Borscht – my beetroot epiphany and a chance to win £400 worth of flights

Borscht title © J Horak-Druiff 2011

This competition is now CLOSED.  On Wed 7 December I asked @manthatcooks in Australia to pick a number live on Twitter.  He picked 22… which means the winner of £400 worth of flights is MR CECIL ROWE! Congratulations! American Express should be in touch shortly.

 Have you noticed that there are some foods that are almost universally loved – so much so that the mere mention of their names can be enough to bring a smile to people’s faces? Chocolate. Popcorn. Pizza. Ice-cream.  Cake. Sure, there will be the odd person who does not like them, but if you take a random sample of humanity and ask their opinion on these foods, I am willing to bet that the overwhelming majority will say they love these foods.  Then there are foods that some people will love and others will eat but can be indifferent to – for example, I love cheese, but my husband can take it or leave it.  He does not really avoid it – he just does not seek it out. And then there are the foods that polarize:  people either love them or hate them with very little middle ground in between.  Think foods like liver/kidneys; okra; oysters; liquorice, Marmite (who famously built an entire marketing strategy around this polarisation!) and… beetroot.

I have spent a lifetime avoiding beetroot.  Part of it stems from traumatic experiences as a child with vinegary pickled beetroot that was such a ubiquitous standby at every braai salad buffet in South Africa as I was growing up.  Firstly there was the vinegar (a flavour I have never been entirely sold on, even less so as a child) – but even worse was the purply red juice.  I am the kind of person who likes their food to be neat on the plate – maybe not quite OCD, squared-off-corners and boundary-fences neat, but I am not a fan of sauce from one salad or dish leaking into another and sullying the flavours of both. And no matter how carefully you scooped and tried to drain the beetroot juices before depositing the pickled slices on your plate, you always got a matrix of bloody purple beetroot juice that would stain your othr food, soak your paper plate and if you were unlucky stain your clothes right through the plate. And even if you could look past that, there was the taste which I think is best described as follows:  eating beetroot is like eating bloodied earth.



But just like I loathe bananas yet love banana bread, it seems that it was only a matter of time before I discovered some format in which beetroot is bearable – and it seems that I have made the discovery.  So to all of you fellow-beetroot haters out there, I have only two words to say:  ROAST IT.  Slow-roasting beetroot could not be simpler, requiring little other than an oven and some patience, and the tubers emerge from the oven transformed.  Roasting takes the edge off their strident earthy flavour, softens their consistency to something more like a stewed pear, and caramelises their plentiful natural sugars so that they emerge surprisingly sweet.  Plus all that oozy juice is tamed and the beetroot can sit on your plate quite blamelessly, staining nothing.

Having tossed a few beets into the oven to roast, I had a couple of hours to decide what to make with them when they were done, and I finally settled on borscht.  Borscht is generally accepted to have originated in the Ukraine, but is one of those recipes that comes in as many variations as there are countries in Eastern Europe.  The main divide is between hot and cold borscht.  Cold borscht consists of a base of young beets which is chilled and mixed with sour cream before being topped with chopped fresh vegetables like radishes or cucumbers and garnished with dill (and sometimes boiled egg).  Hot borscht consists of a thick, hearty soup of beets and possibly other vegetables like potatoes or carrots, cooked in a beef stock and served warm with bread.  Some variants include tomato; some include meat (as opposed to just meat stock); some are made ahead of time and allowed to take on a sour, vinegary flavour before serving (much like fermenting cabbage); some are only lightly flavoured with beet as opposed to  beet-based. My take on borscht steers a path through Eastern Europe, taking elements from a number of these variations to produce a delicious and exceptionally thick and hearty soup served with sour cream – quite possibly the nicest thing a beetroot can become (and it’s low-fat and gluten-free!).

Should you wish to have a chance to win £400 worth of flights from the UK to Europe – maybe to travel round Eastern Europe sampling all the various incarnations of Borscht, this is your lucky day – because this is the prize I am giving away this week on CookSister!  Scroll to the bottom of this post below the recipe to find out how to enter. 





