Polish red borscht (Barszcz Czerwony) is a clear red soup made with beets, wild mushrooms, and root vegetables. For this recipe, instead of hard-to-find fermented beets and kvass, you will need both raw and cooked beets and the right amount of lemon juice and sugar to recreate the authentic taste.
What's interesting about Polish borscht
No doubt that Borscht has always been associated with Ukrainian cuisine. It's one of the most famous Ukrainian dishes.
But what amazes me to see and learn how some recipes can easily travel and change between the countries.
Poland has their own Borscht version. It is kind of similar, to how Ukraine adapted the Polish traditional kapusniak soup, Poland adapted Barszcz.
The big difference between Ukrainian borscht and Polish borscht is that the Polish version is usually clear, meatless, and made with both pickled and fresh beets. Ukrainian borscht is a more hearty, stew-like soup and it is made with cabbage, potatoes, fresh beets, and often the meat.
Borscht is a great example of how some recipes can make a full circle from one place to another, because later Western Ukraine (which borders Poland) started preparing the Polish version of Borscht, especially for Christmas. They basically adapted the adapted version of their own traditional dish.
Polish borscht or Barszcz Czerwony has its own cultural significance in Poland. It is a traditional dish served on Wigilia (Polish Christmas Eve).
Polish Christmas borscht is usually served with uszka (translates as "little ears"). Uszka are a special dumplings stuffed with mushrooms or sauerkraut. They are similar to Italian tortellini or Russian Pelmeni.
As for fermented beets and kvass, if you have them - toss in about one cup of beet kvass and a couple of beets along with the fresh ones and the rest of the listed ingredients accept for lemon juice.
Back in Ukraine, I'd often use fermented beets because my grandma always had a huge barrel of them stored in her root cellar throughout the whole winter and spring season.
Now, living in the US, you will rarely see people having fermented beets on hand. As you know, my goal here is to adapt international recipes and make them approachable for everyone, so you don't have to hunt for rare ingredients. Trust me, the right amount of lemon juice (or vinegar) and a little bit of sugar can do a trick.
How I came up with this recipe
I am quite familiar with Polish cuisine because I lived there for about 1 year and it also has a lot of similarities with Ukrainian cuisine (where I grew up). Traditional Polish borscht usually requires fermented beets. These beets, along with their liquid known as "kvas", add a distinctly sour note to the soup.
These days, not many households (including mine) keep fermented beets on hand. So my goal was to experiment and recreate the authentic taste without the fermented beets.
I tried making this soup 3 different ways, and below are the results. Both 3 versions tasted great, but the last one is my favorite by far because the taste is very close to the authentic Barszcz Czerwony made with fermented beets and kvass.
Raw beets only, lemon juice, and sugar: too earthy and not enough natural beet sweet taste, the color is not very bright.
Cooked beets only, lemon juice, and sugar: very sweet taste and missing the earthy notes of beets.
Both raw and cooked beets, lemon juice, and sugar: the perfect balance of earthy, sweet, and sour taste. The color is red bright.
Recipe general information
- Other names and spellings: Polish red borscht, Barszcz Czerwony, Barszcz Wigilijny (Christmas Eve borscht)
- Origin: Traditional Polish soup
- Key ingredient: beets
- Main spices: marjoram, allspice, bay leaf
- Course: Main dish, starter, side dish.
- Significance: While enjoyed throughout the year, It holds a special place during Wigilia, Polish Christmas Eve dinner.
- Difficulty level: Medium.
Ingredients and substitutions
You can find the quantities in the recipe card below.
- Beets: for the best results, you will need 2 fresh and 2 cooked beets. If you have fermented beets, use those instead of fresh ones.
- Dried Mushrooms: I used a bag of mixed wild mushrooms. While mushrooms, such as porcini, will give the best flavor to the soup.
- Carrots and Parsnips: roughly chopped to fit in a pot or whole ones. You can also use celery root and parsley root.
- Apple: I used Gala apple. You can skip the apple, but it adds some sweetness to the soup.
- Lemon: freshly lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or regular vinegar to add the sour taste that will be missing without fermented beets.
- Sugar: a little bit of sugar is a must to balance the acidity.
- Onion and garlic: for amazing flavors
- Salt, herbs, and spices: black pepper, marjoram (fresh or dried), bay leaf, and allspice are all authentic spices for this Polish recipe. Adjust salt to your liking at the very end.
Start by boiling 2 whole beets. Wash and scrub the beets and place them in a medium pot. Fill it with water enough to cover the beetroots. Bring it to a boil and simmer for about 30-40 minutes or until tender. Once they are cooked, peel and grate them using a medium-sized shred side of the box grater.
You can also cook whole beets in instant pot or oven.
Place dry mushrooms in a bowl and pour hot water over the mushrooms. Let them soak and hydrate in hot water for about 10-15 minutes. Drain the mushrooms after they become soft.
Peel the carrots and parsnip and cube them roughly. Peel and cube the raw beets (1 or 2 medium ones). Take a fresh apple, peel it, and chop it roughly. If you have a small onion, you can use it whole; otherwise, cut it in half. Next, peel the garlic cloves, keeping them whole.
Heat the large pot over medium heat. Place half of the onion facing the cut side down into a hot pot and let it sear for a few minutes. I added this step to make the soup more aromatic. After the onion browns and releases aroma, add drained mushrooms, carrots, parsnip, beets, apple, whole garlic cloves, salt, peppercorns, marjoram, allspice, and bay leaves.
