Polish Christmas Borscht – beetroots leaven recipe

beets leaven recipe
Polish christmas borscht

When you think of Eastern Europe cuisine you think borsch (also spelled borscht) is the flagship soup. What is borscht? How do you make it and what is so special about a beets soup? Why do Poles serve it on almost every occasion? What is the secret behind making beets delicious and how many types of borsch can you get in Polish kitchen?

There are few different kinds of Polish borscht;  sometimes borscht is thick with pieces of beet and shreds of beef, sometimes the soup blushes with sour cream, and other times it served crystal clear. I dare to say that you just can’t cook Polish food without simmering a pot of borscht. The Christmas borscht served in Poland is clear, based on beets leaven and served over a portion of Uszka.

What is borscht?

If you think that borscht is the same what a beets soup is, you are mistaken. Borscht is always based on sourdough. In the Polish kitchen, you make sourdough by adding: water from pickles or sauerkraut, beetroots leaven, rye for żurek, lemon juice, gooseberry, redcurrant or cranberry. If you want to prepare real borscht you may think few days in advance since it needs time. 

Recipe for beets leaven for a christmas borscht


Beetroot leaven borscht
BEETROOT LEAVEN for Polish Christmas Eve borscht
  • 1 kg of beetroots (2.2 lbs)
  • 5 dkg of rye bread (0,11 lbs)
  • 2 l of water (8.4 cup)

How to make beetroot  leaven for Polish borscht

  1. Choose small to medium sized beets for a better flavor. Wash the beetroot making sure all the dirt and debris is removed. Use a vegetable peeler to peel the skin off the beetroot. Chop it into thick slices.
  2. Place all the slices of the beet into a jar or stone pot. Add the boiled water that is still warm and the pieces of rye bread with the skin.
  3. Cover the jar with a linen cloth and a rubber band. Leave it somewhere in a room temperature.
  4. Stir the leaven daily. When you see a white sludge on top, remove it with a spoon.
  5. Your beetroot leaven is ready when it smells a bit like wine and tastes a bit acidic.
  6. Once it’s ready pour it to clean bottles, close it tightly and keep in cool dark place.

How to make Polish borscht


  • 1 kg of beetroots (2.2 lbs)
  • soup vegetables (carrot, parsley, celeriac etc.)
  • 0.5 l of beetroot leaven (2 cups)
  • 10 dkg of dried mushroom (0,4 cups)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 allspice seeds
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • salt, sugar, lemon juice, marjoram, black pepper 

How to make borscht

  1. Add some boiling water to the mushrooms and let it sit overnight.
  2. Wash the beetroots, peel them, cut into eight parts, pour 3 liters (12 cups) of water, add: bay leaves, allspice, garlic and mushrooms with the water.
  3. Place the pot on the cooker and set it for the lowest temperature. It should stay on the cooker till the vegetables are soft. Borscht should never boil because it will loose its red colour.
  4. Now add the beet leaven and a teaspoon of marjoram
  5. Now it’s up to your taste how much salt and black pepper. You can also add a teaspoon of sugar or lemon juice.
  6. Serve it with USZKA (translated as ‘small ears’) tiny mushroom pierogi and enjoy your Christmas Eve Dinner!

If you’d like to know how to make USZKA go to my post: Uszka for the Polish Christmas Eve