Sunday, June 23, 2013

Cool Summer Borscht (Barszcz) from "Polish Classic Recipes"

I fell in love with Polish food when I visited Krakow a few years ago. While there, I ate my weight in sausages, wild boar, Hunter's Stew, zapiekanka (Polish pizza), and, of course, pierogies.

So when I was offered review copies of two new books - Polish Classic Recipes and Polish Classic Desserts, by Laura & Peter Zeranski - of course I accepted. There aren't a ton of good Polish cookbooks on the market - particularly ones with photos of the dishes - and I thought it would be fun to recreate some of my favorite meals from my trip to Poland.

I'll be honest here - if I had seen these books in a bookstore or online, I probably would not have been drawn to them based purely on aesthetics:
But you know what they say about books, covers, and judgement, and never was this maxim more true than in the case of these two cookbooks. They are each filled with (to my eye) authentic Polish recipes - if you don't have a Polish grandmother, this is the next best thing.

But the proof is in the pudding; in this case, the recipes themselves. It has been far too hot in my neck of the woods to whip up some of the more hearty dishes contained in the books (although I will welcome the cooler days of autumn to make sour soup and cabbage rolls!) so I opted for the cool summer borscht:
Loaded with dill, scallions, sour cream, beef broth, cucumber, and every part of the beet - root, stem, and leaves -  this was the perfect meal, along with some sour rye bread, for a hot sticky summer evening. And as an added plus, it's pink. My only quibble with the recipe as written was that it did not call for salt, which it definitely needed. That said, if you used a salty beef broth I suppose that would be a good thing.

And for those unfortunates who claim that they don't like beets - I really do believe this could change your mind. Want the recipe? Buy the book! And pick up a copy of Polish Classic Desserts while you're at it. [Edit: Since this writing I've received permission to include the recipe, see below]
Cool Summer Barszcz
serves 10
2 cups fresh beets, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch julienne
1 cup water
1/4 cup beet stems, coarsely chopped
1 cup beet leaves, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
4 cups beef broth
1/4 cup cold water
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
1 small cucumber, peeled and sliced
1 cup sliced roast pork or veal 
8 large shrimp, cooked, peeled, and diced (optional)
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon chopped dill
1 tablespoon chopped green onion

Simmer the beets, leaves, and stems in 1 cup water and vinegar for 20 to 25 minutes, until the beets are completely soft and tender. Add the beef broth and simmer 5 minutes longer. 

Mix the flour into 1/4 cup water, add to the beet mixture and stor. Cook for an additional 3 to 5 minutes. Cool completely. Add the rest of the ingredients and chill for several hours. Serve cold. [Note: I did not add the eggs until ready to serve. I also added salt to taste.]

From Polish Classic Recipes by Laura and Peter Zeranski, © Lorapeet Ventures, LLC, used by permission of the publisher, Pelican Publishing Company, Inc.

And to my readers in the Baltimore/Washington area: the Polish Heritage Festival will take place July 20 - 21 at the Maryland Fairgrounds. As of this writing, the authors will be there so you may get a chance to sample some goodies form the books! Maybe I'll see you there.


  1. Look how beautiful and inviting this is! I have been looking for a good borscht recipe and thought this might be it! My grandmother who wasn't polish used to make it for me every now and then. She was as WASP as you can get so I have no idea where she learned it. The borscht recipe in her cooking notebooks is mysteriously missing. (Much like in this post.)

    That gorgeous color, the chopped herbs, the egg floating there ready to be eaten first...because I can never hold off eating a good thing. Now I'm wondering if the recipe might be missing from the book too? They do that.

  2. I, too, fell in love with Polish food in April when I went to Krakow. I glutted myself on pierogies for every meal, while tasting, and loving, all the varied things my friends ordered. I couldn't move past how delicious the pierogies were. You're right about how this book's cover doesn't draw you in...I looked at it on Amazon, but bought From a Polish Country House Kitchen instead. So looking forward to cooler temps, so I can dive into that book. It's possible I'll just end up making pierogies over and over and over again, though. Your soup is gorgeous, with all it's contrasting colors.

    1. It IS tempting to just make (and eat) pierogies isn't it??

  3. Lovely photos of borscht! We've been living in Warsaw for a little over 2 months and I've eaten my fair share of Polish cooking but haven't attempted it at home yet. Maybe I will now once I order these books! :-)

  4. Really love these colors and the authentic recipe. I have to try this soon.