Katya makes the best Bortsch and no wonder since she was brought up in Russia. The soup is crammed with vegetables, enough to make it a vegetarian main course, though Katya tells me that traditionally it is always followed by a main course of meat or chicken with a grain such as kasha or rice, or in summer with salad. The glory of Bortsch is the vivid crimson color of the broth which leaks from the raw beets. Your hands will turn pink when grating the beets but you can bleach them with lemon juice.

Serves 8-10
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, cut in large dice
2 carrots, cut in sticks
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1-2 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
½ a medium white cabbage, thinly sliced and core discarded
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
3 liters/3 quarts veal, beef, or vegetable stock
2 medium beets (225 g/8 oz), peeled and grated
Medium can (400g/14 oz) cooked cannellini beans, drained
Bouquet garni of bay leaf, parsley stems and dill or thyme
Salt and pepper

1. Heat the oil in a large soup pot, add the onion, carrots and garlic and sauté, stirring often, until the vegetables are soft, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the stock, potatoes, cabbage and tomatoes with the bouquet garni, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Add the cabbage and simmer until wilted, 5-7 minutes.

2. Stir in the grated beets and simmer 5 minutes, the soup will turn red. Stir in the cannellini beans and bring the soup just back to a boil. Discard the bouquet garni, taste and adjust the seasoning. Bortsch is best fresh but can be reheated the following day.