Friday, February 11, 2011

For the Love of Barszcz

This article makes my heart stir. Hooray for Barszcz!! I've been homesick for the sweet slightly tart flavor of this traditional Polish soup for years and at last decided to take it upon myself to master the seemingly simple recipes I found online.  After many attempts with mediocre results I decided to bring in the big guns, a Polish cookbook and a Russian friend skilled in the arts of soup-making, and at last created a version that tasted somewhat like the Christmas Eve tradition of my childhood.  It was clear and sweet, light on sauerkraut and topped with a dollop of tangy sour cream. Years later I've adapted this recipe with chunks of pork, thick slices of potato, skipped the sour cream all together and mastered a richer, fattier consistency that's become my own Christmas meal staple.
This article perfectly captures my love affair with the soups I grew up with.  Buy a good loaf of dry rye bread, spread it with a little butter and dill, savour and enjoy.

Ukrainian Barszcz with Caraway Seed Dumplings

Note: Garnish each serving of the soup with a little sour cream and a sprinkling of dill. Kvass, a fermented beverage, is usually available at Central and Eastern European markets.

2 pounds beef short ribs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
8 cups water, more if needed
2 turnips, cut to ½-inch cubes
2 carrots, diced
1/3 cup tomato juice
3/4 cup kvass
2 cups shredded red cabbage
3 beets, peeled
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or to taste
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, beaten

1. Season the short ribs with a teaspoon of salt.
2. Heat a 5-quart heavy-bottom pot over high heat until hot. Add the olive oil, then add the short ribs, in batches, and heat until browned on each side, about 10 minutes. Remove the ribs from the pot and set aside.
3. Reduce the heat to medium-high and stir in the onions and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally and scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pot, until the onions are soft and translucent, 8 to 10 minutes.
4. Add the ribs back to the pot, along with the peppercorns and bay leaves. Add the water to cover and bring the mixture to a simmer. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, loosely cover and cook until the ribs start to become tender, about 11/2 hours.
5. Skim any foam or fat from the surface of the pot and stir in the turnips and carrots. Continue to cook until the vegetables are soft and the ribs are very tender and falling off the bone, 30 to 45 minutes more.
6. Remove the ribs from the pot and discard the bones. Slice or pull the meat into coarse, medium chunks. Return the meat to the pot.
7. Stir in the tomato juice, kvass and cabbage and bring the mixture to a gentle simmer. Using a box grater or food processor, shred the beets into fine strips and add to the pot. Add the vinegar.
8. While the soup is simmering, prepare the dumplings: In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and caraway seeds. In a separate small bowl, beat together the milk and egg. Drizzle the egg mixture over the flour and stir with a fork until it forms a stiff, sticky batter.
9. Taste the soup and season as desired with salt and pepper, then make the dumplings: Using a tablespoon, drop spoonfuls of the caraway dumpling batter into the simmering soup. Cover the pot and steam the dumplings until they are set and firm and the cabbage is tender, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
10. Spoon the borscht into bowls, making sure each serving gets at least 1 dumpling.

Stay tuned for the outcome of the variations on the classic recipe from the article.
"Beet Poetry with Borscht" from the LA Times

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Favorite Potato Leek Soup

One of my all-time favorites!  I've found that leaving the skin on the potatoes really adds something special, just make sure to scrub them well before slicing.   I also substituted corn starch mixed with warmed unsweetened soy milk for the heavy cream since lactose intolerance doesn't allow me the fatty goodness of dairy. Make sure to whisk the corn starch into gently warming soy milk, then add to the soup. Thank you Pinch my Salt!!

K’s Potato Leek Soup
3 tablespoons butter
3 leeks, thinly sliced*
1 medium or large onion, chopped
6 – 8 russet potatoes, thinly sliced**
3 1/2 cups chicken broth (or enough to barely cover potatoes)
1 cup heavy cream
salt to taste
fresh ground black pepper to taste
1) Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat then add onions and leeks. Cook, stirring, until onions are limp and just slightly brown.
2) Add sliced potatoes to saucepan then pour in enough chicken broth to just barely cover the potatoes. Continue cooking over medium heat until potatoes are tender. Using a potato masher, mash and stir potatoes until desired consistency is reached. As you mash the potatoes and the soup thickens, turn down heat and stir frequently with a large spoon to prevent scorching on the bottom.
3) Add one cup of heavy cream (or more if you desire) and salt and black pepper to taste. Cook 15 minutes more over low heat, stirring frequently, then remove from heat and serve.

Notes: *Make sure to clean leeks thoroughly and slice only the white and light green part of the leeks.

Came across this similar Vegetarian Recipe from Lou Restaurant in Hollywood:

DJ Olsen’s Potato and Leek Soup
1 lb potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 lb trimmed leeks, use whites only, sliced into half moons
squeeze of lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
High-quality olive oil for garnish
3 Tablespoons butter
Saute leeks in melted butter until softened.

Add potatoes and about 3 inches of water. Cover and simmer for about 1 hour, until potatoes and leek are soft.

Puree soup in a blender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add squeeze of fresh lemon and drizzle olive to serve.