Polish Cold Beet Soup, Lithuanian-style (Chłodnik)

Chłodnik litewski, Chłodnik z buraków

‘Chłodnik litewski’ (pron.: ‘hwoah-dnick leetevski’) – the traditional and refreshing Polish cold soup – is a delicious memory of the warm days of late spring and summer. It’s a promise of relief from the summertime heat, and a promise that’s delivered every time.

This cold beet soup is quite thick, pleasantly sour and 100% cooling. It’s jam-packed with young beets (with their beet greens intact), herbs (dill and parsley), and crunchy chunks of fresh veggies (hello, radishes and cucumbers!). 

And there’s no Chłodnik without a boiled egg, halved or quartered, gently floating in the sea of beetroot goodness. It’s such a lovely (and very Polish) combination of flavours.

This is a no-fail recipe, that is impossible to mess up. Go on and try it!

For the full list of ingredients & detailed instructions, please see the recipe card at the end of this post. But before you scroll, there’s important stuff to know below.

‘Chłodnik Litewski’ literally means ‘Lithuanian Cold Soup’. So is it Polish, or Lithuanian?
It is actually… both.

The history of this soup dates back to the 14th century (sic!), when the Jagiellonian dynasty ruled in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The old-Polish cuisine would spread to Lithuania, and the Lithuanian flavours would spread back to the Crown. 

This delightful dish comes from the region of Podlachia. The vicinity of Sejny county still has a large Lithuanian minority. That’s why many of the regional dishes are heavily influenced by the Lithuanian culinary arts.

In may 2016, ‘Chłodnik Litewski’ was listed on the traditional product list of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in the voivodeship of Podlachia. (source in Polish)

Do you need any special ingredients or equipment to make this Polish-style Cold Beet Soup?

Yes, some ingredients can be tricky to find, but there are substitutes available.

🥬 Beets: This is a spring-time dish, therefore ideally, try to find young beetroots with the beet greens still attached. Pick the bunch with the nicest, freshest-looking leaves. 

I picked two bunches, both weighing roughly 1.3 pounds in total (600 g) – half of which (10.5 oz, 300 g) came from small beetroots, and the other half came from stems and leaves.

🇵🇱 In Polish, young beets with leaves are called ‘botwina’ or ‘botwinka’ (pron. ‘bot-vinah’, ‘bot-vincah’)

If young beets are out of season, you can use regular, leafless beetroots instead. For this recipe, you’ll need roughly 1.3 pounds (600 grams, before peeling) of red beets.

🥛 Soured Milk: You can sour milk at home by yourself (it’s easy, here’s a recipe). Alternatively, swap it for kefir, cultured buttermilk, or (as a last resort) some natural, unsweetened yoghurt. If you know a brand that’s on a more sour side, pick that one.

There are some additional ingredients that are totally optional – they’re just serving suggestions:

  • Crayfish tails are a traditional Polish garnish for this soup, very popular in our pre-war cuisine. You can substitute them with shrimps. I fry them up quickly for 3-4 minutes on butter, with a pinch of salt and with a splash of white wine.
  • If you have any leftover roast meat (any type: pork, beef, poultry…), you can use it here. Adding meat isn’t as popular as it used to be, but it definitely makes this cold soup more hearty.

Equipment-wise, it would be useful to have a casserole dish with a lid. If you don’t have one, don’t worry – a regular baking tray and some aluminum foil will do the trick.

I would also recommend wearing some gloves when handling beetroots, they tend to stain the skin quite heavily.

How should you serve this Cold Beet Soup?

Traditionally, Beet Chłodnik is garnished with boiled eggs, either halved or quartered. Other popular toppings include:

  • Fresh radishes and cucumber slices
  • Raw salad sprouts
  • Seeds, such as roasted almond slices, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds
  • Croutons or crunchy soup pearls
  • Vegetable chips
  • Edible flowers

What should you serve with Chłodnik soup?

This Cold Beet Soup is usually served on its own, as a complete dish: for a light, summer-time lunch. 

It’s often paired with:

  • boiled young potatoes on the side, lightly topped with melted butter
  • mashed potatoes, topped with chopped fried bacon or pork belly
  • toasts, either plain or topped with garlic or cheese

Drink-wise, dry white wine (both still and sparkling) complements this soup nicely. 

Can you make this Cold Beet Soup another way?

In this recipe, we’re oven-baking the beets until soft. Why not boiling? That’s because cooking in water washes off a lot of the nutrients, and kills off some of the flavour.

Baking makes the most of beetroots, it turns them delightfully sweet.

Other recipes for this soup advise to cook the beets in water or stock (traditionally, either veal or chicken). That concoction is then used in the soup itself. You could try that approach, but be mindful that the end result will be less concentrated, more watery.

What diets is this Beet Chłodnik Soup suitable for?

This recipe is gluten-free (as long as you won’t garnish it with croutons). It’s also low-carb and keto friendly. 

If you skip the optional roast meat and crayfish tails, this recipe becomes suitable for a vegetarian diet.

How long can you keep this Cold Beet Soup in the fridge?

This chłodnik can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. In fact, it’s even tastier the next day, when all the flavours get a chance to blend and develop together.

Make sure that the soup is refrigerated in a covered container (that can be a cooking pot with a lid).

A word of warning though: if you’re planning to store it for more than 2 days, avoid adding any fresh herbs to the soup while you make it. They seem to speed up the souring process, the soup spoils quicker. Instead, add fresh herbs just before serving.

