Deli Borscht (With a Twist)

It’s hard to be vegan during cold and flu season. I usually start out excited for the Advent fast, but as soon as the first sniffle hits all I want is a steaming bowl of Jewish Penicillin homemade chicken soup. Lentils and rice are just not going to cut it.  That’s why I’ve been building a repertoire of comforting, brothy vegan soups for cold, sniffly winter nights. This one is especially good for building yourself up after you’ve been sick, since beets are high in iron and other nutrients. If you can get your hands on raw sauerkraut (like Bubbie’s – or make your own) you’ll also get the immune-boosting benefits of friendly bacteria, although regular sauerkraut is still yummy and good for you, just not quite as good.

 This recipe is actually pretty similar to the New York Deli Borscht recipe in The Joy of Cooking, which in turn is pretty similar to every other Deli Borscht recipe I have found on the internet. The addition of sauerkraut at the end is all my own, however, and takes this from “okay-but-I-miss-the-sour-cream” to crave-ably delicious.

Go Russian and serve it with kasha on the side. Yum.

Go Russian and serve it with kasha on the side. Yum.


  • 3 medium/large beets
  • 1/2 head white cabbage
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 large onion
  • water
  • a pinch of allspice berries (optional)
  • juice from one lemon
  • sauerkraut
  • fresh or dried dill


1. Cut the greens off the beets, wash the beets thoroughly, and roast, wrapped in foil, in a 400º oven until they can be pierced with a skewer or knife. (I’m pretty certain you could skip this step and simply use grated raw beets, although you might have to increase the cooking time once they were in the soup. Roasting the beets does make them easier to peel and grate and also brings out their sweetness. I usually roast them a day or two before I plan to make soup, often when I have something else in the oven anyway.) Allow the beets to cool, then remove their peels.

2. Thinly slice the onion and cabbage. Grate the beets and carrots. (All of this is much faster if you have a food processor. You could probably use pre-packaged coleslaw mix to replace the cabbage if you don’t have one and hate chopping veggies.) Add all of the vegetables to a large pot along with the allspice berries. Cover with water, bring to a simmer, and cook, covered, until the vegetables are as soft as you want them. Half an hour should be sufficient, but you could leave it simmering for much longer if you like a softer texture. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

3. Serve with a large spoonful of sauerkraut and a sprinkle of dill on top of each bowl. For maximum probiotic benefits from raw sauerkraut allow the soup to cool somewhat before adding the kraut. This soup is also good chilled or at room temperature.

(Public service disclaimer: some individuals, especially small children, will find that the compounds that give beets their lovely color stay red all the way from one end of the digestive system to the other, so please don’t rush to the ER if your children’s diapers look like they have been drinking Easter egg dye after eating this soup! Also, beets can have a laxative effect for some people, so be mindful when feeding them to small children, or anyone who has not eaten beets in large quantities before.)

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