3 medium beetroot, trimmed and scrubbed
1 Tbsp olive oil plus extra for roasting the beets
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
1 medium potato, diced
1 large carrot, grated (reserve a little for the garnish)
750ml beef stock
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
sour cream or plain yoghurt to garnish
salt and black pepper to taste


Pre-heat the oven to 180C.  Rub the beets and thyme sprigs all over with olive oil and roast in the middle of the oven for about 90 minutes or until the beets are soft when pierced with a sharp knife. Allow the beeets to cool, then peel and cube.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil, then add the onion, celery, potato and carrot and sauteé for 4-5 minutes until beginning to soften, then add the beet cubes, reserving a few for garnish.  Add the stock and allow to simmer for 45 mins, stirring occasionally, until all the vegetables have softened and the potato cubes can be crushed with a fork.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and use an immersion blender to blend the soup.  If it is too thick, add a little more stock or hot water.  Return to the heat and add the vinegar and sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Add the reserved cubes of beetroot and heat through.  Test for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle into bowls and top each with a generous spoon of sour cream/yohgurt and a sprinkling of grated carrot.  Serve immediately with crusty bread.


And now – on to the competition! I recently joined a number of other bloggers and American Express at a gold-themed function to celebrate the golden travel rewards linked to their Preferred Rewards Gold Card. Hosted at St Martins Lane hotel, the evening’s activities included panning for “gold nuggets” under the watchful eyes of two friendly and hilariously mustachioed “frontiersmen”; sipping gold-themed cocktails; and feasting on the rather lovely canapés while hearing more about the travel perks of having a Preferred Rewards Gold Card.

The Card offers a host of opportunities to earn points and turn them into really worthwhile rewards such as flights, hotel stays and much more. To help build up points quickly, you will receive double the rewards on virtually all travel-related spend and practically all purchases while you’re abroad. Unlike some other reward schemes, there is no limit on the points you can earn and they never expire, so this is one card that’s worth its weight in gold (so to speak!). American Express is also currently giving away a welcome bonus of 20,000 points if you spend or charge £1,000 on your Gold Card in the first three months of Card membership  – enough for a pair of return flights to some of Europe’s most exciting cities.* To find out more, visit

But the best part of the evening was that I was lucky enough to win a pair of flights to anywhere in Europe – and I am giving them away here on CookSister to one of my lucky readers!  The prize also includes two annual passes to airport lounges worldwide.

For a chance of winning a pair of flights from the UK to a European destination of your choice up to the value of £400, simply answer this simple question:

The Preferred Rewards Gold Card knows no boundaries when it comes to the world of what?

a) Health
b) Travel
c) Sport

To enter, simply leave a comment here on this post on CookSister containing the correct answer.

Full terms and conditions are available here. The winner will be selected at random from all the correct entries received and the competition will close at midnight on Tuesday 6th December 2011. Good luck!

*Subject to availability – taxes, fees and surcharges apply.

DISCLOSURE: The prize is sponsored and administered by American Express and some of the text above was included at their request. Please read the terms and conditions before entering.

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  1. says

    So glad you enjoyed roasting the beets :-) So far it is the only way I find myself cooking them, then I might add vinegar to them perhaps lol
    Never made Borscht either, gotta try that beef stew and roasted beets sounds a great pairing to me! 😀
    On the matter of the contest, I think the correct answer is Travel :)

  2. says

    LOVE roasting beetroot and seriously started eating the stuff only this year. Before that I also avoided them like the plague. In salad form they’re just so unappealing – it looks like they had their period on a plate! Borscht? Not there yet…Lovely beetroot shots!
    Think the competition answer is “Travel”. 😉

  3. says

    I also have sort of an ambivalent relationship with beetroot. Then one day at my former work place the canteen employee convinced me that I should try the Borscht. So I became a fan if not of the beefroot then of the Borscht. And I eat a little beefroot on the side now and then
    I believe the correct answer is “Travel”

  4. says

    I had to smile when I read this post now….I made oven roasted beetroots with thyme this very day and the most amazing aromas assailed my nostrils all the while that they were doing their thing in the oven! I dressed them with orange juice and zest, a bit of olive oil and some spices and then popped them, with a handful of thyme sprigs into the oven! Hmmmmmm..tomorrow I shall feast on divine salad! I am one of those people who LOVE beetroot. But I also am NOT keen on the pickled variety. I discovered roasting them a few years back and have never looked back. I mostly enjoy them these days in salads, tame, neat, non bleeding delicious salads :) But I do enjoy a borscht and also serve them hot with dinner. Oh and just wait until you taste my beetroot, cranberry and ClemenGold chutney :)Love you xxx PS Good luck to all the travellers commenting here!

