Borscht the Soup

Sunday January 22, 2017

Whether a hearty bean or split pea, exotically smooth cream soup, or chunky vegetable soup, everyone loves homemade soup, the one bowl meal.  They “light the inner fires” says soup and bread expert food writer Bernard Clayton.  Soups are the original comfort food and work so perfectly in the slow cooker medium. The origin of the word soup comes from the English “sop,” referring to bread soaked in hot liquid.Soups are the perfect medium for which to practice the principals of what the French (who call their soups potage and cooked in a ceramic pot called a potée) call cuisine de marché, or translated, market cookery.  It is a frame of reference to using what the produce bin has to offer, another example of cooking with the seasons.

Tips for the Best Slow Cooker Soups

•As simple and easy as it is to prepare soups in the slow cooker, it is important not to overcook them to the point of loosing the character of the vegetables to becoming a murky mess with loss of flavor.  Pay attention to the times recommended.  This does not apply to stockmaking.

•Take advantage of the produce-driven market and make soups that complement the seasons and your palate.  Use fresh ingredients for the best tasting soups.  Soups cook best if all the ingredients are of a uniform size so that they cook evenly, so take the time needed for their proper preparation during the cutting stage.

•Add water or broth to at least cover the solid ingredients for the proper consistency.  Add boiling liquid to adjust consistency at any time during the cooking.  Take into account how much you wish to serve; is this an appetizer, with about 1 cup soup needed per serving, or a family style main dish, which can be 2 cups or more per serving.

•Unless noted, we like the LOW setting best for soups, especially in the new slow cookers where the HIGH is a rather intense boil.  LOW gives a slow simmer with a slight low boil.  Why rush?

•Use herbs and spices sparingly and always taste for the seasonings at the end of cooking.  Slow cookers tend to intensify flavorings.

There two kinds of borscht: a cold, brilliantly pink one, so nice in the summer; and a hot, sustaining one that contains a variety of vegetables and is just right for a winter evening. I like this version of hot borscht for its chunky texture, its sweetly tangy flavor and its easy preparation. This is a large recipe; for a medium slow cooker, cut the amounts in half.

Hearty Beef Borscht with Cabbage

Cooker: Large Round or Oval

Machine Setting and Cook Time: High Heat: 1 hour, then Low Heat: 6 to 7 hours

Serves 10 to 12


1 pound lean boneless stewing beef (brisket, chuck, rump, round or a similar


2 to 3 large beets (to yield 3 cups chopped)

2 medium baking potatoes (2 cups chopped)

1 large red onion (2 cups chopped)

1/2 a medium-small green cabbage (2 cups chopped)

2 medium-large tomatoes (1 1/2 cups chopped)

1 teaspoon dried dill weed

2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

Pinch of sugar, if desired

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, or to taste

Cold sour cream, for serving


Trim as much fat as possible from the beef. Cut the beef into cubes about 1/2 to 3/4- inch on a side. Place the beef into the crock. Peel the beets and the potatoes and cut them into cubes about the same size as the beef. Peel the onion and chop it into 1/2-inch pieces. Cut the cabbage half into wedges, cut out the core, and chop the cabbage into pieces about 1- by 1/2-inch. Chop the tomatoes. Add the beets, potatoes, onion, cabbage and tomatoes to the crock. Add the dill, the salt and the pepper.

Add 6 to 7 cups of water, depending on the size of your slow cooker. The water should cover or almost cover the meat and vegetables. Carefully stir the ingredients to blend them and distribute the seasonings. Cover and cook on HIGH for 1 hour. Turn the cooker to LOW and cook for 6 to 7 hours longer, until the meat and vegetables are tender.

Before serving, add the vinegar and taste the soup. If necessary, add additional salt, pepper, sugar or vinegar. Ladle the hot soup into bowls and top with a spoonful of cold sour cream.

Beth’s Vegetarian Borscht

The beet, Miss beta vulgaris, is native to the Mediterrenean coast.  It is in the same family as swiss chard and the white sugar beet.  Its earthy flavor comes from a microrganism in the soil that it naturally absorbs to create a compound called geosmin, which is also found in blue-green algae, the superfood.  This soup is prepared for the slow cooker in minutes and is oh so very good; it turns a ruby red as soon as the water hits the beets and deepens in color as it cooks.  It is as good hot as it is cold on a summer day.  You can use fresh dill or tarragon in place of the dried.

Cooker: Medium Round or Oval

Machine Setting and Cook Time: High Heat: 1 hour, then Low Heat: 4 to 5 hours

Serves 6 to 8


1 bunch red beets, peeled and chopped, with greens, rinsed

1 large yellow onion

2 to 3 medium red or white new potatoes, unpeeled and chopped

2 large carrots, thick sliced

1 heaping teaspoon dried dill weed, dried tarragon, or mixed herb combination, such as Parsley Patch or Mrs. Dash

3 tablespoons dry red wine, such as Merlot

Water, to cover (can be part chicken broth if not vegetarian)

Sea salt, to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

Cold sour cream, imitation sour cream, or plain yogurt, for serving


Place the beets, onion, potatoes, carrots, and herbs to the crock. Chop about half of the greens, the wine, and add with water to cover by 1 inch.  Cover and cook on HIGH for 1 hour. Turn the cooker to LOW and cook for about 4 to 5 hours longer, until vegetables are tender but not falling apart. Season to taste. Ladle the hot soup into bowls and top with a spoonful of cold sour cream or yogurt.

Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann. (c) 2002/2017, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2017

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

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