Winter Borscht

By Margi Lenga Kahn


2 pounds lean stew meat (beef chuck) (omit for vegetarian borscht)*

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, for sprinkling on meat

4 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided


3 medium onions, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 leek, trimmed, white and pale green portion coarsely chopped (discard the rest)

4 large celery stalks and their leaves, coarsely chopped

1 – 1½ lbs. of marrowbones (omit for vegetarian borscht)

1 tbsp. coarse kosher salt, plus more to taste

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

2 tbsp. dark brown sugar

11 cups of cold water (use a rich vegetable broth for vegetarian borscht)

2 medium white potatoes, peeled and cut into thin wedges

½ medium red cabbage, cored and coarsely chopped

4 medium red beets, peeled and shredded on the largest holes of a grater

2 bay leaves

2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more to taste 

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and mashed to a paste with ½ tsp. salt (optional)

1 small bunch of parsley, tough stems removed and remaining parsley finely chopped

*To serve vegetarian borscht, sprinkle each bowl of soup with crumbled feta cheese (8 oz. for eight servings) or a dollop of sour cream. Then garnish with minced fresh parsley.


1. Lightly sprinkle both sides of meat with salt and pepper; set aside.

2. Warm a large, ovenproof soup pot over medium heat. Add 2 tbsp. oil and heat for 30 seconds. Add half of the meat, not crowding it, and let it brown for one minute. Turn meat over and let the other side brown for an additional minute. Using a slotted spoon, lift meat out of pot onto a plate. 

3. Add remaining 2 tbsp. oil to pot, followed by remaining meat. Brown as instructed above and add this meat to plate; set plate of meat aside.

4. Add onions, leeks and celery to pot and sauté until slightly softened, scraping bottom of pan to incorporate caramelized meat remnants. Add reserved meat and its collected juices, marrowbones, salt, brown sugar and cold water to pot. Stir and raise heat until mixture comes to a boil. Skim off the foam that collects on top of the water.

5. Stir in 1 tbsp. coarse kosher salt, black pepper, brown sugar, potatoes, cabbage, beets and bay leaves. Cover pan with lid and reduce heat so that soup gently simmers for 1½ hours.

6. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

7. Remove lid of pot to make sure there is enough water. If borscht is too thick, add up to another cup of water. Cover pot and bring back to a simmer. Carefully transfer covered pot to the oven and cook for another hour.

8. Place pot on stove. Carefully remove lid and stir in 2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice. Taste, adding more juice or salt, as needed. Let soup cool in pot. When borscht is just warm, transfer to refrigerator overnight. 

9. Reheat soup. Taste and adjust flavors by adding more lemon juice, salt or pepper as needed. Ladle soup into bowls, garnish with parsley, and pass small dishes of garlic paste and lemon juice around the table.

10. Makes eight to 10 servings.