  5. says

    HELLO! This is so exciting, it’s like a raffle at the village fete for blogs or bingo with beetroot mixed in.
    That was exactly how I came to love beetroot too. I was also terrified as a child, 1. because my sister liked it a little bit too much and we all know what that does to a person and 2. because of the awful vinegary pre-packaged stuff. yuck.
    Anyway, glad you had a beetroot revelation. My answer is ‘Travel’

  6. Iona says

    Travel is the answer!
    Beetroot definitely better straight out of the garden, and grated raw makes a great salad too. Hubby, being of direct Ukrainian descent makes a decent bortsch too.

  7. says

    I cannot believe you have avoided beets for so long and very glad that you have come to terms with it and all its beauty. We grow beets all year round. Have you tried the golden beets yet Jeanne? Not as messy on your plate at all and an amazing flavour when roasted with a bit of balsamic vinegar. Great giveaway…..shame I am not in the UK :0)

  8. says

    Finally I am able to comment here..surprised that Beet is a food which people are polarized about, my family absolutely adore the veggie. Be it a simple salad, curry, dessert, in a bake or beetroot rice. And now you have given another reasons to love it more :) The soup look very comforting and yum.

  9. says

    The answwer to this question:The Preferred Rewards Gold Card knows no boundaries when it comes to the world of what? is TRAVEL.
    btw I have a borscht story…… I don’t travel to far flung exotic places very often but a while ago a friend was keen to photograph the famous blue mosques in Uzbekistan and offered to pay for my flight with her airmiles if I accompanied her. Why not I thought… and so off we went around Uzbekistan for 10 days. I was uh “interesting” to say the least and I’d happily never see another blue mosque in my life. On the last day of our trip we went to a restaurant in Tashkent – the food the entire trip had been non-existant or VERY bad and I decided to play it safe and order borscht. It gave me food poisoning on my LAST day :-( I have NEVER been so happy to get back home after a holiday in my life. Needless to say I still can’t look borscht in the face to this day.

  10. says

    I absolutely love beets and have already posted at least six recipes with beets, including one for borscht, and I still have many more recipes for beets waiting to be posted. I would never expect a South African to have a borscht recipe to share. Although it is somewhat different from what I know about it, I am sure it is worth trying.
    By the way, the Preferred Rewards Gold Card knows no boundaries when it comes to TRAVEL.

  11. says

    I absolutely love beets and have already posted at least six recipes with beets, including one for borscht, and I still have many more recipes for beets waiting to be posted. I would never expect a South African to have a borscht recipe to share. Although it is somewhat different from what I know about it, I am sure it is worth trying.
    By the way, the Preferred Rewards Gold Card knows no boundaries when it comes to TRAVEL.

  12. says

    I absolutely love beets and have already posted at least six recipes with beets, including one for borscht, and I still have many more recipes for beets waiting to be posted. I would never expect a South African to have a borscht recipe to share. Although it is somewhat different from what I know about it, I am sure it is worth trying.
    By the way, the Preferred Rewards Gold Card knows no boundaries when it comes to TRAVEL.

  13. Clare Walsh says

    My Nan’s pickled beetroot is perfect! I don’t know how she does it, but it doesn’t taste of dirt, which is the taste I always associate beetroot with before this summer!
    ‘TRAVEL’ I’m going to guess!

  14. Kaz (mrs.chutney) (@Kaz522) says

    I love beets in any form and make a mean (if I do say so myself)Chunky Troot and Chilli chutney. Will definitely try your super Borscht recipe, will go down a treat now the cold, wintry weather has set in.
    The competition answer is Travel.

  15. says

    Knows no boundaries when it comes to travel. Would so love to make it to Eastern Europe next year- am working on my schnitzel recipes at the moment. I think they require a little more in the field research.

  16. Cecil Rowe says

    Hi Jeanne. The Preferred Rewards Gold Card knows no boundaries when it comes to the world of travel. I love freshly cooked beetroot; such an amazing colour and texture! By the way, I have an American Express British Airways Card and find it one of the best reward cards on the market. Happy travelling!

  17. says

    I love beetroot! but the only borscht I’ve tried is made by my friend who is currently seconded to Wroclaw (yes really) and I want to go visit!!!
    Travel is the correct answer I think;)

  18. says

    All of the polarizing foods you mention are my least favorites. I’ll have to try this roasting thing as I know beets are so healthy even if I don’t love the taste. Thanks!

