Karelian Borscht

Finnish – Russian Beet Borscht Soup

An authentic beet borscht, an earthy soup made extra hearty with crisp sausage and a swirl of sour cream but also especially earthy and healthy as a vegetarian borscht. Beet lovers, welcome to beet heaven!

Karelian Borscht (FInnish-Russian Beet Borscht Soup) ♥ KitchenParade.com, extra hearty with sausage and a swirl of sour cream but also especially earthy and delicious as a vegetarian borscht.

Borscht Made from Scratch with Beets, Red Cabbage and Carrots Plus a Few Pantry Ingredients. Hearty Soup with Beautiful Color and Lovely Texture. Easily Made Vegetarian or Vegan. Great for Meal Prep. Weight Watchers Friendly. Rave Reviews.

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  • "... it was delicious, thank you ..." ~ rog peppe

"We're Warm In Here."

Winter is the perfect time for big kettles of hearty soups and stews. Bubbling on the stove, they fill a home with an earthy, smoky aroma that seems to proclaim, "There may be snow and cold outside but we’re warm in here."

The Nordic country of Finland is known for snow and cold. I was fortunate to call this northern land home while an exchange student and still hold its people – and its food – close to my heart.

Living in Finland, food and cooking helped me make – and find – a home and a family.

My first school friends were shy girls, slightly younger, in a cooking class.

My Finnish mother was taking English lessons. After school, we'd sit in the kitchen, trading the English and Finnish words for different foods. Maito=Milk. Juusto=Cheese. Leipä=Bread. Voi=Butter.

All these years later, I still remember all the food words!

When I left Finland for home after a year, she sent along a copy of the classic introduction to Finnish home cooking, an original edition of The Finnish Cookbook (affiliate link). There's also a newer edition (affiliate link) that's more affordable.

The author is Beatrice Ojakangas the Isoäiti=Grandmother of Finnish cooking in America. I still turn to it often. The pages and recipes transport me back to a home in my heart.

It's why you'll find so many Finnish recipes in Kitchen Parade's recipe collection.

And why there's a new food word in my rusty Finnish. Borssikeitto or Borschkeitto=Borscht.

What Is Borscht?

Borscht [pronounced in a single syllable, rhymes with coarse] is the iconic beet soup originating in Russia, Ukraine and eastern Europe.

Nearly all borschts, traditional and contemporary, start with beets. There are no-beet borschts based on other ingredients. But mostly, if you see something called "borscht," you can count on finding beets.

After that, the ingredients range all over the place. Many borschts are quite beefy, calling for beef stock and slow-cooking cuts like beef shanks.

Most borschts add other vegetables to the beets, cabbage, carrot, potato, onion and so on. In many traditions, there's a sour component to borscht, some times from fermented vegetables, other times from sour-ish ingredients. My Summer Borscht calls for sour cherries but other sour ingredients are tomatoes, cranberries, lingonberries and more.

What, Then, Is Karelian Borscht?

This borscht recipe comes from Karelia, a small piece of land along the Baltic Sea ceded by Finland during World War II to what was then the Soviet Union and is now the very most western edge of Russia.

Just imagine, you go to sleep one night as a Finn and wake up the next day as Russian: hard times, still lodged deep in the national psyche. Generations later, the crushing loss remains grim and grievous, especially for those for whom Karelia is the motherland.

The recipe is adapted from the classic of Finnish-American cooking, The Finnish Cookbook (affiliate link), just one of three borscht recipes from cookbook author Beatrice Ojakangas.

Here's what makes it special. You won’t leave the table unsatisfied.

  • Texture Some borschts call for cooking the beets and other ingredients, then blending until smooth in a blender or food processor. In contrast, this recipe calls for cooking but not puréeing the beets so the end product has considerable texture.
  • Simplicity Karelian Borscht leans into the beets, complementing them with carrot and red cabbage but still keeping them front and center.
  • Flexibility Karelian Borscht is easy to switch back and forth between meaty and vegetarian, even from the same pot. That's because it uses bits of crisp-cooked sausage almost as a garnish. So the "borscht pot" can be vegetarian but individual "bowls of borscht" can be topped with sausage.
Karelian Borscht (FInnish-Russian Beet Borscht Soup) ♥ KitchenParade.com, extra hearty with sausage and a swirl of sour cream but also especially earthy and delicious as a vegetarian borscht.

