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Polish Red Borscht Barszcz Czerwony Recipe

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red borscht barszcz czerwony z uszkami

The traditional Polish Christmas soup recipe involves making a beetroot starter and using it in the soup. This fermented soup is quite healthy and is often eaten on Christmas Eve with the uszka dumplings! 

What Is The Polish Christmas Borscht?

Often referred to as wigilijny barszcz czerwony, the Polish red borscht is another soup that’s traditionally served on Christmas Eve. Tasty and delicious, the soup is a little sour, a little sweet, and a little tangy. 

It’s made using Zakwas Buraczany, a beetroot sourdough starter. The borscht can be served plain, or with the popular uszka dumplings that are stuffed with mushrooms and called little ears.

The dish is highly nutritious, low-calorie, and contains many vitamins that make people believe in its healing properties. It’s also popular as a dish in the treatment of anemia. 

So Who Invented The Red Borscht? And When Was The Polish Red Borscht invented?  

Soups in general have been around for centuries, but they’re first mentioned in Polish culinary history in the 13th century. Soups were considered a filling meal for people of all classes. 

The first recorded recipe for borscht dates back to 1580. Originally made by the Slavs, this sour-tasting soup had reached Poland by the 16th century. First made with common hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) which grows wild in Europe and Asia, it led to the creation of the phrase ‘tani jak barszcz’ or ‘cheap as borscht’.

There are many versions of borscht – white, red, hot, cold, and more. The beetroot version of borscht appeared in cookbooks around 1735. 

So history doesn’t tell us exactly when the Polish Christmas borscht version came into existence, but it has been around since the Medieval ages, albeit in a different format. Back then, instead of being served with dumplings, the barszcz czerwony recipe was made with groats, fish, or eggs. 

Polish barszcz czerwony in a white bowl.
barszcz czerwony is an integral part of every Christmas meal!

How To Make Barszcz Czerwony Recipe

Step I – Prepare the Beetroot Sourdough [Zakwas Buraczany] A Week Earlier

Peel and dice the beetroots, but leave 1 or 2 horizontal slices aside for each jar.

Sterilize a jar and put the diced beetroot, bay leaves, and allspice berries in it. Cover with hot water with salt dissolved in it.

Beetroot pieces in a jar.
Ingredients for the zakwas buraczany in a jar

Cover this with the beetroot slices leaving some free space at the top. Leave in a cold dark place for up to a week, and the beetroot sourdough will be ready for use.

Polish beetroot starter in a glass jar.
Add slices of beetroot on top of the other sourdough ingredients

Step II – Prepare the Red Borscht [Barszcz Czerwony]

Once the sourdough is ready, throw away the allspice berries and bay leaves and separate the water from the beetroots.

Beetroot sourdough starter in a white bowl.
Beetroot sourdough starter

In a large pot, add the beetroot pieces with the other ingredients, cover with water and cook for 40 minutes.

Drain the soup so it’s clear and add the sourdough water to it. Turn off the stove as soon as it starts to boil. Serve the Polish red borscht warm with uszka – little ear dumplings, paszteciki – sauerkraut pies, or krokiety.

Polish Christmas beetroot soup in a white bowl.
Tasty Polish Christmas beetroot soup!

Tips For Making The Perfect Polish Red Borscht

  • This soup is eaten all year round in Poland. The Christmas version requires uszka dumplings inside.
  • You can replace the dumplings with pieces of boiled potatoes or mashed potatoes. 
  • At other times of the year, you can also serve with boiled eggs or mince dumplings. 
  • For Christmas Eve, Polish food is always vegetarian. But at other times of the year, you can replace the water with chicken rosol stock.
  • If you don’t want to make the beetroot starter, there is a ready-to-use red borscht concentrate
  • If you want it sweeter, add honey.
  • If you want it sourer, add vinegar or lemon juice. 
  • Use a fine-mesh strainer or colander to drain the borscht so that the soup is very clear. Adding a few spoons of vinegar also helps to make the soup more clear!
  • Top the soup with sour cream and chopped parsley or dried marjoram before serving!

A bowl of Polish red borscht soup on a white plate.

FAQs About The Polish Christmas Soup Recipe

What To Do With The Leftover Beetroot After Straining The Soup?

You can use the leftover beetroot in a salad or as a vegetarian topping for noodles or pasta. 

Where Does The Name Borscht Come From?

The name borscht is derived from the cow parsnip or common hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium), a celery-type plant that is called borsch in Polish and was used to make the soup for a long time. 

What If I Don’t Have Time To Make The Sourdough?

Making the beetroot sourdough is not necessary. You can use a ready-to-use red borscht concentrate instead.

When Is Barszcz Czerwony Traditionally Eaten?

Red Borscht is traditionally eaten as a fasting food during Lent and Advent. It’s especially popular on Christmas Eve. However, nowadays it’s eaten almost all year round. Served warm, it’s the perfect dish for autumn and winter evenings!

Why Do People Say Borscht Has Healing Properties?

People say this because it’s full of vitamins and minerals, and is probiotic in nature while also being low-calorie. 

How Long Can I Store Borscht?

This Polish red borscht can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days or in the freezer for 2 to 3 months. Thaw and reheat before serving.   

Polish Red Borscht Barszcz Czerwony Recipe

Yield: 10

Barszcz Czerwony Polish Red Borscht Recipe

Polish Christmas beetroot soup in a white bowl.

The traditional Polish Christmas soup recipe is made with a beetroot starter. This fermented soup is quite healthy and is often eaten on Christmas Eve with the uszka dumplings! 


Beetroot Sourdough [Zakwas Buraczany]

  • 3.3 lbs (1.5 kg) of beets
  • 6 cups of purified water
  • 2 tbsps of salt
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 4 bay leaves

Red Borscht

  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsps of salt
  • 2 allspice berries
  • 1 tsp of black pepper
  • 1 tbsp of dried marjoram
  • 1 tbsp of dried lovage
  • 3 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1 onion
  • 3 tbsps of oil
  • 3 dried mushrooms


Prepare Beetroot Sourdough [Zakwas Buraczany] 5-7 Days Before

  1. Peel the beetroots.
  2. Cut off 1 big slice or 2 small slices of beet.
  3. Dice the rest of the beetroots.
  4. Dissolve salt in water. The hotter the water, the quicker your beetroot sourdough will be ready.
  5. Put the diced beetroots in a sterile jar, add allspice berries, and bay leaves, then cover them with salty water.
  6. Put one big or 2 small slices of beet on top of the water. The water should cover all the beetroots, however, they can't float. Leave 1-1.5'' of free space on top of the jar.
  7. Twist the jar and put it in the cold (max 20°C / 68°F), dark place.
  8. Wait for 5-7 days and your beetroot sourdough will be ready to use.

Cook Red Borscht [Barszcz Czerwony]

  1. When the beetroot sourdough is ready, drain it [seperate water from beets, throw away allspice berries and bay leaves].
  2. In a pot, cover the beets with fresh water. The water level should be 0.5'' (1.5cm) over the beetroots level.
  3. Add all the other ingredients for red borscht.
  4. Cook for about 40 minutes, then drain the soup, making sure it's clear.
  5. Add the remaining beetroot sourdough water to the soup and bring to boil. Don't cook red borscht, turn off the heat immediately after the soup starts boiling.
  6. Serve warm with uszka [little dumplings], paszteciki [sauerkraut pies], or krokiety.

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Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 71Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 2811mgCarbohydrates: 8gFiber: 2gSugar: 4gProtein: 1g

These data are indicative and calculated by Nutritionix

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