Souring beetroots and clear borsch

“Barszcz” has been a favorite soup of mine since I can remember. It was a always a must for Christmas Eve dinner, but its consumption is not limited to this time of year. There are several dozen varieties of borsch, but my favorite is the most spare version. Below are actually two recipes – the first is for making a stock of soured beetroots, which is then used in the borsch recipe. This is a very traditional method which is rarely used today. At one time, almost every Polish home had a crock of soured beetroots waiting to be used. Nowadays, people prepare borsch substituting the stock with vinegar or lemon juice, or they buy concentate in a carton or powdered soup – a real shame.

Although it may seem daunting that this recipe takes a week to make, it really doesn’t take much work and is not very complicated.

Soured beetroot stock

Ingredients
2 kg beetroots
bay leaf
some allspice
3 cloves of garlic
salt
2 slices of sourdough rye bread crust
3-4 l lukewarm boiled water
 
Instructions
  1. Peel, wash, dry and slice the beetroots. Place the slices in a large jar or stoneware pot. Add bay leaf and allspice.
  2. Crush the garlic and sprinkle it with salt. Add to the jar with beetroot slices.
  3. Pour in lukewarm water (enough to cover the vegetables) and place the rye bread crust slices on top. Cover the jar with gauze (do not seal tightly) and leave for 6 to 7 days in a warm place.
  4. After at least 6 days have passed, skim the top that has formed, pour the liquid through a cheese cloth (we used a clean cloth diaper), and pour into smaller jars that can be tightly closed. This stock can be kept in a cool place for several months.
 
Clear borsch
Ingredients
1.5 kg beets
1 carrot
1/2 celery root
1 parsnip
2 bay leafs
3-4 grains of allspice
2 grains of green pepper (crushed or ground fresh)
4 l water
about half of the soured beetroot stock (from the recipe above)
 
Instructions
  1. Wash and peel the vegetables, slice the beet roots. Place in large pot, with spices and water, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for about 50 minutes. Remove all the vegetables and spices, so you have just the broth left.
  2. Add the soured beetroot stock and bring to a simmer. As soon as it begins to boil, remove from heat. Cooking too long will make the borsch loose its beautiful color.
  3. Sprinkle with some freshly ground pepper, salt to taste, and serve.
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