How to Make a Classic Russian Borscht with Sour Cream?

April 21, 2024

Borscht, a hearty soup laden with the earthy sweetness of beets, the vibrant tang of cabbage, and the robustness of beef, is indeed a classic Russian culinary delight. This dish enjoys a rich history, a history that you can taste with every spoonful. So, how does one recreate this comforting, deeply flavored, and visually appealing Russian soup at home? Here’s a detailed guide on how to make a classic Russian borscht with sour cream.

Understanding the Core Components of Borscht

Before diving into the recipe, let’s understand the core components of this Russian soup. In essence, borscht is a harmonious blend of vegetables, meat, and broth – with each element adding its distinct flavor and texture to the soup.

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The key ingredient in a borscht recipe is the humble beetroot. Its earthy sweetness is what gives borscht its unique taste. More importantly, it lends the soup its vibrant red color that makes it stand out on any dinner table.


Cabbage forms the backbone of the borscht. Its slightly bitter taste perfectly balances the sweetness of the beets. When cooked properly, it adds an interesting texture to the soup.

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While vegetarian versions of borscht are increasingly popular, traditional Russian borscht is often made with beef. The beef is typically cooked in a stock pot until tender, and the resulting broth is used as the soup base. Not only does it add protein to the dish, but it also imparts a depth of flavor that vegetable stock simply cannot replicate.

The Classic Russian Borscht Recipe

Now that you are familiar with the main ingredients, let’s move on to the recipe. This classic Russian borscht with sour cream is sure to delight your taste buds and transport you to the heart of Russia with every spoonful.


  • 2 large or 3 medium beets
  • 1 small head of cabbage
  • 300-400 grams of beef (preferably a meaty bone, like a marrow or oxtail)
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 3-4 potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 liters of water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Sour cream and fresh herbs for serving


Start by preparing your ingredients. Peel the beets, carrots, and potatoes. Chop the cabbage, onion, and garlic finely. Cut the peeled potatoes into cubes and grate the beets and carrots.

In a large pot, add the beef and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour, until the meat is tender. Remove the meat from the pot, and strain the broth to remove any impurities.

In a separate pan, heat some oil. Add the onion, garlic, grated beets, and carrots. Cook for about 10 minutes until the vegetables soften. Add the tomato paste and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Return the broth to the pot, and add the potatoes and the sautéed vegetables. Bring the soup to a boil. Now, add the chopped cabbage, lower the heat, and let it simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes and cabbage are cooked.

While the soup is cooking, cut the cooked meat into bite-sized pieces. Add the meat back to the soup, season with salt and pepper, and cook for another 5 minutes.

The Perfect Finish: Sour Cream

In a traditional Russian borscht, sour cream or ‘smetana’ in Russian, adds the final touch. This rich dairy product gives the soup a creamy texture and a sour tang that balances the sweetness of the beets and carrots.

When serving, ladle the soup into bowls and add a generous dollop of sour cream. Use a spoon to swirl the cream into the soup, creating a beautiful marbled effect. You can also sprinkle some freshly chopped herbs, like dill or parsley, for added flavor and color.

Tips for Making the Best Borscht

While the recipe is fairly simple, there are a few tips you can follow to ensure that your borscht tastes just as good as it looks.

Firstly, choose your ingredients carefully. Fresh, high-quality ingredients will always yield a better result. Try to use organic beets and cabbage, and select a cut of beef with a good balance of meat and bone.

Secondly, don’t rush the cooking process. Borscht is a soup that benefits from slow cooking. The longer you let it simmer, the more developed and intense the flavors will become.

Lastly, don’t skimp on the sour cream. It’s what makes the borscht uniquely Russian, and it truly elevates the flavors of the soup.

In conclusion, making classic Russian borscht with sour cream is not just about following a recipe, it’s about immersing yourself in a culinary tradition that’s rich in history and culture. So, put on your apron, roll up your sleeves, and take the time to make this soup. You’ll be rewarded with a bowl of soup that’s warming, nourishing, and deeply satisfying.

Incorporating Authentic Flavors: Tomato Paste and Fresh Dill

A clever way to amplify the flavor of your borscht is by incorporating tomato paste and fresh dill. This method is often employed in Ukrainian borscht recipes and has been adopted by many Russian cooks as well.

Tomato Paste

The addition of tomato paste to the borscht recipe helps balance the sweetness of the beets with a bit of acidity. It also enhances the soup’s vibrant color, making it even more appealing to the eyes. To incorporate the tomato paste, make sure to cook it with your sautéed vegetables. This will allow the concentrated flavors to meld with the other ingredients and enhance the overall taste of your borscht.

Fresh Dill

Fresh dill is another essential ingredient in a borscht recipe. Its unique, slightly sweet and lemony flavor works wonderfully with the earthy sweetness of the beets and the tang of the sour cream. Dill is also a great source of antioxidants and adds a burst of green to the vivid red soup. When the soup is almost done, stir in chopped fresh dill. Reserve some for garnishing when serving.

Adjusting the Recipe for Modern Techniques: Instant Pot and Olive Oil

Modern kitchen gadgets, like the instant pot, can significantly cut down the cooking time of your borscht without compromising its flavors. You can also replace traditional cooking fats with olive oil for a healthier version.

Instant Pot

An Instant Pot can reduce the cooking time of your borscht by more than half. Start by using the sauté function for browning the beef and sautéing the vegetables. Then, add the beef broth, close the lid, and pressure cook on high for about 30 minutes. After releasing pressure, remove the lid, add the cabbage and potatoes, and pressure cook on low for another 10 minutes.

Olive Oil

Traditionally, borscht is cooked with animal fat or butter for sautéing the vegetables. However, you can make your borscht healthier by using olive oil. It’s a heart-healthy fat that can withstand high cooking temperatures, making it suitable for sautéing and browning. Plus, olive oil has a subtle flavor that won’t overpower the other ingredients in your borscht.

Conclusion: Savor the Flavor of Russian Borscht

In essence, making a classic Russian borscht with sour cream is an art that requires patience and attention to detail. Whether you’re sticking to the traditional recipe or making a few modern tweaks, the key is to respect the core ingredients: beets, cabbage, beef, and sour cream. You can play around with the flavors by adding tomato paste or fresh dill, or adjust the method of cooking using an instant pot or olive oil.

But the real secret to a great borscht lies in the slow simmering process. It allows the flavors to meld together and develop into a deep, complex, and satisfying soup. Finally, serve your borscht with a generous dollop sour cream, and a sprinkle of fresh dill or parsley. And just like that, you’ve created a comforting and nutritious meal that is as pleasing to the eye as it is to the palate.

And so, the next time you’re in the mood for a hearty, warming soup, remember this classic Russian borscht recipe. Not only is it packed with nutrients, but it also carries with it a taste of Russian history and culture. Enjoy every spoonful and savor the burst of flavors on your tongue – that’s the true taste of Russia.