Ukrainian Green Borscht (Sorrel Soup)

Submitted By:
Annette Matjucha Hovland


  • 4 - 5 lbs. chuck roast
  • 4 - 5 quarts of cold water, enough to cover the roast completely
  • 6 - 8 cups fresh sorrel, washed and chopped
  • 6 - 8 cups fresh spinach, washed and chopped
  • 2 medium leeks, chopped and washed
  • 2 - 3 scallions, chopped
  • 4 - 6 large potatoes, peeled and chopped into large pieces
  • 16 ounce bag frozen petite peas 
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Place chuck roast in a large stockpot. Cover meat completely with cold water. 
  2. Bring water to a boil. 
  3. For a clearer broth, skim off the gray foam.
  4. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer for at least two hours, until the meat is tender. 
  5. Add the potatoes and leeks. Cook until the potatoes are fork tender.
  6. Add scallions, sorrel and spinach.
  7. Add petite peas. Stir and cook until warm.

Garnish with: 

  • sour cream
  • scallions, chopped
  • sliced hardboiled eggs

Serve with a loaf of crusty bread and sweet cream butter

Describe the connection this recipe has to your family and/or heritage.


Say that word and immediately an image of a red beet soup springs almost universally to mind. This vegetable broth is so tightly woven into our image of the Ukrainian people. 

New England has its creamy clam chowder. Manhattan has its regional tomato-based version. My family serves a different borscht based on the season. 

In the fall and winter months, my grandmother and mother hauled out the 20-quart aluminum stockpot. Into its depths, they added chuck roast, potatoes, green cabbage, carrots, and purplish red beets. My mother said she could, and she sometimes did, eat this hearty soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

In the spring and early summer, the family stockpot was again filled with hunks of chuck roast and potatoes. But to celebrate the season and the abundant greens in my uncle’s garden, we added leeks, scallions, peas, spinach, and sorrel. The light green spear-shaped leaves of this little known perennial herb impart a bright, lemony flavor to this beef-based soup.

My mother was born in Ukraine in the late 1920s. By the time she was 6-years-old, she had survived scarlet fever and the Holodomor, the famine engineered by Joseph Stalin from 1932 to 1933 to force Ukrainian farmers into collectivization. 

Even with the food rationing and shortages during World War II, my grandmother managed to provide my mother and my uncle with nutritious meals by traveling long distances via train and on foot from Mykolaiv to her childhood town of Neu Danzig, a German settlement, to barter dry goods for eggs, butter and produce from small family gardens. 

When my mother immigrated to the United States in the mid-1950s, her brother, his wife and their eldest child were already living in this country. Together, they were able to secure the funds and references needed to bring their mother here a few years later. 

I moved to Iowa nearly 30 years ago. My husband and I raised two children in a town along the Mississippi River. Whenever I returned to visit my mother, she always asked what special dish she could prepare for my homecoming. In late spring, once school had ended, my answer was always green borscht. 

We would pull out the stock pot and my mother would, with gentle prompting and the familiarity of making this favorite dish, fall into retelling one of only a handful of stories from her childhood. Those memories and life lessons are cherished gifts. Today, when I visit my daughter in Los Angeles, we make green borscht - enough to share, along with stories and laughter, at a table of dear friends.