Ingredients for Karelian Borscht

In all my recipes and most well-written recipes, every ingredient serves a purpose. Each one matters. Each one contributes to the overall dish. It's not that an ingredient can't be substituted by something else but when choosing the substitute, it's important to understand why the original ingredient was present in the first place.

  • Beets Fresh beets are wonderful in borscht. But if you don’t have access to or time for fresh beets, canned beets are a more-than-acceptable alternative. Every so often, I think about throwing in some pickled beets like Refrigerator Pickled Beets, especially if my beets don't yield quite enough grated beet.
  • Carrot & Red Cabbage Carrot and cabbage add a little sweetness that contrasts well with the earthy beets.
  • Liquid Like for many soups, stock is the usual cooking liquid here, often beef. But stock competes for flavor dominance, especially if it's a commercial stock, canned, cartoned or cubed. Over the years, I have come to appreciate plain water as the cooking liquid, especially when I want to draw out the primary flavor, here, that's beet. The good news is, there's lots of flexibility in your choice of cooking liquid. But you might want to ask yourself what you're looking for in the end, that can guide your choices.
  • Spicy Sausage (Optional) When the Borscht is nearly done, if you like, cook up a little sausage, letting the edges get crisp. It adds texture contrast and small bites of rich, juicy sausage to the soft, slow-cooked vegetables.
  • Toppings It's traditional to add a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of fresh dill to the top of borscht. There's just something special about the way the beety soup and something creamy combine. Dill is especially nice but no stress if you don't have any, just use a sprinkle of some other fresh herb.

Here's What's NOT In This Recipe

Sometimes, what's left out of a recipe is just as important as what's put in. That's definitely the case here.

  • No Onion Without competition from strong onion flavor, the beets are allowed to really shine.
  • No Beef, No Meat There's no need to make beef stock or cook the borscht all day to tenderize the tough cuts of beef that are used in borscht and other soups. That said, there's nothing wrong with beefy borschts. It would be easy (and delicious!) to adapt this recipe by using beef stock and throwing in some meaty soup bones. My recipe does allow for bits of crisp cooked sausage almost as a garnish but my favorite variation is vegetarian, no meat at all.
  • No Potato Nothing wrong with potato, this recipe just doesn't include potato, useful for those who avoid potatoes and other white starches.

Bookmark! PIN! Share!

How do you save and share favorite recipes? recipes that fit your personal cooking style? a particular recipe your mom or daughter or best friend would just love? If traditional homemade borscht hits the mark, go ahead, save and share! I'd be honored ...

Karelian Borscht (FInnish-Russian Beet Borscht Soup) ♥ KitchenParade.com, extra hearty with sausage and a swirl of sour cream but also especially earthy and delicious as a vegetarian borscht.

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Hands-on time: 45 minutes
Time to table: 2 hours, 45 minutes
Makes: about 6 cups
  • 2 tablespoons butter (olive oil for vegetarian)
  • 3 large beets, peeled & grated or roughly chopped (about 4 cups/450g)
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 8 cups liquid (beef stock or water/vegetable stock for vegetarian)
  • 1 small red cabbage, grated (about 3 cups/270g)
  • 2 carrots, peeled & grated (about 1 cup/120g)
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Additional salt and vinegar, to taste
  • 1/4 pound (112g) spicy sausage, sliced in half-inch rounds (omit for vegetarian)
  • For serving, sour cream and fresh chopped dill, traditional but optional

Melt the butter in a large, heavy pot such as a Dutch oven on medium heat. Add the grated or chopped beets and gently cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Do use gentle heat, otherwise the beets will brown and you'll lose the pretty gem color.

Stir in the flour, sugar and salt; work these in until they're absorbed and no longer visible.

A small cupful at a time at first, stir in the liquid, letting the beets absorb the liquid before adding another cupful. Add the cabbage, carrots, vinegar and garlic.

Cover and simmer gently on low heat for at least 2 hours; check every 30 minutes and add water or broth if too much liquid evaporates. For the last 30 minutes, uncover and continue to simmer, concentrating the soup and the flavors.

Taste the soup. Adjust the salt if needed, also the vinegar which can brighten a soup in a lovely way.

Close to serving time, brown the sausage pieces in a skillet until fully cooked and slightly crispy on the edges, slice into small bits.

To serve, place the Borscht in bowls and top with sausage. Add a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle with fresh dill. Try it with Finnish Whole-Wheat Flatbread!

MEAL PREP BORSCHT Definitely! Cook the borscht the day before serving, the flavor just might be even better. Just refrigerate and then gently rewarm.

