Thursday, December 31, 2009

Barszcz Wigilijny

What is this thing with the funny title? It is also known as borscht, or beet soup. Barszcz Wigilijny refers to the type of barszcz served at the Polish traditional Christmas Eve meal, known as Wigilia (from the Latin "Vigil"). This is a vegetarian meal--no meat allowed. So this barszcz does not use a meat stock as a base like most barszcz recipes do. We celebrated Wigilia on Christmas Eve with friends, and here's how I made my barszcz wigilijny.

First I made a vegetable stock. I took two quarts of cold water and added the following, each cut up into 1/2 inch chunks:
  • 3 medium onions
  • 3 stalks of celery
  • 1 celery root, trimmed
  • 2 parsnips
  • 3 medium carrots
To this I added about a dozen peppercorns, a teaspoon of salt, several parsley sprigs, and a bay leaf. I brought this mixture just up to a light simmer, then simmered on the stove for one hour. At the end of the hour, I allowed it to cool slightly, then strained it, pressing on the vegetables to get as much of the precious liquid out as I could. I then strained it again through a very fine sieve and allowed it to cool. You can make this ahead of time and store in the refrigerator for several days, or freeze for several weeks.

Beets are the basis of this soup, so I took two bunches of small to medium sized beets, washed them and trimmed them, leaving about an inch of stems attached. I put them in a foil packet that was tightly sealed and roasted them in a 375 degree oven for about an hour, until tender. Once roasted, i allowed them to cool until i could handle them. Then, donning rubber gloves (not wanting beet-red hands for the holidays), i peeled them. The skins will easily slip off. Once peeled, I used a box grater to grate them on the coarse side. Rubber gloves really are a must for this messy task!

Two additional ingredients were prepared in advance, however: mushroom juice and uszka. A day or so earlier I had made uszka. See my earlier blog post for that recipe. When making the uszka, I had soaked dried mushrooms in warm water to rehydrate them. I saved this "mushroom juice" for later use--in my barszcz.

Now I was ready to make the barszcz. Here's how I did it. I put the grated beets into a small stockpot and added one quart of the prepared vegetable stock and about one cup or so of the mushroom juice. Over medium heat, i brought this mixture just to a simmer and simmered for about a half hour (you can simmer longer if desired). To this I added one teaspoon of sugar and two tablepoons of lemon juice, and a bit of salt and pepper to taste. I was now ready to assemble and serve the soup.

To each bowl, I added four of the previously prepared and warmed uszka (you can warm them separately or in the barszcz). Then I added about 3/4 to 1 cup of broth, along with just a few of the grated beets (you can also strain them out to serve in a more traditional clear broth, if desired). Finally, i garnished with about a half teaspoon (or so) of fresh chopped dill.

This was my first-ever attempt to make barszcz and it was a big success. All of my guests actually loved it and would definitly eat it again--and so would I. And the highest praise was from my Polish friend, Ewa. Ewa was born and raised in Warsawa and knows what good barszcz is. Her seal of approval made my day. I hope you'll try it some day too. Bardzo Smaczne! (That's "Good Eats" in Polish.)


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