Christmas Eve Borscht (or Barszcz)
I may be half-Ukrainian but darned if I know how to speak it. My vocabulary is limited to Я тебе люблю (Ja tebe liubliu). Some kids learn swear words, but I was only told how to love (it means ‘I love you’).
Rob is slowly introducing me to Polish words. As they pop up, obviously. The key to my heart lies in the kitchen, right? First, I learned how to say borscht. While borscht originates from Ukraine, many other countries have their own variations. In Poland, the soup is called barszcz. Notice the ah sound… and the lack of the t at the end.
Polish barszcz has numerous variations, but the vegetarian version is commonly reserved for Christmas Eve. With the
bloody blazing red beets you have a very festive soup with the dilly green accent. This version, tinkered from Rebar, makes a huge pot of soup filled with vegetables – beets, cabbage, carrots and tomatoes – and white beans for good measure. Lemon juice and balsamic vinegar add that necessary tang, a key feature in Polish barszcz. Traditionally, the soup was aged to get that acidic tang. Sounds like a project to tackle in the new year.
Due to its association with Christmas, I decided to make it for the pre-Christmas dinner. Rob told me it was very similar to his family’s barszcz. I really enjoyed this soup. So did everyone else (well, except for those who shun beets and cabbage and didn’t even try it!). I found the vegetables complemented each other nicely and the Polish dried mushrooms added a deeper, complex flavour. Perfect for Christmas Eve, or any time of the year. I’ll be enjoying it a few weeks from now because I packed the leftovers in the freezer to enjoy later. This makes a ton of soup!
Happy holidays, everyone!
Christmas Eve Vegetarian Borscht
3/4 cup dried mushrooms (I used Polish mushrooms, but porcini would work well here, too), soaked in hot water for 30 minutes, then chopped. Reserve the soaking liquid
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 tsp (or to taste) salt, divided
2 bay leaves
4 medium beets, trimmed, peeled and diced
2 carrots, trimmed, peeled and diced
2 cups chopped green or red cabbage (I used green cabbage)
6 cups vegetarian stock or water (I used half water, half stock)
14 oz canned diced tomatoes, undrained or 4 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 cups cooked white beans (rinsed if canned)
2-3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp lemon juice (juice of one lemon)
6 tbsp chopped fresh dill, divided
freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, 1 tsp of the salt and bay leaves. Saute until the onion is soft, around 8 minutes.
2. Add the chopped mushrooms and carrots and saute for ten more minutes.
3. Stir in the beets, cabbage and another teaspoon of salt. Add reserved mushroom water and stock to cover and bring to a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are tender, around 15-20 minutes.
4. Add the tomatoes, beans, vinegar and half of the dill. Simmer for twenty minutes for flavours to meld.
5. Just before serving, remove bay leaves, add lemon juice gradually, tasting to balance the flavors and add the remaining dill. Season with the last tsp of salt, if needed, and add ground pepper, to taste.