Christmas Eve Borscht Soup (barszcz wigiljny in Polish) is a traditional Polish soup, served on Christmas Eve Supper. The Christmas Eve Supper (Wigilia) can last for hours and consists mostly of 12 dishes, starting with clear red Borscht. This beet soup is most often served with uszka – mushroom-filled tiny pierogi. It’s traditionally made using beet kvass (a liquid left from fermenting beets). Although it is a very simple soup – it´s completely clear and vegetarian – it´s delightfully sweet and sour and really flavorful!
Polish Christmas Eve Borscht
According to the tradition, all dishes served at Christmas Eve Supper must be meatless and so is this Borscht.
Don’t confuse this soup with Polish everyday borscht, which is made with chopped beetroot pieces, and sometimes mashed potatoes. We also often eat a very hearty borscht which is more popular abroad – with chunks of meat, beets, vegetables, and a dollop of sour cream on top. It´s called Ukrainian borscht in Poland and it´s very popular. Christmas Eve borscht is something totally different – clear, served with uszka dumplings, it´s slightly sweet and sour, really delicious!
This soup is called red borscht (barszcz czerwony) because we also have a white borscht (barszcz bialy), which is not made with beets.
Here´s what you need to make this soup:
- Basic beet soup ingredients: beets, soup vegetables – the same you’ll need to make a simple vegetable broth (carrots, leek, parsley root, celeriac/or celery, onion, garlic). I also added a half of an apple – it adds a little sweetness to the soup.
- Spices – traditional spices like bay leaves, allspice berries, marjoram, and additional spices that works in my opinion very well here – just 1 clove and 1/2 of star anise. The addition of clove and star anise is optional and not very traditional, but it’s worth adding them. Their aroma works well with the beetroots, but don’t worry, the soup does not taste ‘spiced’.
- Beet kvass – this is liquid leftover from pickling beets It’s very easy to make and will take you only 5 minutes, but you need to wait a minimum of 6 days until the kvass is ready. You just need to cut the beets into chunks, cover with salted water, add spices and leave for a couple of days to ferment. It adds a naturally sour, sharp, and deep beet flavor to the soup. Many Polish people use the beet kvass not only to make beet soup but also simply drink it, as it’s extremely healthy, like every other fermented food (not pickled, meaning mixed with vinegar, but naturally fermented) like sauerkraut or cucumbers in brine which are used to make Polish dill pickle soup.
- Mushroom cooking water (leftover from uszka recipe). It adds a deep ‘meaty’ and earthy taste to the soup. The mushroom flavor it´s not very noticeable.
- If you don’t have time to make beet kvass (as mentioned above it’s quick to make but it needs to ferment for a minimum of 6 days) I developed an alternative preparation method, that also produces amazing borscht. This is not an authentic preparation method but rather my creation, that works extremely well. My secret ingredient is sauerkraut and mushroom cooking water (leftover from the sauerkraut and mushroom pierogi recipe). The soup won’t taste like sauerkraut though. It just adds natural pleasant sourness to the soup, just like beet kvass does. Please make sure to use real sauerkraut to make this or it won´t have the same effect (real sauerkraut means naturally fermented with just salt and not mixed with vinegar).
- Different vinegar types and lemon juice – borscht soup is naturally sweet (a lot of beets are used and a 1/2 of apple) so we need to add acidity to balance this sweetness. Both beet kvass and sauerkraut cooking water add sourness, but it’s not enough. Traditionally a very sharp 10% spirit vinegar is used, which is not easy for me to buy where I live now, so I’m using different kinds of vinegar: apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, and lemon juice. All three are needed, each one adds a different kind of flavor. Rice vinegar is neutral in flavor, apple cider vinegar is sweet (if you only use this vinegar the soup will be too sweet and taste too much of apples) and lemon juice has a nice citrus refreshing flavor (the same – if you only use lemon juice it will be too citrusy and lemony).
How to make it step by step
This soup must be made a day ahead! It’s based on vegetable broth so it takes time to release a lot of flavor from the vegetables. I leave them in the broth overnight then strain and season on the next day.
STEP 1: On the first day: Wash all the soup vegetables and beets. Peel carrots, celeriac, parsley roots and beets (use gloves!), cut into 3-4 cm / 1-½ inch pieces. Cut the leek in half, rinse thoroughly. Fire roast the onion on a gas burner or cut in half, put cut-side down in a small pot, heat over high heat until it’s dark in color.
STEP 2: Add all the vegetables into a large pot, add half an apple (with peel), and peeled garlic cloves.
STEP 3: Pour 2 liters / quarts of cold water to the pot. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil over very low heat, it should take about 20-30 minutes.
STEP 4: When the broth is boiling, add the peppercorns, bay leaves, allspice, clove, star anise and a teaspoon of salt. Simmer over a very low heat, covered, for about 2 hours. Leave to cool, then put in the fridge overnight, don’t strain the vegetables!
