Golden borscht with gefilte fish (Photo/Faith Kramer)
Golden borscht with gefilte fish (Photo/Faith Kramer)

Teaming up 2 old favorites: borscht and gefilte fish

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A leap year on the Hebrew calendar occurs seven times every 19 years, and when it does, an extra month of Adar gets added. Through March 3 we will be in Adar I, and then comes Adar II through April 1 — and each is associated with joy, luck, good fortune … and fish!

Starring in the role of the latter in this borscht recipe is none other than gefilte fish straight from the jar. These renowned fish cakes shine in their role as ready-made dumplings, and you can add horseradish to the soup for that familiar zing. Moreover, the soup’s golden color portends good luck and fortune.

The borscht is flavored with hawaij, a Yemeni spice mix for soup available in some specialty markets and online. Substitute curry powder for a similar taste. And for another take on fish soup for Adar, check out my previous column at

Golden Borscht with Gefilte Fish

Serves 8 to 10 as a main course

  • 2½ lbs. golden/yellow beets (trimmed weight; see notes)
  • 2 (24 oz.) jars of gefilte fish with liquid, room temperature (see notes)
  • 2 cups thinly sliced carrots
  • 2 cups chopped fennel bulb (reserve fronds) or celery
  • 1 Tbs. minced fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbs. sugar plus more if needed
  • 2 tsp. hawaij or curry powder
  • 1½ tsp. salt or to taste
  • ½ tsp. ground black pepper or to taste
  • 3 cups Yukon gold, red or new potato chunks (cut into 1-inch pieces, peeling optional)
  • 4 cups chopped cabbage (cut into ½-inch pieces)
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar plus more if needed
  • Garnishes (see below)

Scrub beets well, removing all dirt and debris. Cut off roots and any remaining stem and greens. Place beets in a 7-quart or larger pot or Dutch oven. Cover with water. Cover with lid. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower heat and simmer for about 1 hour (timing will vary), or until a fork can slide halfway through before meeting resistance. Remove beets, but reserve cooking liquid. Let beets rest until cool enough to handle. Remove skins by rubbing off with fingers or scraping with a spoon. Cut the beets into ½-inch pieces and set aside.

Measure the reserved cooking liquid. If necessary, add water until you have 8 cups. Return to pot. Remove gefilte fish from jars and set aside. Pour liquid from the jars into measuring cup. There should be 4 cups. If not, add water to compensate. Pour into the pot with beet liquid. Cover and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Lower heat to simmer. Stir in carrots, fennel, ginger, sugar, hawaij (a Yemeni spice mix for soup), salt and pepper. Simmer covered 5 minutes. Add potato pieces, cabbage and reserved beet chunks. Adjust heat if needed to keep at a simmer. Simmer covered 30 to 45 minutes until beets are tender.

Cut gefilte fish pieces in half vertically. Gently stir into soup. Simmer for 5 minutes or until fish is heated through. Taste and add salt and or pepper as needed. Turn off heat. Stir in vinegar. Taste. It should have a pleasant sweet-sour flavor. Add sugar or vinegar as needed. Ladle into bowls and garnish as desired. Serve the Yemeni hot sauce z’hug (see my recipe here) or horseradish on the side.

Garnishes (select one or many): Top with chopped dill, parsley and/or the reserved fennel fronds or leaves. Sprinkle with grated lemon zest. Top with dollops of dairy or nondairy sour cream or yogurt. Top with sautéed chopped beet greens, chard or kale. Drizzle with tahini sauce.

Notes: About 6 large beets come to about 2½ lbs. trimmed (without greens). Red or orange beets are a good substitute, but the soup’s color will be affected. Use plastic gloves to avoid staining hands. Do not use gefilte fish labeled “sweet.” Recipe divides well if you want only 4 to 5 servings.

Make in advance: Halt the recipe after adding potato pieces, cabbage and beet chunks. Store in refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat and resume the recipe where gefilte fish pieces get cut and added into the soup.

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is Contact her at [email protected].