Ever since I made sauerkraut a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking about using it in a borscht. I had my mind set on the more traditional beef version, but bad planning and an overload of beets languishing in the fridge made me go down the veg route. I was skeptical at first; just grated vegetables and no meat sounded bland and boring. And the addition of beetroot to this mix sounded downright strange. I was afraid it would be too sweet with no balance of flavour.
The sauerkraut is where it’s at. It really makes this dish. Salty, sour, and deliciously pungent, it’s crucial to get some in here to counter the earthy sweetness of the beets. I added a big handful into the pot whilst cooking the vegetables, and some more while blending the soup. As is obvious, I seem to have a senseless love affair with all things sour (much to the dismay of my husband sometimes, especially with my yogurt making).
The quantity of sauerkraut here is largely dependent on how sour or sweet you would like your soup to be and also how pungent your sauerkraut is, so I recommend adding a little at a time and adjusting as you go.
Borscht as we know it is predominantly made using beef or pork or a combination of the two with a medley of onions, cabbage, and beets at its base. Although this is the most ubiquitous version found in most Eastern European countries, there are other regional variants: some parts of Northern Ukraine substitute mutton or goat for beef and pork, while the most popular Lithuanian borscht is usually blended with sour cream and served chilled. What is also popular is a green borscht—without beets—that uses sorrel leaves for its distinctive tartness.
Also, although sauerkraut (and/or its pickling juices) is common enough in a borscht, fermented beets are preferred amongst purists; thinly sliced and covered with lukewarm water and left out for a few days, the beets start to sour and impart a pungent smell. Very often, it gets mouldy on the surface too. If you’re not into that kind of thing, and prefer to leave the fermented foods out entirely, a splash of lime juice or vinegar is a good alternative.