This vegan borscht is overflowing with bright, comforting intensity and layered with different herbs and spices. It includes mushrooms, parsnips, potatoes, and other veggies for a satisfying mix of different textures. It takes a bit of time to prep, but the cooking is easy and it will easily impress whoever you enjoy it with.
This Bold Vegan Borscht Recipe
Even though it’s been a really mild winter, I’ve been on a constant diet of soups that make the most of the typical winter produce. Beets, radishes, cabbage, potatoes, and so forth. I feel like veggie soups provide really good energy in cooler months and borscht is one I’ve been wanting to get into for a while.
For me, borscht is a celebration of Eastern European culinary tradition and a magical and invigorating elixir that’s also really delicious. The bright red color is a treat for the eyes and the savory, slightly sweet flavor of the broth is irresistible.
There is a wide variety of different borscht recipes out there, and while many of them contain meat, it’s not unusual for borscht to be vegetarian or vegan. My vegan borscht recipe is not necessarily a traditional one, though it does generally follow the traditional Ukrainian red beet base. And it uses flavors I consider very much Ukrainian and Eastern European.
What’s Special About this Vegan Borscht?
This Vegan Borscht Recipe is worth cooking because it uses such a wide range of ingredients that it sends the flavor and aroma through the roof. If you want to serve vegan borscht for a special occasion or simply just want to see what happens when you turn borscht up to 11 using all plant-based ingredients, this one’s for you.
The foundation layer of this vegan borscht recipe is built on fresh vegetables. Beets, cabbage, mushrooms, celery, onion, carrot, parsnip, potato. Together with vegetable broth, these all combine for a huge, round savory flavor that highlights the subtle sweetness of the beet.
On top of that foundation are the herbs and spices that play off the beet and give delightful pops of flavor as you eat. Caraway and coriander seeds give pleasantly bright notes as you bite them. And the fresh dill and parsley garnish give some grassy and floral accents. Whole cloves steep in the broth and give it a heavenly aroma.
Working secretly in the background are a couple of unorthodox ingredients. A tiny bit of soy sauce makes the broth sing just a little bit louder, and a small glob of wasabi gives it an almost-spicy edge. (Most wasabi is really just horseradish, since the real stuff is so expensive, and horseradish is widely used in Ukrainian cooking. So it’s not all that crazy to include it here.)
This Vegan Borscht is Super Red
One of the things I love about borscht in general is the impossibly red color that the soup gets from the beets. I wanted to expand on that red theme, so I used red onion, red cabbage, red kidney beans, and even purple potatoes. (Red skin potatoes work well, too.) And the paprika and tomato paste add some umami and even more red goodness.
You can use the non-red versions of all of these ingredients and the soup should still be very tasty.
How to Make the Bold Vegan Borscht
The process for making this vegan borscht is really straightforward. Once you’ve finished your prep and mise en place, the cooking just involves sauteing and simmering. I’ll walk you through the stages so you have a sense of where everything leads.
Prep and Mise en Place
The prep may be more complicated than the actual cooking, since I use a lot of medium-dice cutting for the ingredients to get consistently sized pieces. But you don’t have to be super consistent for a tasty result. What’s more important than how you cut the vegetables is that you group the ingredients together depending on when you use them in the recipe.
The first step uses the following, so you should group these together on your counter:
- Olive oil + vegan butter
- Onion + celery + carrot
- Also have your salt handy for this stage
For the second stage, group these ingredients:
- Garlic + paprika + caraway seeds + coriander seeds + cloves
In the third step, you’ll want:
- Vegetable stock
- Shredded beets + red cabbage + parsnip + dill and parsley sprigs
- Tomato Paste
The final step of cooking should have the following:
- Kidney beans
- Lemon juice and zest + soy sauce + wasabi
Then for serving and garnishing, prepare:
- Chopped dill and parsley
- Vegan sour cream, if desired
Cooking Vegan Borscht
Step 1 – Saute
To start off the cooking, you’ll saute the onion, celery, and carrot (making what’s known as mirepoix by some). You want the onion to get translucent but you don’t want too much caramelization or browning going on. These ingredients help create a nicely rounded vegetable flavor base for the soup.
When the onion starts to sweat a little, you’ll move everything over to one side of the pot and add the mushroom slices. Let them sit for a second to get a little bit of a blister (again, not too much) before stirring them. The mushroom gives a touch of meaty earthy flavor to the broth.
Step 2 – Toast the Spices
The paprika and whole spices (garlic, caraway, coriander, and cloves) go in next. Let them sit for a second as well, so they can toast in the hot pot, before you stir them. You’ll mix them with the ingredients and stir so they continue to toast lightly for a couple of minutes.
This helps develop the flavor to help give the soup its spice-rich fragrance. You might start to notice a huge clove aroma around this point, but don’t worry. It will mellow out.
Step 3 – Create the Broth and Simmer
With the spices toasted a bit, you’ll add the vegetable stock and stir everything together. Once it starts to simmer, you can add the shredded beets, red cabbage, parsnip, parsley and dill sprigs, and tomato paste.
The trick here is to dissolve the tomato paste well without stirring the parsley and dill. In fact you want to keep them undisturbed against one edge of the pot so that they steep in the broth and are easy to remove later.
These ingredients give the soup its signature red hue, as well as some fragrant grassiness from the parsley and dill. The parsnip is a fun one because it keeps its bouncy texture through quite a bit of boiling, and the sweet nutty-herbal flavor stands out in a medium-low-key way.
You’re going to simmer a bit before adding the potato, since they fall apart really easily if you add them too soon. If you don’t mind your potatoes disintegrating and thickening the broth, you can add them earlier if you like.
Step 4 – Add Beans and Final Seasonings
At this point, you’re almost ready to enjoy the borscht. It will have a really big, round aroma now (not just clove) and you can taste it if you want, but you’re not quite there.
Add the beans and stir them so they get heated by the soup. They’re already cooked, so they don’t need to stay in long. And the lemon zest and juice, soy sauce, and wasabi go in, too. Be sure to stir the wasabi so it’s evenly distributed – you don’t want any spicy surprises.
Depending on how much vegetable stock you add (I include a range in the recipe below), you might want a touch more soy sauce and wasabi to enhance the broth a little more. Taste it and add more, very slowly, at your discretion.
Serving the Bold Vegan Borscht
Once the beans are heated through and the soup is hot, serve it as soon as you can. Garnish each bowl with a generous sprinkling of chopped dill and parsley, and add a dollop of vegan sour cream if you like (Trader Joe’s has a nice one these days).
A Note on Vegetable Stock
To develop this recipe, I used the concentrated vegetable base from Better than Bouillon to make my vegetable stock. (I like to get it at Costco.) I used the amount prescribed on the label for 6 cups and it worked perfectly.
Other types of vegetable broth, including the box-packaged kind, should work well for this too.
What About These Whole Spices?
The caraway seeds and coriander seeds lend a nice flavor to the broth, and they are fun to bite into. Their flavor is pleasant and not overpowering. I cannot say the same about the cloves – they are super potent and it’s a little unsettling to bite into one.
If you have an infuser ball or a bit of cheesecloth, you could use it to steep the cloves in the broth and avoid the risk of biting into one.
If you do put them directly in the soup, as I did, and you see a whole clove in the pot once cooking is done, fish it out and discard it. Otherwise, eat slowly and if you’re lucky, you’ll notice it before you bite into it. 🙂
It was a joy to develop, test, and taste this recipe. The shocking crimson color was matched by an equally bright flavor profile and aroma, with so many layers that I felt invigorated by every bite. It is just a soup, sure, but it’s one of the best I can remember cooking and I hope you enjoy it, too.
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon vegan butter or margarine
- 8 ounces red onion (230 grams) medium dice
- 4 ounces celery (115 grams) medium dice
- 8 ounces carrot (230 grams) peeled and medium dice
- 8 ounces brown mushrooms (230 grams) sliced
- Sea salt
- 4 cloves garlic crushed
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 6 cloves
- 6-8 cups vegetable stock (1.4-1.9 liters) see note
- 1 pound red beets (460 grams) peeled and shredded
- 8 ounces red cabbage (230 grams) sliced thinly
- 4 ounces parsnip (115 grams) peeled and medium dice
- 6 sprigs dill plus more for garnish
- 6 sprigs parsley plus more for garnish
- 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 8 ounces potato (230 grams) scrubbed and medium dice
- 1 can kidney beans (about 15 ounces / 425 grams) rinsed and drained
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest all the zest from 1 small lemon
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon wasabi or prepared horseradish
- Sugar may not be needed – see note
- Vegan sour cream (optional) for garnish
- Heat the olive oil and vegan butter in a large heavy pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat until hot. Add the onion, celery, and carrot. Add a generous pinch of sea salt. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the onion is slightly translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Move the vegetables to one side of the pot and add the mushrooms to the other side. Season the mushrooms with a smaller pinch of sea salt. Let mushrooms sit for 1 minute to blister, then stir everything together. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are no longer dry, 3-5 minutes.
- Again, move everything to one side of the pot and add the garlic, paprika, caraway seeds, coriander seeds, and cloves. Let sit for 30 seconds before stirring everything together. Then allow to cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes to allow the spices to toast.
- Add the vegetable stock and stir. Once the liquid reaches a decent boil, add the beet, cabbage, parsnip, dill, parsley, and tomato paste. Stir to make sure the tomato paste dissolves, but try to keep the parsley and dill sprigs together along one edge of the pot so you can remove them easily later. Once it reaches a simmer from there, reduce heat to medium-low. Let simmer for 10 minutes before adding the potatoes, then allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes more, until the potatoes are just tender enough to eat.
- Remove and discard the parsley and dill sprigs from the soup. Add the kidney beans, lemon juice and zest, soy sauce, and wasabi, and stir well. Taste the soup and stir in some salt and/or sugar, a pinch at a time, if needed. The soup is ready once the kidney beans are heated through.
- Serve immediately, garnished with chopped parsley and dill and a dollop of vegan sour cream, if desired.
The times I tested this recipe, the soup was balanced enough that it did not need sugar. But I want you to know that you can adjust it like this if it turns out too sour.
What to Serve with Vegan Borscht
The borscht makes a great meal on its own, but if you’d like some accompaniments, here are some ideas:
- Fresh bread, especially whole grain and/or rye, toasted, for dipping
- Varenyky aka pierogi if you’re aiming for an Eastern European feast
- 3-ingredient vegan creamed spinach – it’s surprisingly rich and super easy to make
- A fresh green salad, such as this one with fennel and arugula
More Soothing Plant-Based Soups
- Minestrone – inspired by one I tried in Milan, it’s hearty with a lovely saffron fragrance
- Kimchi Jjigae – a delightfully spicy-sour Korean-style stew with tofu
- Vegan Cream of Mushroom – deeply mushroomy, moderately creamy
- Hot and Sour Soup – it will light up your senses at the same time that it nourishes you