went to another relatives’ house in the same village for lunch, and guess what was served to us? Borscht!!!
– A borscht recipe is never rigid, it’s more of an idea, a state of mind. Every Russian woman has her own borscht recipe that she might have tweaked a little from the one she learned originally.
My mom taught me how to make borscht, but mine tastes different than hers.
The classic ingredients for borscht are beets, potatoes, tomatoes and cabbage. Naturally, you won’t get a delicious soup by throwing together just these four ingredients, so each cook chooses what else to add at her own discretion.
It’s also important not to go overboard with additional ingredients, or else you’ll end up with something that’s not borscht at all.
Since posting this recipe, I’ve done some more borscht-themed experimenting. Check out my vegan ginger-lentil borscht for a simpler and slightly spicier twist on this recipe.
Tips for Making a Perfect Vegan Borscht
The broth gets its beautiful ruby-red color from beets and tomatoes. It is important not to overcook the beets, otherwise the color will change and not look as good (thankfully, the flavor stays the same).
My approach to cooking the beets for borscht: first soak them in water with a little bit of vinegar, then slowly cook them in the soaking liquid in a small pan until the liquid evaporates, and only add to the main borscht pot in the last 5 minutes.
To make my borscht more filling, I like to add a good amount of beans (I’m a huge bean fan!).
For the batch in pictures, I used a mix of dried pinto and lima beans that I soaked overnight and then cooked according to the bean-cooking wisdom I shared in this post. You can experiment with other types of beans as well as use canned beans.
Cabbage is a popular ingredient in Russian cuisine because it grows well into the later months of the year and only tastes better after the first frost.
I chopped a fairly large amount of cabbage (about 5 cups packed), set it in the colander, sprinkled some salt all over, and let it sit for at least 10 min to release the juices. Just before adding it to the borscht, I squeezed it lightly to soften it.
My mom has been cooking borscht since before I was born. Naturally, she’s learned a few tricks along the way to make this soup taste even better.
I’m not going to share all of them out of respect for her work, but here’s a tip regarding potatoes: peel them and boil them whole, not chopped, in the borscht broth until done. Remove them from the broth with a slotted spoon, set aside to cool for a bit, and then roughly chop them with the same slotted spoon and add back to the pot.
If you cook the potatoes that way, somehow the soup comes out tastier than if you cubed the potatoes and boiled them with the rest of the ingredients. The starch that the potatoes release during the initial boiling thickens the broth slightly and makes it even heartier.
Enough talking, let’s see the recipe!
Hope you enjoyed my vegan version of the classic Russian borscht! If you make it, please come back to the blog to rate it above.
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