I should not need any particular reason to post another beet recipe; there is always at least one among my top-ten posts. But for me as Polish, Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to share a recipe for this clear vegetarian borshch, possibly, the most famous Polish soup.
Until today I have never cooked this Christmas borshch myself. My mother has always been cooking it for us, either in Poland or here when she was visiting us. The Christmas Eve savory dishes (all of them vegetarian) were her specialty and I made the sweets. Unfortunately, this year she decided that this long trip overseas was too tiring for her, so the burden of keeping up with the tradition fell entirely on me.
But, on the positive side, it also became an opportunity for me finally to learn how to make borshch, especially that this is the most liked soup at me home. After a couple of phone calls, and making sure that I got all the ingredients and steps right, I got it done. And it turned out that it could not be easier.
There are many ways to prepare borshch and many families have different traditions of doing it. In our home, for example, we did not add dried porcini to it, like some other families do. During Christmas we eat cabbage with porcini or serve borshch with pastry stuffed with mushrooms, so it always seemed too much to put mushrooms also in the borshch. The other reason is that my son, who loves borshch, also hates mushrooms, so naturally I need to avoid putting them in the dishes he eats.
The most characteristic thing about this soup is that beets are not cooked, so all their nutritional values are preserved and the soup has the most beautiful and intensive purple color.
Also some of the spices used make it taste unique. Borshch is usually served in special bowls with pierogi, or accompanied by small, stuffed pastry. On occasions other than Christmas Eve it can also be made in a non-vegetarian version, for instance as a beef-beet broth and served with beef-stuffed pierogi. But my most favorite version is this Christmas Eve vegetarian borshch.
Polish Christmas Eve Borshch
3-4 medium carrots, peeled,
1/4 medium celery root, peeled,
1/2 parsley root, if available, peeled
1/2 medium leek, washed thoroughly in between leaves,
6 medium beets,
vegetable bullion (optional, only if your vegetables do not release enough taste on their own),
2 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 tbsp vinegar,
2 tbsp sugar,
1/2 tsp ground caraway,
2 bay leaves,
4 all spice,
4 black peppercorns,
5 whole cloves,
4 prunes (optional),
1 tbsp salt and black pepper to taste,
1 tbsp fresh chopped dill (optional).
1. In a large pot bring to boil 8 cups of water with salt, bay leaves, peppercorns, and allspice.
Add carrot, celery root, parsley root, and leek, and cook for about 40 minutes, until vegetables are soft. Try the stock and if it does not have much taste you may add bullion or extra vegetable stock.
2. Peel off the beets and cut into 1/4 inch-thick slices. Add them to the pot with vegetable stock. Bring to boil but let it boil only for about a minute or two. Turn off the heat. Add caraway, ground black pepper, cloves, garlic, prunes, sugar, and balsamic vinegar.
3. Taste the soup--it should be sweet and sour, but also spicy from pepper and garlic. You may add an extra tablespoon of vinegar or sugar depending on the sweetness of the beets and carrots.
4. Cover the pot and let it stand over night to infuse all the aromas.
Reheat borshch before serving it, again without boiling it for too long. Add dill, and serve it with pierogi or small pastry.