Beet Borsch

beet borsch

beet borsch

Winter 2009 Recipe

Contributed by Edible Communities

Edible Iowa River Valley
Wendy Wasserman

Beet borsch, one of my grandmother’s signature dishes, came straight from her Russian roots into my father’s heart. He loved the stuff. So, when the weather got chilly, my grandmother went into borscht overdrive. She always made the soup in her own kitchen, and always alone. The recipe seemed to be shrouded in secrecy. Even my father, who was a pretty good cook and a quick culinary study, couldn’t figure it out.

One day, my father finally sat his mother down to crack the borsch code. After some lengthy interpretation and negotiations, my father wrested a recipe out of her, which was eventually handed down to me.

I’ve been toting around the recipe, with reverence, for about two decades. With Iowa’s beet bounty in hand, I finally mustered up enough courage to try it. Things didn’t go so well however. I had some problems reading the recipe off the scrappy paper, finding the right cut of meat, and getting the lima beans prepped. Nor am I sure that my grandmother wasn’t tricking my father when revealing the proportions. But the beets were fresh and flavorful, and brought my Russian heritage a little bit closer to my current Iowan life.

This is what remains of my Grandmother’s recipe. Use at your own risk. And if you have better borsch brew, send it to us at

  • 3/4 pound beef short ribs (flanken), each strip cut in half
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 medium carrot, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup lima beans (soaked in water overnight), optional
  • 2 quarts water
  • 5 medium beets (about 2 pounds), peeled
  • 1 medium apple, peeled, quartered, cored and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus more if needed
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more if needed
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more if needed
  • Sour cream for garnish

1. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, place the short ribs in a single layer and add the onion, carrot, lima beans (if using), and the water, making sure the short ribs are completely submerged (add more water if necessary). Bring to a boil, partially cover the pot with the lid, lower the heat, and simmer for 1 hour, occasionally skimming scum from the surface of the liquid.

2. Add the whole beets, bring back up to a boil, partially cover the pot, reduce the heat, and boil gently until the beets are crisp-tender when pierced with a paring knife, about 30 minutes. Turn off the heat.

3. Remove the beets and place them on a plate to cool slightly for 15 minutes. Grate the beets using a food processor or a box grater. Return the grated beets to the pot and stir in the apple slices, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil, cover the pot, reduce the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. (Add water as needed if borsch is too thick.)

4. Remove the short ribs and any loose bones from the pot. Separate the meat from the bones and membrane; discard the bones and membrane. Shred or cut the meat into bite-sized pieces, and return the meat to the pot.

5. Stir in the lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Serve hot, with an optional dollop of sour cream.

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