Last night was Ukrainian Christmas eve and my family always celebrates. It's been my adopted role to make the meatless borscht since there is a lent where we can't have meat or dairy. The hard part is getting the deep flavour without using meat.
First step was creating a vegetable stock. If I just threw a mirepoix (celery, onion, carrot) into a pot, I wouldn't get the deep flavour possible if I roasted them first. I put a large dice on 5 med. carrots, 1/2 stalk of celery, 3 large onions, 2 red peppers, 1 green pepper and chopped the top off of 2 heads of garlic to roast them all. You could use other root vegetables (parsnip, sweet potato) or any other vegetable you want, as long as you like the flavour.
Drizzle with any oil you'd like and add pepper. I don't recommend salting because you'll be putting this all into water and when you eventually reduce it, the strength of the taste of salt will increase. Put them into a 350 degree oven and let 'em get nice and brown.
This is what it should start looking like. Now what I did to add more depth (and to use up produce in the fridge which would have gone bad) is put a bit of tomato sauce on about 5 mins before pulling it from the oven. The tomato works well in the end product of the soup, and again, if you don't like it, leave it out. I roasted that all up for another 5 and put it all into a pot with 6L COLD
water. I also added a seasoning to the water which is called a bouquet garni which is supposed to be in cheesecloth but, it's a rustic soup so I didn't bother. In the bouquet garni is bay leaves, peppercorns, thyme, and some parsely stems.
Bring to a boil and let it simmer for no longer than 45 mins.
I strained the stock and kept it simmering until I reduced the total volume by a third (i.e. I had 6L and I wanted 4L). This concentrates the flavour you have.
Step 2, the soup
Basic components of borscht are basically beets, cabbage, mushrooms and potatoes. I took 5 med. beets, peeled and shredded them. You could shred 1/2 a head of cabbage but what I did, since I love my knife so much,
a 'chiffonade' of sorts then cut them perpendicular to the original cut,
Potatoes, I personally like nice cubes with a tiny bit of bite. I cut them into (very roughly) 1/2" x 1/2" x 1/2" cubes.
So once you've reduced your stock and have it at a simmer, the shredded beets go in first. Once you add the beets, for them to retain their red colour, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice/any acid [vinnegar, cider vinegar, lime, orange...]. Five to ten mins later the cabbage and another 5-10 later the potatoes.
At this point, I had forgotten to add the mushrooms so I wanted to put a twist on it. I took 1/2 and onion and chopped up about a dozen button mushrooms and sweated that down [Oil a pot, add onions and mushrooms sautee for a short time then cover and rest on low heat]. I took some bread that I had made and put a nice toast on it, almost to the point of buring but a real brown on it. I took my food processor and made bread crumbs from that. Borscht is usually served with rye bread so I added about 1 teaspoon caraway seeds to the processor and blended again. After about 20 mins of sweating [the mushrooms, not me. Can't stand the heat? Get outa the kitchen], I took the mushrooms and blended that all with the bread crumbs and caraway seeds. I got a rough puree out of it and just added it to the soup.
Right before serving, season with salt (you should be able to taste the soup, not the salt), and add a pinch of fresh/frozen dill. If you wanted to add more kick, sour cream/creme fraiche is added right before serving just to give it some tang. However, dairy wasn't allowed so I couldn't do that.
Sorry there's no pictures of the finished product >.<