Lithuanian chilled beet soup buoys spirits

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Chilled beet soup with boiled potatoes on the side

Culinary researcher Asami Kuchio, who is also a photo essayist, creates recipes inspired by dishes she comes across while traveling overseas.

In Lithuania she found the perfect dish: chilled beet soup. Its vivid pinkish-magenta hue and refreshing taste are sure to boost spirits.

Lithuania is a Baltic Sea country filled with forests and lakes.

Called Saltibarsciai, the soup is a mixture of beets and kefir — a beverage of fermented cow’s milk — as well as boiled eggs and herbs.

“It’s a local Lithuanian dish often served at restaurants and at home,” Kuchio said. “This is a good soup for the coming season.”

Kefir is made by adding yeast and lactic acid bacteria to milk and fermenting it, and has a milder taste than yogurt.

In stores, it is often labeled as “kefir yogurt.” However, it can be made at home by adding kefir grains to milk and leaving the mixture for a day. Unsweetened yogurt can be used as a substitute for kefir, but it’s better to add fresh cream because yogurt is too sour.

Boiling a beet with the skin intact helps keep its color. Store-bought vacuum-packed beets can be used, too. The key to this recipe is to soak half a julienned beet in apple juice.

“I was taught by Lithuanians this step would bring about a beautiful color,” Kuchio said.

The thickness of kefir can be adjusted with water as desired. The soup should be seasoned with salt and pepper before the beet, green onion, dill, cucumber and boiled egg are added. The soup is then garnished with chopped boiled egg and dill sprinkled on top. Boiled potatoes are served on the side.

Chilled beet soup

Ingredients (Serves 3 to 4):

  • 1 beet (300 grams)
  • 150 ml apple juice
  • 1 cucumber
  • 6 green onions
  • 1 boiled egg
  • 1 pack dill (15 grams)
  • 800 ml kefir
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Boiled potatoes as desired


1. Boil the beet in a pot with the skin intact for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Insert a skewer into the beet to check the softness. Keep it in the pot to cool. After cooling, peel the skin and julienne the beet, soak half of it in apple juice and discard the juice when the beet is a bright-red color.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The beet juice should be a bright-red color.

2. Julienne the cucumber and cut the green onions into 1-centimeter lengths. Chop the dill and boiled egg into small pieces, and set aside a portion of each for the garnish. Season the kefir with 1 teaspoon of salt and pinches of pepper, and mix.

3. Put the green onion and dill in a bowl, sprinkle a pinch of salt, and rub by hand to bring out the aromas.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Rub the green onion and dill by hand to bring out their aromas.

4. Mix the beet, kefir, green onion, dill, cucumber and boiled egg in a large bowl and chill in the refrigerator.

5. Pour into a soup bowl, and top with the remaining boiled egg and dill. Serve with boiled potatoes on the side.

This is a hearty soup geared for “eating” rather than “sipping.” The beet’s subtle sweetness and the dill’s refreshing scent spread throughout the mouth. The soup has a rich taste, but also leaves a refreshing aftertaste. Having this soup for breakfast is a great way to start the day.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Boiled potatoes with an herb butter sauce

Perfect potato garnish

Potatoes are a common feature in Lithuanian food.

“Spuds are so popular that they’re called the second staple food, after black bread,” Kuchio said, adding that potatoes served with an herb butter sauce are perfect for garnishing meat dishes.

Toss 200 grams of boiled potatoes with 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 teaspoon of chopped dill and pinches of salt.

“Adding grated garlic really spruces up this dish,” she said.