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

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