Serve with Twice-Cooked Wild Mushrooms
Barszca, or beet soup, is perhaps best known around the world by its Russian name, borscht, but versions of both the soup and the word are part of every Slavic culture. Either dark purple or bright pink — if you add sour cream — barszcz is a winter staple across Central and Eastern Europe.
At its best, barszcz is a classic sweet-and-sour dish, with the beet providing the sweetness and lemon juice or vinegar providing an acidic note. Like chicken soup, barszcz is alleged to have healing powers. When a friend of ours first had chemotherapy, we brought him a thermos of barszcz, which he claimed made him feel better, so perhaps it is true.
Traditional country-house barszcz is really a stock made with beef or veal bones and beets, carefully strained and served crystal clear. Other versions call for the beets to be grated and served with the soup. Still others insist on the addition of small dumplings. We are including a more traditional version here, but without meat stock.
When peeling beets (raw or cooked), it’s best to wear rubber or disposable surgical gloves, unless you like having the tips of your fingers dyed bright pink.
- Beets – 4-6, peeled and halved
- Carrot – 1, trimmed and peeled
- Parsnip – 1, trimmed and peeled
- Onion – 1, peeled and halved
- Leek – 1, trimmed, halved, and rinsed
- celery root (optional) – 1/4, peeled, or 1 celery stalk
- garlic – cloves peeled but left whole
- Bay Leaf – 1
- Marjoram – a large pinch
- Peppercorns – 6, optional
- Water – 12 cups, or so
- Lemon – 1, juiced
- Salt – to taste
- Pepper – Freshly ground
- Sour Cream – 1/2 cup
- Combine the beets, carrot, parsnip, onion, leek, celery root (if using), 8 garlic cloves, the bay leaf, marjoram, peppercorns (if using), and water in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. (There should be enough water to cover the ingredients.) Remove any foam that has risen to the top, cover, and turn down the heat. Simmer gently until the vegetables are very soft, about 1- 1 1/2 hours.
- Strain the soup through a colander, pressing the solids to extract all the liquids. Taste: if it is too watery, then boil down, uncovered, for an additional 30 minutes or so. If it seems too dense, add water. When the soup is ready, stir in the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and, if you like, some more marjoram.
- You might also ask yourself at this point whether the soup needs even more garlic, in which case peel a couple more cloves, crush them with a garlic press or the flat side of a knife, toss them in, and simmer for a minute or two. Make sure they don’t fall into anyone’s bowl when you serve (unless, like Anne, the person happens to like boiled garlic cloves). The flavor should be slightly sour and garlicky, yet with that beety hint of sweetness.
- Serve clear, very hot, in small bowls or even large teacups, which you can pick up and drink. If you prefer yours bright pink, then serve in large soup plates with a spoonful of the sour cream or plain yogurt dropped into each one. This keeps in the refrigerator (covered) for days, and indeed grows slightly tangier with time, which is how it is supposed to be.
- Not included in Large Kitchen Box: salt, pepper, Peppercorns (optional)