cold beet soup

Lithuanian Saltibarsciai (Cold Beet Soup)

With an intense pink color, this soup is a refreshing dish, often served during the warm summer months.

Saltibarsciai (shalt-eh-barsh-chay) is a cold version of the well-known and loved borscht; (red beet soup) found throughout Eastern Europe including Lithuania, Poland (known there as “Chlodnik“), Ukraine, and Russia. This soup is a combination of beets and cucumbers and calls for kefir (kefyras in Lithuanian) although some recipes use sour cream, yogurt, or buttermilk instead of the traditional kefir.

Although there was a time when the ability to purchase kefir in the US was limited, that is not so today; it can be purchased in almost all major chain or gourmet grocery or health food stores. There are flavors such as vanilla or strawberry on the market, but for this purpose, you want PLAIN kefir.

What is kefir?

Kefir or kephir, is a fermented milk drink similar to a thin yogurt that is made from kefir grains, a specific type of mesophilic symbiotic culture (think a cross between yogurt and buttermilk). The drink originated in the North Caucasus, Eastern Europe and Russia, where it is prepared by inoculating cow, goat, or sheep milk with kefir grains. Kefir products contain nutrients in varying amounts from negligible to significant, including dietary mineralsvitaminsessential amino acids, and conjugated linoleic acid. (Source:

Keeping with tradition

It is traditional to serve this cold soup with hot boiled potatoes served on a separate plate on the side; some cooks use plain potatoes, others saute some bacon and a chopped onion and pour this over the potatoes, even others boil then fry the potatoes. A tip from a Lithuanian friend: it you want the fried potato taste, but not the work, serve the soup with your favorite potato chips!

The soup is usually garnished with hard-cooked eggs, either chopped, sliced, or quartered which are added to the bowl just before serving or placed on the table to allow each diner to add the amount they want to their soup.

Saltibarsciai, is a quick, easy meal for hot days when you don’t feel like being tied for hours to a stuffy kitchen. It is easily prepared it in advance; keep it chilled in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

To make this recipe even easier, it uses jarred/canned beets meaning you can avoid the added step of cooking and cleaning beets. Of course, if you prefer, cooking your own fresh is always an option. If you do, make sure you reserve some of the cooking liquid for use in the soup if desired.

A serving tip: add a few ice cubes to the saltibarsciai in the bowl right before you serve so it’s icy cold

Lithuanian Saltibarsciai (Cold Beet Soup)

Recipe by Lori Fogg, A Coalcracker In The KitchenCourse: RecipesCuisine: Soups, EntreesDifficulty: Easy

A cold version borscht (red beet soup), it is a combination of beets, cucumbers and kefir.


  • 1 – 8 to 9 inch English cucumber (the kind that are wrapped in plastic in the grocery store), chopped or shredded

  • 3 medium-sized scallions, sliced thin, white and green parts

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 4 cups (1 quart) kefir, plain

  • A cup or so of plain OR pickled beets, julienned or shredded, reserve the juice (pickled jarred are available in most grocery stores and add an additional flavor profile.)

  • A little whole milk to thin the soup, if desired.

  • Chopped fresh dill, to taste

  • 2 or 3 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and diced, sliced, or quartered

  • Hot peeled and boiled potatoes in the quantity you desire when ready to serve

  • OPTIONAL Sour cream for garnish for the soup.


  • Clean and thinly slice the scallions, place in a large bowl. Finely cube or shred the cucumber; place in the bowl with the scallions. Chop the fresh dill and add it to the bowl. Sprinkle with the salt and mix the ingredients together well.
  • Add the kefir and stir until blended. Add the shredded beets to the bowl and stir well. A little beet juice from the can may be added to intensify the color, if desired. Add a little whole milk to thin the soup if desired.
  • Refrigerate the soup until ready to serve; it should be well-chilled.
  • When ready to serve
  • Boil some peeled whole or large cubed potatoes in well salted water until fork tender. Remove from heat and drain well. Place on a platter; slightly break up whole potatoes.
  • Pour some soup into a bowl. Add a piece of egg or sprinkling of chopped egg on top. Serve some hot boiled potatoes on the side. Many people add a little egg and potato to the soup and have some with every spoonful of soup.