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Grate borsch from In Praise of Veg

Servings: 6
Borsch was served almost every day when I was growing up. The ingredients were cheap, and it was easy for mum to make big batches of. All my big brother Stan and I had to do when we came home from school was to pour what we needed into a small pot and heat it up – or whack it in the microwave if we were in a rush to get back to Widget the World Watcher on telly. These days, I still insist on having a batch of borsch in the fridge whenever possible. It’s a convenient and delicious way of getting eight or so different vegies in one whack, so that even if we’re on the run, or out for a fancy (read: rich!) meal, we still feel satisfied and nourished at the end of the day. In summer, turn this into a gazpacho-style cold soup by whizzing it up to a purée with a stick blender once cool, and serving cold with slices of cucumber, radish, grated garlic, dill and sour cream.


  • 1 onion roughly chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 700 g 1 lb 9 oz cauliflower (½ large one, or 1 small) or 2 heads of broccoli
  • ½ small cabbage or ¼ of a larger one
  • 2 carrots shredded
  • 2 celery stalks thinly sliced, tops reserved for garnishing
  • 2 beetroot (400 g/14 oz) shredded
  • 12 cups 3 litres vegetable or chicken stock
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • cup 80 ml sauerkraut or pickle brine (optional)

To serve

  • dill sprigs
  • sour cream or crème fraîche
  • grated garlic
  • croutons or thinly sliced baguette


  • Whack the onion and garlic into a big saucepan with the olive oil. Let them start to sizzle over medium heat, then pop the lid on and allow the onion to sweat away in its own juices for 5–10 minutes until translucent, stirring occasionally.
  • Meanwhile, turn the cauliflower upside down and cut into the core at an angle, so that the florets all come off with a pull. Now pull them apart until they’re bite-sized. Set aside.
  • Once the onion has sweated down and is fragrant, add the cabbage, carrot, celery and beetroot. Pour in the stock, then supplement with extra water (preferably filtered) until your pan of choice is three-quarters full. Squeeze in the lemon juice (to keep the brightness of the beetroot) and add a good pinch of salt.
  • Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add the cauliflower florets and cook until the shredded beetroot is easily bitten through, but not mushy and the cauliflower softens slightly; keeping some ‘bite’ here is the key for both flavour and texture.
  • Season to taste with the brine, if using, as well as salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with dill and the reserved celery leaves, and serve with sour cream, grated garlic and croutons – or what you will!


This is one dish where schmaltz (chicken fat, duck fat) enriches the flavour in a most delightful way. You could also add a little butter when sweating the onions, or a spoonful of jam for sweetness.

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