A borscht for vegetarians that’s light and comforting


Nose around for borscht recipes, and you’ll find that most classic hot borschts call for beef stock or a beef or veal shank to simmer along with the vegetables.

I wanted to make a lighter, vegetarian version of hot borscht. But I also wanted my soup to have the kind of depth of flavor that a meaty backdrop provides, without overpowering the winelike, heady flavor of the beets.

So, as I often do when faced with this kind of challenge, I turned to mushrooms.

I made a strong broth by soaking dried mushrooms, and combined that with a red-beet-and-garlic broth that was the result of simmering beets with sliced garlic for 30 minutes. I used shiitakes for my broth one time, and porcinis another. The shiitake broth is a bit lighter, with more of a mineral edge to it; I like them both.

There are lots of fresh mushrooms in this soup as well. You can use regular white buttons or creminis. They’re sliced and cooked in olive oil with onion, carrots, celery and garlic, then simmered with the beets in the combined beet-and-mushroom broth.

Make sure to buy your beets with the greens attached, the more generous the bunch the better, as you’ll be adding the leaves to the soup toward the end of its simmer, making it all the more heady, healthy and satisfying.

Mushroom and Beet Borscht

Time: 1 1/2 hours

Yield: 6 servings


1 ounce dried mushrooms (about 1 cup), such as porcinis or shiitakes

1 bunch beets (4 medium or 3 large), with greens, the beets peeled and quartered, the greens stemmed, washed and coarsely chopped

3 garlic cloves, 2 thinly sliced and 1 minced


1 to 2 teaspoons sugar, to taste

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)

2 celery stalks, sliced

1/2 pound white or cremini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced

A bouquet garni made with 10 parsley stems, 2 bay leaves, 6 black peppercorns, 2 sprigs thyme and 3 allspice berries, tied in a cheesecloth bag

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 cup plain Greek yogurt for garnish (optional)


1. Place dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour on 3 cups boiling water. Let sit 30 minutes, then strain through a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl. Squeeze mushrooms over the strainer to extract any remaining flavorful liquid. Rinse mushrooms in several changes of water, and chop.

2. While mushrooms are soaking, combine beets, sliced garlic and 1 quart of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and the sugar, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.

3. Remove beets from water using a slotted spoon or skimmer and transfer to a bowl; allow to cool until you can handle them. Cut into small dice or into julienne (about 1/4-inch wide by 1 inch long). Add enough of the broth from the beets to the mushroom broth to make 6 cups combined broth.

4. Heat oil over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven and add onion, carrots and celery. Cook, stirring, until just tender, about 5 minutes, and add a generous pinch of salt and the minced garlic. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute, and add white mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, until mushrooms begin to sweat. Add chopped dried mushrooms, the 6 cups combined mushroom and beet broth, the simmered beets and the bouquet garni. Bring to a boil, add salt to taste, reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes.

5. Add chopped beet greens and simmer another 5 minutes. Stir in vinegar. Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove bouquet garni, stir in chopped parsley and serve, garnishing each bowl with a generous dollop of yogurt if desired.


You can make this soup a few days ahead, and it freezes well for a couple of months. Don’t add the parsley until serving.