Can I freeze this Cold Beet Soup?

I don’t recommend freezing this recipe. I made a few attempts and sadly, none of them were quite successful. 

Smacznego!

Polish-style Cold Beet Soup (Chłodnik Litewski)
Polish Cold Beet Soup Chłodnik

Polish-style Cold Beet Soup (Chłodnik Litewski)

Yield: 6
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

When summer’s heat arrives, it’s hard to think of preparing (much as less eating) hot food. And that's where this Polish-style Cold Beet Soup comes in! It's cool, quick and refreshing.

Ingredients

  • 2 bunches young beets with greens (approx. 1.3 lb, 600 g), (see notes for subs)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 cucumbers (160-200 g total), dimply ones e.g. kirbys  
  • 1/2 bunch fresh dill (approx. 1 oz, 28 g)
  • 1/2 bunch fresh chives (approx. 1 oz, 28 g) 
  • 2 cup (500 ml) soured milk, chilled (see notes for subs) 
  • 1 cup (250 ml) sour cream, chilled
  • pinch of fine sugar, for seasoning
  • 3 pinches of salt, for seasoning
  • 2 pinches of ground black pepper, for seasoning
  • 2-3 tbsp of beet zakwas/kvass, optional (see notes) 

To serve:

  • 3-6 boiled eggs
  • 4-5 radishes, to garnish

Optional garnishes:

  • crayfish tails, peeled and fried on butter (see notes) 
  • chicken/veal roast leftovers, chopped

Instructions

  1. Thoroughly wash the beets with their greens under cold running water.
  2. Cut off all the beetroots. 
  3. [it’s worth wearing kitchen gloves for this task] Gently shake off excess water from leaves and stems. Chop them with a knife into pieces, roughly 0.6 in /1.5cm long. Leave them aside in a separate bowl.
  4. Without peeling the beetroots, chop them into larger pieces - if they’re small, you can leave them whole. 
  5. Place the beetroots into a casserole dish with a lid. If you don’t have one, wrap the beets into aluminum foil and just place them on a baking tray.
  6. Bake for 40 minutes at 390°F (200°C). You can start straight away, there’s no need to preheat the oven.
    PRO TIP: You can bake a cake or roast some potatoes at the same time!
  7. [As the beetroots bake] Move the chopped greens into a cooking pot, add in just enough water to nearly cover them one-third of the way. Add in a tablespoon of lemon juice and braise on medium heat, stirring frequently, for 6-8 minutes. We want them to soften and release their juices.
  8. Hard-boil the eggs (I’ll link a good ‘how-to’ guide in the notes), leave them to cool, then gently peel and set aside.
  9. Peel the cucumbers, chop finely into small cubes, season with a generous pinch of salt. Leave them to drain on the sieve (over a bowl) for 15 minutes or so. That way the salt will draw out the excess water from the cukes.
  10. Chop the herbs (dill and chives) finely and set them aside.
  11. When the baking time is up, poke a piece of beetroot with a fork. If it’s still a bit firm, bake further for another 5-10 minutes. When beets cool down, peel them and chop them finely into small cubes.
  12. Pour soured milk and sour cream into a tall cooking pot. Beat them together with a whisk until clear bubbles appear. Add in braised beet greens, baked beetroots, chopped cucumber and chopped herbs. Combine with a spoon. 
  13. Have a taste, then season with a generous pinch of sugar, salt and ground black pepper. Have a taste again. Does it need more seasoning? If so, add some more. I enjoy adding 2 or 3 tablespoons of beet zakwas/kvass at this stage, but that’s totally optional.
  14. It is best to put the soup in the fridge to chill, but if you’ve used cold milk and cream, ‘chłodnik’ can be served straight away. 
  15. [optional] Place chopped roast leftovers at the bottom of each bowl/soup plate (if serving with meat), and pour the soup in. 
  16. Garnish with halved or quartered boiled eggs, sliced radishes, butter-fried crayfish tails and more herbs.

Notes

  • This recipe is adapted from Andrzej Fiedoruk’s book titled: “Kuchnia Kresowa” (“the Borderlands Cuisine”). I tweaked it a little bit, to make the process easier.
  • You can swap young beets for regular red beets, you'll need the same amount in weight.
  • Soured milk can be replaced with kefir, cultured buttermilk, or - as a last resort - natural yoghurt. Alternatively, here’s a Soured Milk recipe.
  • It’s worth straining the sour cream through a coffee filter to make it thicker, but that’s not essential.
  • Beet Zakwas adds an extra acidic 'kick' to the soup. I absolutely love it and always add some to chłodnik - but that’s completely optional, feel free to skip it. If you would like to ferment a jar at home (to drink and to use in various dishes), here’s my trusted Beet Zakwas / Kvass recipe.
  • Crayfish tails are a traditional Polish garnish for this soup, very popular in the pre-war cuisine. I fry them up for 3-4 minutes on butter, with a pinch of salt. Sometimes I add a splash of white wine as well.
    You can substitute crayfish with some shrimp.
  • If you need some more guidance on the eggs, here’s a great guide on how to boil a perfect egg, by ‘the Stay at Home Chef’.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 332Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 266mgSodium: 484mgCarbohydrates: 18gFiber: 4gSugar: 9gProtein: 27g

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Kasia Kronenberger

Kasia is the founder of Polonist, where she celebrates Poland’s very best food.
She’s a self-taught home cook, who – through her own culinary attempts – wants to show you how to recreate Polish flavours at home, wherever that is.
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