This Russian cold beetroot soup recipe makes holodnik (Холодник), ‘cold soup’, a chilled summer soup that is brilliant on a hot summer day. Sometimes called ‘summer borscht’ – that would actually be svekolnik (Свекольник) – it shares a key ingredient in beetroot and is a breeze to make. Serve with sour cream and fresh dill.
If you’re feeling the heat, make my Russian cold beetroot soup recipe for a delicious chilled soup named holodnik (Холодник), one of several notable Russian summer soups – another one of my favourites is called okroshka – and one of our best beetroot recipes.
While it’s no surprise that hearty warming soups such as borscht and shchi are Russian favourites, I often wonder how these chilled soups were adopted in a country that never gets terribly hot, not even on a Black Sea beach in the height of summer, where my baboushka had fond memories of spending her childhood summers.
Chilled soups are the best in summer, especially teamed with a summer salad. I could slurp them every day. In fact, I currently have two cold summer soups in the fridge, even though it’s ‘winter’ here. Cold soups are generally easy to make, too, as they’re not based on a meat stock, which are never pleasant cold. But I’ll tell you more about this Russian cold beetroot soup recipe in a moment.
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Here’s my Russian cold beetroot soup recipe for holodnik. Stay cool!
This Russian Cold Beetroot Soup Recipe for Holodnik, A Chilled Summer Soup
My first and middle names – ‘Lara Natasha’ – give away my Russian heritage, however, if you didn’t know that and you took a look at the contents of our fridge, it wouldn’t take long to surmise that someone in this household has Russian ancestry.
There’s sour cream, kefir, jars of gherkins, fresh dill, leftover ikra (eggplant caviar), and plastic containers filled with not one but three different soups, including two cold soups. What is it about Russians and their soups?! The same could be asked of Russians and their sour cream and dill, I guess.
Well, in winter, it goes without saying that hot soups are warming – my baboushka seemed to always have a big pot of borscht on the stove during Sydney’s colder months – and in summer they’re cooling, especially served after chilling in the fridge for a few hours. You can also add ice to them.
Russian cuisine is notable for several chilled soups, including this cold beetroot soup called holodnik, and if you like borscht you are going to love this chilled beetroot-based soup brimming with cooling cucumbers and aromatic dill. Do as the Russians do, and add a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle on even more fresh fragrant dill.
And if you do enjoy this soup – it’s definitely one for the beetroot lovers! – check out my other traditional Russian recipes for the Russian dishes I grew up eating, including potato vareniki and meat pelmeni, a Russian garden salad, beetroot potato salad, savoury pirozhki (hand pies), stuffed cabbage rolls, and kotleti, chicken meat patties.
Tips to Making This Russian Cold Beetroot Soup Recipe for Holodnik
One of my best tips to making this Russian cold beetroot soup recipe for holodnik is to roast the beetroot. You’ll see many recipes for cold beetroot soup calling for the beetroots to be boiled and I do remember enormous pots of beetroots bubbling away on my baboushka’s stove.
We picked up the tip to roasting beetroots from my uncle George, a keen home cook and vegetarian, who, like all good Russians, loves his beetroots. George wrapped his beetroots in aluminium foil, drizzled them with olive oil and sprinkled them with salt, before popping them in the oven.
We recommend you do the same. This method of roasting beetroots in aluminium foil in an oven makes for more intensely flavoured cooked beetroots and you won’t lose as many nutrients as you would by boiling the beetroots – and beetroots are packed with plenty of those.
Red beetroots have a high degree of biologically active substances, such as betalain, as well as vitamins and minerals, high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and researchers believe beetroots could play a vital role in the treatment of countless diseases.
For my cold Russian beet soup recipe you only need one large beetroot or two medium sized beetroots. This recipe will make two big bowls if you’re making a meal out of this or four medium sized bowls if you’re serving it as appetisers. So I understand why you might not want to preheat an oven and roast one lone beetroot if you could boil your beet faster in a small pot.
You can certainly boil your beetroots for this Russian cold beetroot soup recipe – and you could use canned beetroots too, which we’ve had a few readers ask about – but note that Russian soups made with tinned beetroots rarely have the intense flavour and deep colour of those made with fresh beetroots.
