Thursday, December 17, 2015

Christmas Eve Barszcz (Polish Beet Soup)

Our Polish Christmas Eve celebration wouldn't be the same without a cup of steaming barszcz to sip slowly, a prelude to the feast that follows. There are many, many recipes for beet barszcz, with my favourite a summer variation brimming with garden fresh vegetables, but there's something special about the clear ruby liquid served at Christmas that's rich and savoury, with the earthy sweetness of beets and a tangy kick to finish.
My mum made the most delicious version with her flavourful homemade chicken-beef broth that had simmered for hours as its base. My version is much quicker, uses a few shortcuts to cut down on time and includes a few tricks to boost the flavour.
It starts with store-bought vegetable stock. (shortcut #1). You can use beef or chicken stock but Christmas Eve is traditionally a meatless celebration for us. Shortcut #2 is store-bought cooked beets. 
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To boost the flavour, a trio of vegetables - onions, celery and carrots - cooked until golden, add richness, and dried mushrooms and their soaking liquid add meaty flavour without the meat. Since these ingredients are strained out of the soup, I use a mini food processor to do the work of chopping them.

Barszcz Czysty Czerwony
(Clear Beet Soup)
serves 6-8
14g dried mushrooms (I use mixed wild forest)
240ml boiling water
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
900ml vegetable stock
500g cooked beets, about 4 medium, coarsely grated
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp lemon juice, plus more to taste 
chopped dill or parsley (optional)
plain yogurt (optional)
uszka (optional)

Place the mushrooms in a small bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Let them soak for 30 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the liquid with a slotted spoon, chop them and set them aside. Pour the soaking liquid through a fine mesh strainer to remove the sediment and set it aside.

While the mushrooms are soaking, put the olive oil and chopped onion into a medium-sized pot on medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion has softened and turned a pale gold colour, about 6-8 minutes. Add the celery and carrots to the pot and cook an additional minute or two. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.

Add the stock, reserved mushrooms and their soaking liquid, grated beets, bay leaf and 1/8 tsp each of salt and pepper to the pot. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes, adjusting the heat to maintain a simmer. 

Pour the soup through a sieve or strainer into a bowl pressing against the solids to release any remaining liquid. Season the strained soup with salt and pepper to taste and add the lemon juice. The soup can be made ahead, covered and refrigerated for 24 hours.

When ready to serve, return the soup to the pot and reheat it gently on medium-low heat. Taste just before serving to adjust the lemon juice - its intensity changes with time, heat etc... Ladle into cups and garnish with chopped parsley or dill if desired.

This soup is also fantastic chilled with a little plain yogurt or sour cream stirred in:
or served hot as a soup course with wild mushroom-filled dumplings, uszka (ears):

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