  19. says

    Travel, perchance? :-) I’m so glad you like roasted beetroot. That is my favorite way to eat it as well. Borscht is one of my favorite soups too – so you’ve got me hooked on two counts. :-)

  20. Christina Nevin says

    Mmmm, Borscht. My Czech housemate makes it a lot and shares it with me – delicious! but without potato. I shall have to see if I can get her to include that next time.
    And my answer is b) travel.

  21. says

    I like liver, don’t mind kidneys, don’t know okra, not mad about oysters, love liquorice and really like a Marmite sandwich dipped in coffee. But beetroot is one thing I never liked.
    Unfortunately I can’t enter the competition.

  22. Valerie Giaconi says

    B) Travel
    I love beetroot!
    When I first arrived in London I boarded with a lovely family. The wife’s family were of Polish descent so we always had Borscht on Christmas Eve…happy memories…

  23. says

    I had a gorgeous dish of roasted beetroot served as a salad, a mix of the red and golden which made a great contrast.
    The answer is Travel.

  24. says

    Yes, indeed. Roasted beetroots are wonderful.
    This fall, we were given some golden beets from a friend’s garden. They are a little milder in flavour than the red beets. And really pretty!
    One of my favourite ways to cook beets is to stir-fry them in olive oil with fennel seed, brown mustard seeds, a few dried apricots, onion and/or garlic and a splash of cider vinegar. And if we have them I love to add chopped beet greens in the last few minutes of frying. I toss this all with penne and then top with coarsely crumbled goat’s cheese or blue cheese. Drizzling a little olive oil flavoured with Meyer lemon is nice touch too.
    (I can certainly identify with your horror of a strongly flavoured or coloured sauce leaking over onto other parts of the plate. My personal horror is anything that shudders or oozes on the plate – soft eggs…. brrrrrrrr.)

  25. says

    I got so carried away with drooling about borscht, etc, that I forgot to moan that I can’t enter the contest. (Unless. Unless… might Canada still be considered part of the UK? The queen is still on our money.)
    Interesting that the AmEx Gold Travel (there, I managed to insert the bonus word…) Card says that the points will never expire. Card holders would be well-advised to keep a copy of that promise. I just received a letter from Aeroplan telling me that my points will expire. I’ve been racking up purchases on my Visa AeroGold so we could fly to Europe on points. So much for that. I won’t have enough points before most of them expire next year. RATS!!!
    I think I’ll go to the kitchen and make some borscht. I need comforting.

  26. tegan king says

    Have to admit I love pickled beetroot! No aussie bbq is complete without!
    Fantastic borscht recipe though…. look forward to giving it a go.
    re: comp…. I pick TRAVEL!

  27. says

    I’d say the answer is… TRAVEL 😉
    I’ve never quite understood the appeal of beetroot, but I’m slowly warming to it. A colleague of mine made us all a Polish beetroot broth with some kind of tortellini-like dumpling in it – delicious!

  28. Rhys says

    I would have to say that the answer is “Travel”
    I love beetroot but have the problem that the other half will not eat them! It drives me crazy, I have tried a lot of different ways of preparing them and I will be sure to give this one a go! Any other ideas are more than welcome.
    I have always wanted to make a beetroot cake!

  29. Vix says

    I’d say ‘Travel’. I’m not a big fan of beetroot but I will eat it in burgers (Aussie style!) and in potato salad where the beetroot juice turns it a pretty pink.

  30. says

    I think you just described me when it comes to beets. I was raised on jarred kosher borscht and hated it! Not to mention those pickled beets. Both were a staple of Russian Jewish homes and cooking and I avoided them like the plague. I started to like Borscht when my brother served me a bowl of his homemade! Aha! I recently was served a bowl of borscht in Oman, of all places, and it may have been one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten! Yours looks fantastic! Yum! And travel?! Although winning tickets FROM London when I just want to fly TO London doesn’t make a lot of sense…

  31. says

    Borscht always reminds me of my Gran. She ate it because she thought it was terribly exotic. Must try your recipe.
    Would love to win some flights. That would be an excellent early Christmas present! The answer is b) travel.

  32. says

    I love beetroot in any form and spookily am writing this with 3 beets roasting in the oven! Looks like soup will be on the menu this week now, love borscht.
    Lovely photos as always Jeanne.
    And ‘Travel’ would be my answer

  33. Flo Foxes says

    A Travel Card that Knows no boundaries :-)))
    B) TRAVEL :-)
    ohh and yum Borscht ..have not had that in years, gorgeous served with a tiny dollop of soured cream on top and some fresh coriander leaves … >>> she syas hopping of inspired to cook :-)
    thanks for the chance to play