Babu’s Borscht

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This borscht recipe is from Lori Stahlbrand’s grandmother, her Babu, who came to Canada in 1912 from Bukovina, Ukraine. Lori is the founder of Local Food Plus (LFP), which certifies farmers who reduce pesticides, treat their animals well, conserve soil and water, protect wildlife habitat, provide safe and fair working conditions, reduce energy use and sell locally wherever possible. With Rod MacRae, the first co-ordinator of the Toronto Food Policy Council, and Wayne Roberts, the second TFPC co-ordinator, Lori is the author of Real Food for a Change: Bringing Nature, Health, Joy and Justice to the Table, an important book about the food system in Canada.

“Babu’s Borscht” is hearty and inexpensive and can be made with local, sustainable ingredients like those grown by LFP farmers. Although Lori’s Babu always served this borscht with cornmeal mush and sour cream and usually made it with meat, the soup can also be made with dried mushrooms for a vegetarian or vegan option. The vegetarian version is traditionally eaten on Ukrainian Christmas (January 6) as one of 12 meatless dishes. If you have a food processor, you can use the shredder blade for the beets, potato, carrot and cabbage.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


1 ½ lb (750g) stewing beef, spareribs, brisket, chuck or shank (omit for vegetarian version)

1 tsp salt

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 bay leaf

3 beets, shredded

1 potato, peeled and shredded

1 carrot, shredded

½ cup chopped celery

3 cups shredded cabbage

1 cup cooked white kidney or navy beans or about ½ can (19 oz/540 mL), rinsed and drained

1 can (28 oz/796 mL) diced tomatoes

Juice of 1 lemon (about 3-4 tbsp)

1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1 tbsp chopped fresh dill

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cornmeal Mash:

1 cup fine cornmeal

½ tsp salt

Sour cream or plain yogurt (optional)


In large saucepan, cover meat with 12 cups of cold water and add salt. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat; simmer for 1 ½ hours. Skim the foam off the top with a spoon. Remove meat with a slotted spoon and set aside.

To the same saucepan, add onion, garlic, bay leaf, and beets; cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Add potato, carrot, celery, and cabbage; cook until tender but not overcooked.

Return meat to pot. Stir in beans, tomatoes, lemon juice, parsley, and dill. Discard bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper. Warm until beans are heated through.

For cornmeal mush, in medium saucepan bring 2 cups water and ½ teaspoon salt to a rapid boil. Add cornmeal and stir in one direction with a wooden spoon until cornmeal pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a ball. Transfer onto a dish. It will firm up slightly as it cools.

Serve the borscht and pass around the cornmeal mush so that everyone can put a large scoop of it into the borscht with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt (if using) on top.

Nada’s Tips & Tricks: I grew up on many variations of borscht – every eastern European has their own slant on this popular and hearty soup. Pair it with a sandwich or cornbread – makes a filling lunch on a cold, winter’s day!

Contents and images used with permission by Between the Lines Publishing, Borscht recipe: Lori Stahlbrand and Photography by Laura Berman, GreenFuse Photos.