Add cold water enough at least to cover the vegetables. Bring the soup to a boil. Once boiling, cover the pot and let it simmer over the low heat for about 30-40 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
Now, add cooked grated beets to the soup, lemon juice, and sugar. Taste the soup and add more salt to taste. Let borsch simmer for another 10 minutes. Take it off the heat and let it sit covered for another 10 minutes.
Strain the soup and discard the vegetables. If you plan on serving it with veggies, dice them into smaller pieces before adding them to the pot. Serve clear red borscht with mushroom dumplings. I also like to serve it with store-bought tortellini for a quick meal idea.
If you are serving it the traditional Polish way, especially on Christmas Eve, pour hot borscht into bowls and place a few uszka dumplings in the soup.
Making homemade uszka is a fun experience, but for convenience, you can use store-bought dumpling wrappers. Simply stuff them with finely diced fried mushrooms and onions.
And if you do not have much time, I found another great substitute - store-bought tortellini.
On Christmas Eve in Poland, the festive dinner is often accompanied by 'Kompot Z Suszu - a dried fruit drink. It's just like Uzvar we prepare during Christmas time in Ukraine.
You may also serve red borscht with a dollop of sour cream, chopped fresh herbs, and some fresh bread on the side, just like pictured below.
Recipe practical tips and shortcuts
- You can boil the beets the day before making the soup.
- Using both raw and cooked beets with the right amount of lemon juice and sugar creates the best flavors, color, and taste.
- You can use store-bought mushroom stock if you cannot find dried wild mushrooms.
- Consider using store-bought dumpling wrappers ( Won Ton work great) to make the Uszka, if you have not time to make your own dough. And an even better shortcut - store-bought Italian tortellini.
- Borscht can last in the fridge for up to 3 days. Make sure to cool it down first and use gentle heat while reheating.
Hearty: for those chilly weekdays, you may want to try a heartier version of this Polish beet soup. Instead of making it strained, make the soup with carrots, beets, potatoes, and added sour cream for serving (pictured below). If you're leaning towards this heartier version, finely dice all raw vegetables before adding and Include the apple in halves, which makes it easier to remove it before serving.
Barszcz Wigilijny (Christmas Eve Borscht): the recipe offered in this post is a clear beet soup, traditionally It is usually served clear with uszka on a Polish Christmas Eve dinner. Uszka are Polish dumplings that are stuffed with mushrooms.
Frequently asked questions
Ukrainian borscht often contains a mix of beets, cabbage, potatoes, and sometimes meat or beans, making it heartier. Polish red borscht is typically clear beet soup, often served with dumplings on Christmas Eve.
No, you do not need kvass to make Polish borscht. Although the original recipe calls for fermented beet kvass, the sour taste can be achieved using lemon juice or vinegar and sugar.
Polish borscht is made from beet, wild mushrooms, onions, root vegetables, and spices like marjoram, allspice, and bay leaf.
More recipes with beets
- Beet salad
- Pink beet waffles
- Beetroot pancakes
- Classic red borscht
- Shuba salad (Dressed herring)
- Spaghetti with beet sauce
- Turkish Pancar Salatasi
More Eastern European recipes
- Hungarian chicken paprika
- Ukrainian holubtsi (cabbage rolls)
- Stuffed peppers
- Okroshka soup
- Green borscht
- Classic chicken Kyiv
Polish Red Borscht (Barszcz Czerwony)
- 1 large pot
- 1 medium pot, for boiling beets
- 1 medium bowl
- 1 Box grater
- 4 medium beets you will need both raw and boiled beets
- ½ cup dried mushrooms like porcini or mix
- 2 medium carrots
- 1 small parsnip
- ½ large yellow onion, peeled
- 1 small apple Gala or granny smith
- 2-3 garlic cloves
- 10 cups water
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoons salt, to taste
- 1 teaspoon marjoram
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- 3 bay leaves
- 5 whole peppercorns
- In a medium pot, place 2 beets and fill the pot with water, ensuring the beets are fully submerged. Set the stove to high heat and bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and let the beets simmer for 30-40 minutes or until tender. Peel and grate the cooked beets. Discard the water.
- In a medium bowl, add dried mushrooms and hot water. Allow them to soak and hydrate for at least 10-15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, peel carrots, the remaining 2 raw beets and parsnip, roughly chop them into large pieces. Peel, core and cube the apple. Peel the garlic and onion. Cut the onion in half. If it is small, you can use the whole one.
- Heat the large pot over medium heat. Place the onion facing the cut side down onto the hot surface of the pot. Let it brown for a few minutes to release the flavors.
- Add carrots, raw beets, parsnip, apple, garlic cloves, 2-3, 10 cups water, 1 teaspoon marjoram,¼ teaspoon allspice, 3 bay leaves, 5 whole peppercorns, and salt. Bring it to a boil, reduce heat to low and let the borscht simmer for about 30-40 minutes or until all the vegetables are soft.
- Now, add the grated cooked beets, 1 Tablespoon lemon juice, and 2 teaspoons sugar to the pot. Stir it and simmer for 5 more minutes over the low heat. Taste borscht and add more salt if needed. Strain it if desired, and serve in a bowl by itself or with polish dumplings.