Friday Feast: Vegan Barszcz (Borscht)
I recently took Yankee Elv’s surname (we were civilly unionised earlier this year) and so now I sound like I’m authentically Polish, even though I haven’t a Polish bone in my body. The closest I come is a Russian/Finnish Jew about five generations back. Not quite the same.
Anyway, I was determined to be a good Polish wife, so I learned how to make Polish beetroot soup. This beet soup was originally eaten in the Ukraine, but it spread all over Eastern Europe during the middle ages. In Poland it’s traditionally eaten with uszkami (or sometimes over pierogi), but we just had it plain or with pieces of rye toast (using King Henry Bakehouse rye bread, which is locally produced, vegan and made with 100% rye flour). Once I had it with herbed, roasted button squash. The flavours were very complementary.
Obviously my version of barszcz is a vegan version, which was surprisingly not that hard to do. Barszcz is a primarily vegetable soup anyway, I just had to swap the chicken stock for vegetable stock, leave out the optional ham hock and not serve it with a dollop of sour cream. Otherwise, it was good to go. That makes sense I guess considering it was a soup traditionally eaten by the lower classes and filled with cheap, abundant veges.
I came up with this recipe myself, but it’s based on this vegan borscht recipe and this more traditional red borscht soup recipe. I pureed half the batch and left the other half chunky to see which I liked better. I’m normally a smooth soup person, but I really enjoyed the bursts of concentrated flavour I got when eating the pieces in the chunky soup, so I actually liked it both ways.
The real test was Yankee Elv, who grew up eating Polish food. She says it doesn’t have the sour tang that most barszczs have (usually from fermented beets, vinegar or pickling juices), but that she loves the earthy flavours. It’s different to what I’m used to as an Aussie – I eat a lot of strongly flavoured Italian, Asian and Indian foods, plus Mexican after my time in Texas (it’s steadily becoming more popular here now). The flavours in this soup are more subtle; you can taste the herbs and vegetables clearly, but they meld gently together and no one takes precedence over another. Yankee Elv’s description – earthy – is a good one. She says it tastes like the earth smells after rain. Give it a go for yourself and see what you think.
- olive oil for frying
- 1 leek, cleaned and finely sliced
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 small-medium beetroot, peeled and chopped
- 1 parsnip, peeled and chopped
- 6 to 8 button or cap mushrooms, chopped
- 4 cups vegetable stock (broth)
- 1 tab lemon juice
- 2 tabs apple cider vinegar (add more if you want that sour flavour)
- approx 1/4 cup of fresh dill, chopped (stems removed)
- approx 1/4 cup (generous) of fresh parsley, chopped (stems removed)
- 2 tsp dried thyme (can use fresh if you want, but use more as the flavour is more concentrated when dry)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 400g can butter beans (or other white bean)
- Heat a little olive oil in a large pot. Saute the leek, onions and garlic over medium heat until soft.
- Add beetroot and parsnip and saute for another 5 mins.
- Add mushrooms and vegetable stock and lower the heat. Simmer, covered, for 30 to 40 mins, stirring occasionally.
- Taste broth, then add desired amounts of the remaining ingredients. Simmer for 10 mins more, or until beetroot is tender.
- If you want to puree some or all, let it cool for 10 mins, then puree with a stick blender (immersion blender).
- You can serve it as is, with rye bread, vegetables, vegan sour cream, pierogi, uszkami, sauerkraut, pasta or however else you like!