There they are again. I’m not looking! Since I’m alone in public, I’m not going to put the hand blinders up as I walk past but I will do an extreme turn of my head so they don’t draw me in. Is this because most of my family background is Polish? Is this even normal? I mean, why do I have this fascination with beetroot? One of my favourite things is a salad I make with fresh grated beetroot and carrot, coriander, sesame seeds, and lemon dressing. But, as springtime continues to tease us with its, “Yes, I’m here!”, “No, I’m not!” game as is usual in New Zealand at this time of year, it’s far too cold for a salad. Wait. It’s COLD! Cold means soup, does it not? I think I’ve found my excuse to load up the basket with those glorious purple rocks.
Thinking through how to make barszcz is a bit of an exercise in self-reflection for me. I must’ve been interested in cooking before I even knew I was as I stood on tiptoes to watch my Polish grandmother prepare beetroot and potatoes for the pot. Somehow young eyes managed to take it in and file it for when I grew up and wanted to recreate winter warmth in my own kitchen. Although my grandmother didn’t live near us, she would occasionally come for a week or two to babysit my brother and I if my parents when on a ‘grown ups’ holiday. We’d have to ask her why she needed two suitcases for such a short time and she’d answer in a matter of fact way, “One for the pierogies.”. These days I wonder if anyone would be allowed to board a plane with a suitcase full of pierogies and stuffed cabbages.
There are a million and one ways to make barszcz (borscht in Russian) and a really nice thing to do is to roast the beetroot whole before grating them into the soup. But, this is the no-fail, easy verson. And Grandma always made it chunky!
Barszcz- Polish sour beetroot soup
1 medium onion- chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic- crushed
2-3 Tbls canola oil (or any neutral flavour oil)
2 medium sized beetroot- peeled and diced into 1.5-2cm pieces
2 medium sized potatoes- peeled and diced into 1.5-2cm pieces (I prefer waxy ones)
1.5 ltr. cold stock (chicken or vegetable, mushroom-based stock is lovely)
2-4 Tbls wine vinegar
250 grams sour cream
chopped dill for garnish (optional)
Using a large pot, sweat off the onions and garlic in the oil taking care not to let them caramelise. Add the beetroot, potatoes, and stock and bring to a light boil. Turn down the heat and let everything simmer until the vegetables are tender. At this point, turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar to taste. Add a tablespoon full of sourcream to the centre of the bowls and a sprinkle of dill as you serve and let each person enjoy stirring it together themselves.
P.S. Don’t forget to take time to be mesmerised by the colour!