LEFTOVER BORSCHT Leftovers reheat beautifully, either on the stove or in the microwave.

VEGETARIAN BORSCHT Most times, I use water for the liquid, skip the spicy sausage and just enjoy the earthy beet soup in a vegan version. It's still hearty and the beet flavor really shines through!

GLUTEN-FREE BORSCHT Leave out the flour and substitute an equal amount of yellow cornmeal, it'll give the small measure of thickening. BULK IT UP In a recent pot for hungry eaters, I added chopped fennel (excellent) and some tiny yellow potatoes (again, excellent). I did increase the amount of liquid to ensure there was plenty for simmering and some evaporation.

ALANNA's TIPS It's kind of a pain to peel the beets plus the raw beets will stain your hands though don't worry, the red color will wash away with a couple of good scrubs. To avoid the fuss, you can boil small beets until the skins soften or roast larger beets until they easily slip off. It's an extra step and adds to the total prep time though not the hands-on time. For years, I dutifully grated beets for Karelian Borscht. But in the last while, I've taken to chopping beets into chunks and have come to really love the appearance of the soup this way. If you do opt for grating, a hand grater works fine but is to my style, fairly tedious. A food processor makes kinda-sorta quick work of grating the beets, cabbage and carrots. But if even the food processor's grating blade seems fussy, chop the beets, carrots and cabbage one at a time with the blade. Be sure to cut the vegetables into small chunks first and pulse (vs process) just until chopped small but not mush. Super easy! I may never grate again! Love borscht? Me too! Try Borscht Beets with Sour Cream and for summer, a cold Summer Borscht.

FOR MORE INFO If you "skipped straight to the recipe," please scroll back to the top of this page for ingredient information, ingredient substitutions, tips and more. If you print this recipe, you'll want to check the recipe online for even more tips and extra information about ingredient substitutions, best results and more. See https://www.kitchenparade.com/2004/01/karelian-borscht.php .

With Sausage, Per Cup: 192 Calories; 8g Tot Fat; 4g Sat Fat; 23g Carb; 3g Fiber; 1354mg Sodium; 23mg Cholesterol; 14g Sugars; 6g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS Old Points 4 & PointsPlus 5 & SmartPoints 8 & Freestyle 5 & myWW green 5 & blue 5 & purple 5 & future WW points

Vegan, Per Cup: 136 Calories; 5g Tot Fat; 1g Sat Fat; 19g Carb; 3g Fiber; 1712mg Sodium; 0mg Cholesterol; 12g Sugars; 4g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS POINTS Old Points 2 & PointsPlus 3 & SmartPoints 5 & Freestyle 2 & myWW green 2 & blue 2 & purple 2 & future WW points

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~ carrots ~
~ sour cream ~

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Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail, you'll find my current address in the FAQs. How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, for more scratch cooking recipes using whole, healthful ingredients, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. If you make this recipe, I'd love to know your results! Just leave a comment below.

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Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. Anonymous7/21/2007

    The soup has a lovely colour indeed! I keep coming across Ojakangas name - maybe it's time to buy one of her books after all:)

    Good to know that Soup's On until Feb 28th - I might be able to make it after my trip!


  2. I made this last night, and it was delicious, thankyou. a nice compromise between some of the highly elaborate borscht recipes out there, and the ones that you just know won't taste anything like the real thing. I used beef stock cubes for the beef broth, and two large beets seemed to give about the right amount of beetroot. I wasn't sure what it meant to cook the beets until "almost brown" though - they're dark purple no matter what! 15 minutes seemed ok, but maybe it would be fine with no frying at all...

  3. Christopher3/09/2012

    I have to ask what part of Karelia you were in. I spent some time in Petrozavodsk on lake Onega and the borscht was one of my favorite things to eat there. I'm excited to try this recipe this week, for sure.

  4. Hi Christopher, I lived outside Helsinki in Vantaa but traveled into / through Karelia during a trip to what was then Leningrad. But even so, Karelia as you may know, is a "place in the heart" of many Finns, since it was taken during World War II. One of the families I lived with were Karelian, it was a huge hurt for their families, to be so separated by the Iron Curtain. I have new understanding of this. I lived in Finland about 35 years after Karelia was taken away. At the time, that seemed like a lot. Now that it's been 35 years since I have lived in Finland, not so much.

    "Kiitos paljon" for writing - I think you'll like the borscht. :-)

  5. I do need to try Borscht now that I'm in love with beets... and with that flat bread.


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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna