Polish barszcz soup is a clear beet broth, slightly sour, sweet, earthy and peppery, with a hint of garlic and wild mushrooms. It requires few ingredients and is incredibly easy to make. Ready in under an hour!
Barszcz soup has a mildly sweet and sour flavour and a deep ruby red colour. It has a long tradition in Polish cuisine and every family has their own unique way of preparing it.
Traditional Polish borscht is usually made using a fermented beet mixture, called 'zakwas', which gives barszcz its distinctive sour flavour. Since zakwas takes days to mature I used pickled beets in this barszcz recipe instead. Pickled beets add acidity as well as a little sweetness, which produces delicious results!
What is barszcz soup
Barszcz (pronounced 'BAR-shch), is a type of borscht (beet soup) that's served as a clear broth (which is why it is also called 'barszcz czysty', which means 'clear borscht'). It is also known as 'barszcz czerwony' (meaning 'red borscht', to distinguish it from 'white borscht', a traditional soup made at Easter), as well as 'barszcz wigilijny' ('Christmas Eve borscht').
The name 'barszcz' comes from a sour tasting plant with the same name ('cow parsnip' in English) which was the original ingredient used to make this soup.
How is barszcz different from Ukrainian borscht
Although both are made using beets these soups are not the same.
Traditional barszcz is made using very few ingredients, is always vegetarian and served as a clear broth. It is very different from the hearty, filling Ukrainian borscht (also popular in Poland) which is made using beets and other vegetables including cabbage, as well as beans and can also be made with meat.
Unlike Polish barszcz soup, Ukrainian-style borscht is usually served with sour cream (a popular soup ingredient in Polish cuisine).
Barszcz soup ingredients and substitutions
- Beets: use fresh, not ready-cooked from the store.
- Pickled beets and brine.
- Other vegetables: onion, celery (or a small piece of celery root, peeled), garlic.
- Porcini mushrooms: use either dried porcini ('borowiki' in Polish) or mushroom water used in preparing uszka dumplings (see Instructions for details).
- Allspice berries: this spice is used in many traditional Polish dishes.
- Vinegar: White wine vinegar or distilled malt vinegar (as an option use in combination with balsamic vinegar).
- Soy sauce: adds richness and depth of flavour.
- Butter: for a vegan alternative use plant butter.
- Salt and pepper: add to taste.
Step-by-step recipe instructions
1.Prepare mushrooms: Rinse the porcini mushrooms (if using) under cold water and rub briefly with your fingertips to remove any grit.
2. Combine ingredients: Place the beets, pickled beets, onion, ½ garlic clove, celery, allspice berries and mushrooms (or use 1-2 quarters of a cup of mushroom water from making the uszka dumplings) in a large pot.
3. Cook: Pour in the water and beet brine, add the allspice, salt and pepper, cover and bring to the boil, then simmer for about 50 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Remove from the heat.
4. Remove vegetables: Using a slotted spoon remove the vegetables from the pot. Add the vinegar, butter, remaining garlic (grated), adjust the seasoning as needed and serve the broth only.
How is barszcz served in Poland
- On Christmas Eve (Polish Wigilia)
Polish barszcz is always served hot, with mushroom dumplings ('uszka'). It is usually served as the first of 12 traditional Christmas Eve dishes. (See also wild mushroom soup which in some regions of Poland is served as an alternative to barszcz).
- Throughout the year
Leftover barszcz can be enjoyed on its own as a nourishing hot broth served in a cup (it tastes delicious with Christmas day leftovers!).
- I do NOT recommend using ready cooked beets from the store to make beet barszcz.
- Use either 2-3 large dried porcini mushrooms or one or two quarters of a cup of water from cooking the mushrooms (used for making mushroom dumplings).
- Although soy sauce is not a traditional ingredient it is a good idea to use it in a barszcz recipe. Soy sauce complements the beetroot, adding complexity and enhancing the flavour.
- Serve hot.
- Refrigerate for up to 4 days.
- Freeze for up to 3 months.
What to do with beets from barszcz
Beets used to make Polish borscht can be turned into shredded beets. Simply grate them coarsely, add lemon juice/sour cream, knob of butter, stir and serve hot alongside a meat-and-potato meal. You could also use them in Polish cold beet salad.
More soups with beets to try next
See also these other traditional Polish recipes!
Polish Barszcz Soup Recipe
- Large pot
- 4 medium beets peeled, cut in half
- 2 small pickled beets chopped or coarsely grated
- ¼ cup (60 ml) brine from pickled beets
- 1 small celery stalk or small piece of celery root, peeled
- 1 onion peeled
- 1 garlic clove peeled, cut in half
- 3 large pieces dried porcini mushrooms rinsed, *see Notes below
- 2 allspice berries
- 1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or a mixture of white and balsamic vinegars, add to taste
- 6 cups (1500 ml) water
- ½-⅔ tablespoon coarse sea salt plus pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon butter or vegan spread
- 1½ tablespoons soy sauce or to taste
- Prepare mushrooms: Rinse the porcini mushrooms (if using) under cold water and rub briefly with your fingertips to remove any grit.
- Combine ingredients: Place the beets, pickled beets, onion, ½ garlic clove, celery, allspice berries and mushrooms (or use 1-2 quarters of a cup of mushroom water from making the uszka dumplings) in a large pot.
- Cook: Pour in the water and beet brine, add the allspice, salt and pepper, cover and bring to the boil, then simmer for about 50 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Remove from the heat.
- Remove vegetables: Using a slotted spoon remove the vegetables from the pot. Add the vinegar, butter, soy sauce and remaining garlic (grated), adjust the seasoning as needed and serve.
- I do NOT recommend using ready cooked bought beets to make this recipe.
- *If you make Polish uszka to go with this barszcz reserve the water from cooking the mushrooms and add it into this soup. One or two quarters of a cup will suffice. If you choose this method you won't need to add any mushrooms to the borscht.
- Although soy sauce is not a traditional ingredient it is a good idea to use it in this recipe. Soy sauce complements the beetroot, adding complexity and more depth to the overall flavour.
- Serve only the broth.
- Refrigerate for up to 4 days.
- Freeze for up to 3 months.
*Nutritional information is automatically generated and should be considered as an estimate.
**A note about baking: If using a fan-assisted oven refer to your appliance's instructions and adjust the temperature accordingly.
Keep in touch!
Have you made this traditional Polish barszcz soup recipe? I'd love to know how it turned out for you. Do you have your own tried and tested way of making this recipe? Let me know in the comments below, thanks!