This festive Red Borscht (‘Barszcz Czerwony’, pronon.”Barscht Chervone”) is a rich, earthy beet soup – and a star of the Christmas Eve dinner table.
It’s secret lies in fermented beet kvass (we call it beet ‘zakwas’) and a proper vegetable stock. To pump up the festive aromas even more, we’re adding dried wild mushrooms, marjoram, smoked prunes and juniper berries.
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.
Polish Christmas Eve dinner is traditionally meat- and dairy- free, and so this Red Borscht follows this custom as well.
Do you need any special ingredients to make this Red Borscht?
Yes, there’s a key ingredient that cannot be easily replaced – Fermented Beetroot Juice, or what we call ‘Zakwas Buraczany’ in Polish.
It’s unlikely you’ll find it available outside of Poland, although you could try asking in a Polish Deli. Luckily, it’s very easy to make at home.
Here’s a detailed recipe for a homemade Beet Kvass / Zakwas (👈 click for a recipe).
Some home cooks try to use vinegar as a substitute, but please don’t go that route. The difference in taste is massive. Instead of subtle, earthy notes of beets you get an unpleasant acidic hit of vinegar – not cool.
How should you serve this Beet Borscht?
Here in Poland, various Beet Borscht soups are very popular and served for lunch or dinner throughout the year.
But this specific recipe is a bit more special – it’s traditionally a part of the twelve-dish Christmas Eve supper. Since no meat or dairy is allowed that night, this Borscht is completely vegan.
The soup is served with one (or more) of the following sides:
- ‘Uszka’ – tiny dumplings
- ‘Paszteciki’ – small yeast pasties
- ‘Kulebiak’- large stuffed pastry (known as coulibiac)
- ‘Krokiety’ – Polish-style croquettes (breaded crêpes/thin pancakes with filling)
All of the above are filled with a meat-free stuffing, usually with wild mushrooms and/or sauerkraut.
If you’re not up for an elaborate side dish, here’s an idea: serve this soup with baguette slices, buttered and topped with pan-fried slices of white mushrooms.
Can you make this Christmas Borscht another way?
Yes, you can cook it quicker.
I like to roast all the vegetables first, because that makes the stock richer and more fragrant. But you can skip the whole roasting process and drop all the veggies straight into a pot with water. That’s how it’s done in most recipes.
If you’re not avoiding meat, you can use a meat stock instead. Poultry, beef, anything goes.
What diets is this Red Borscht soup suitable for?
Just like all recipes for a Polish Christmas Eve, this recipe is suitable for vegans (it’s meat, dairy and egg-free). The soup itself is gluten-free as well, but the most popular side dishes contain grains.
How long can you keep this Red Borscht in the fridge?
Once the soup is served, ideally you should eat it within 3 hours.
To store, allow the leftovers to cool and refrigerate in a container with a lid. You can keep leftovers of Red Borscht in the fridge for up to 7 days.
Can I freeze this Vegan Borscht?
Yes, you can – but consider if it’s worth it, because:
- The soup stores well in the fridge (for up to 7 days), and…
- The key ingredient (Beet Kvass / Zakwas) can be made weeks in advance. That means you can ferment the beets first, and then cook the rest on Christmas Eve (or a day before).
When freezing Red Borscht, make sure to do so as soon as it cools down completely. Pour it into a freezer-friendly container and label it with a description and the date.
How do I reheat this Red Borscht?
When reheating this soup, avoid microwaving or bringing the soup to a boil. It causes a loss of flavour and a loss of the lovely, burgundy colour. The friendly bacteria (from fermented beets) die in high temperatures as well.
From chilled: Pour the soup into a cooking pot and reheat over a “low” heat. Make sure it doesn’t boil, switch it off after the very first signs of ‘bubbling’. Serve warm.
From frozen: Thaw the soup in the fridge overnight. Reheat as outlined above, slowly, over a low heat until hot – but not boiling.
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