To test if roasted or boiled beetroots are ready, pierce them with a wooden toothpick or skewer. If they slide in easily and the beetroot feels tender – not soft – it’s ready. You could use a fork to pierce the beetroot, and, in this case, you’re going to be either grazing or shredding the beetroot, so it doesn’t really matter. But if you’re using whole beetroots for a dish, a toothpick or skewer is better as it won’t leave a row of big holes as a fork will.
Roasting and boiling beetroots in their skins is no biggie either. When the beetroots are cool, you’ll find that the skins come off easily. You can pull them off with your hands but if you want to avoid staining your hands, you can use a paper towel to rub the skins off or use a vegetable peeler or paring knife.
I’m only cooking for Terence and myself so I don’t use gloves. My hands were a little pink yesterday but after washing my hands a few times last night the beetroot stains were gone. You’ll need to julienne or grate the beetroots into small thin slices and a good box grater will do the trick.
I know that some Russian cold beetroot soup recipes call for the beetroot to be blended, but traditionally this soup had texture and I personally prefer soups to have body and not taste like smoothies or juices – otherwise I’d make a smoothie or juice and drink it out of a glass and not a bowl.
Dice your cucumbers as small as you can. I dice with Terence’s good chef’s knife, but by all means use one of those multi-function, mandolin cum vegetable chopper/dicers if you have one. You can also use it to make my Russian eggplant caviar recipe for ikra (link above).
I recommend using kefir, which I love, however, some cold Russian beet soup recipes suggest buttermilk if you can’t get hold of kefir. If you can, you can also use it in my recipe for okroshka, another wonderful cold Russian summer soup (link above).
Seasoning is always important but it’s super important in cold summer soups which can lack the intensity of flavours of warm soups. Add the salt and pepper at the end and then taste, and add more if needed.
Chilling this cold Russian beet soup before serving is essential. It just doesn’t taste the same at room temperature. And while I suggest ice cubes, if you must, ice cubes will dilute the soup so I only recommend them as a last resort.
Many cold Russian beetroot soup recipes call for big portions of ingredients, as if they’re feeding armies, and then recommend freezing soups. Anything frozen loses some of its flavour, and this is not a difficult or time-consuming soup to make. You can also be doing other things while the beetroot is roasting and the soup is chilling.
My ingredient measures for this Russian cold beetroot soup recipe should give you two big bowls of chilled beet soup, if you’re making a meal of this, four bowls if you’re dishing up appetisers, and eight to twelve bowls if you’re serving this as an amuse bouche in small glasses or shot glasses.
However you serve this Russian cold beetroot soup, don’t forget to add a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of fresh dill at the end. Some recipes also suggest hard-boiled egg halves but while this looks pretty it makes for a very filling soup – which would be fine for a meal but perhaps too much for an appetiser or amuse bouche.
Russian Cold Beetroot Soup Recipe for Holodnik
- 1 beetroot - around 270g (9.5oz), roasted, shredded
- 2 cucumbers - around 150g (5.3oz), finely diced
- 2 scallions or spring onions or green onions - finely sliced
- 500 ml water - cold
- 250 ml kefir - or buttermilk
- 2 tsp sea salt - to taste
- 1 tsp black pepper - to taste
- 2 tbsp dill - fresh
- 2 boiled eggs - optional
- Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F) degrees. Scrub the beetroot clean, slice off the top, sit it in enough aluminium foil to wrap around it, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle the salt on, and wrap the foil tight around the beetroot so it’s completely sealed.
- Roast the beetroot for 30 minutes, then check if it’s done by piercing it with a wooden toothpick or skewer. If it slides in easily and the beetroot feels tender, it’s ready. If it doesn’t, pop it back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes and check again, then pull the beetroot out to cool.
- When the beetroot is cool enough to touch, rub the skin off with paper towels or peel with a vegetable peeler or paring knife, then julienne or grate the beetroots into small thin slices into a large bowl. (Wear gloves if concerned about stained hands.)
- Dice the cucumbers, slice the scallions or green onions, roughly chop the fresh dill, and add all to the boil.
- Add the water and kefir (or buttermilk), salt and pepper, combine well, and taste. Add additional salt and pepper if necessary.
- Pop the soup in the fridge to chill. When cold, ladle into big bowls if serving for lunch for two, or smaller bowls as an appetiser for four. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and fresh dill and boiled egg halves if you like for a very filling soup.
Please do let us know if you make our Russian cold beetroot soup recipe for holodnik in the comments below, by email or on social media, as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.