STEP 5: Strain and discard the vegetables and spices.
SEASON THE SOUP, either with:
-> sauerkraut and mushroom cooking water from this recipe for sauerkraut and mushroom pierogi OR
I would advise to add these ingredients gradually to make sure the flavor is not too strong for you.
Heat the borscht until very warm. Then season the soup with apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar, and lemon juice (a little at a time) until nicely sweet and sour. If you overdo it with vinegar or the soup is not sweet enough, you can add some powdered sugar. Add the marjoram and at the end, season with salt and pepper to taste.
The vinegar amount may vary depending on how sour your beet kvass or sauerkraut water are. Beet kvass is more sour the longer it sits.
STEP 6: Serve warm with the uszka dumplings.
What to serve it with
- uszka – add them to the soup
- kulebiak – yeast buns or puff pastry hand pies filled with sauerkraut and mushroom filling
- krokiety – crepes filled with sauerkraut and mushroom fill, rolled up, breaded, and pan-fried
Other Polish dishes that are served for Christmas Eve:
- Herring salad with potatoes, eggs, cucumbers in brine and apples
- Fish with savory gingerbread sauce (Carp in old Polish gray sauce)
- Nut roll with chocolate
- Sauerkraut and mushroom pierogi recipe
More Polish beet soup recipes
- I also have another Polish beet soup recipe on my website – beet greens soup (botwinka) made with whole young beets with their stems and leaves attached. A must-try in spring!
- You may also want to try an everyday Polish beet soup (barszcz czerwony) – it’s served with mashed potatoes and onion bacon topping.
- This is another version of this soup, without the potatoes and cream: simple beet soup.
- Don’t confuse this recipe with Ukrainian-style borscht – this type of borscht is filled with vegetable chunks, beans, and beef and served with a dollop of sour cream on top. This type of borscht is also very popular in Poland but it’s simply a different recipe.
Did you make this recipe? RATE THE RECIPE or tell me in the COMMENTS how you liked it! You can also add a photo of your dish. It would make me very happy and will help other readers. Thank you!!
Polish Christmas Eve Borscht Recipe (Barszcz Wigilijny) – VIDEO
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for the base of the soup:
- soup vegetables: 2 carrots, a piece of leek (white part), a piece of celeriac/or 1/2 celery stalk, ½ parsley root, 2 sprigs parsley leaves
- 2.2 lbs beets (1kg)
- ½ apple sweet variety
- 1 medium onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 10 black peppercorns
- 3 allspice berries
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 clove
- ½ star anise
- 2 qt water (2 liters)
additionally (if using beet kvass):
- 2 cups (480ml) beet kvass
- 1 cup mushroom cooking water from the uszka recipe
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
- salt and black pepper to taste
- Wash all the soup vegetables and beets. Peel carrots, celeriac/celery, parsley roots and beets (use gloves!), cut into 3-4 cm / 1-½ inch pieces. Cut the leek in half, rinse thoroughly. Fire roast the onion on a gas burner or cut in half, put the cut-side down in a small pot, heat over high heat until it's dark in color.
- Add all the vegetables into a large pot, add half an apple (with peel), peeled garlic cloves, pour in 2 quarts (8 cups or 2liters) cold water.
- Cover with a lid and bring to a boil over very low heat, it should take about 20-30 minutes.
- When the broth is boiling, add the peppercorns, bay leaves, allspice, clove, star anise and a teaspoon of salt. Simmer over a very low heat, covered, for about 2 hours.
- Leave to cool, then put in the fridge overnight, don’t strain the vegetables!
On the second day:
- Strain and discard the vegetables and spices.
- Heat the borscht until very warm.
- Season with apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar and lemon juice (a little at a time) until nicely sweet and sour. Try to season it to your taste. If you overdo it with vinegar or the soup is not sweet enough, you can add some powdered sugar. Add the marjoram and at the end, season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm with uszka dumplings.
- 1 cup sauerkraut and mushroom cooking water (leftover from the sauerkraut and mushroom pierogi recipe)
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
- salt and black pepper to taste.
- Add the sauerkraut and mushroom cooking water, but not all of it at first. Add a little and make sure that the aroma is not too strong, then you can add more.
- Heat the borscht until very warm.
Season with apple cider vinegar, rice vinegar and lemon juice (a little at a time) until nicely sweet and sour. If you overdo it with the vinegar or the soup is not sweet enough, you can add some powdered sugar. Try to season the soup with vinegar to your taste. Your sauerkraut and mushroom cooking water can be less or more sour than mine. Add the marjoram and at the end, season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve warm with uszka dumplings and enjoy!
- Please only use the sauerkraut and mushroom cooking water to make this recipe if you´ve used real sauerkraut to make it (meaning: sauerkraut that is naturally fermented with salt and not just mixed with vinegar).