… And one of the soups I fancy most is a soup I fell in love with during my three years of living in Poland. If I quizzed you on Polish soups, many would say “borscht” — though flaki (flaczki) is perhaps the more quintessential, but polarizing, Polish soup with tripe at its foundation. And no, this recipe isn’t about tripe or flaki — don’t panic. When people say “borscht” however, they’re probably describing a personal version of this central/eastern European soup containing beetroots that shows up from Germany through to Russia and everywhere in between and is also central in many Jewish cookbooks. But when you say Barszcz, (pronounced “barr-shhh-CH”), you’re clearly in Poland. The thing is, even the Poles don’t have a single version of barszcz. And while the Poles do eat versions of barszcz which are full of vegetables and meat, it is Barszcz Czysty Czerwony which translates as “clear red barszcz” that is a symbolic part of every Polish Christmas (Eve) dinner (think in iconographic terms and you’ll know why). It is a purely delicious soup especially when accompanied by the little “dumplings” in it that make many people very happy, including me.
This blog recipe is not about any of those soups. No, the soup I get most sentimental about when I think of Poland is a soup that goes by two names and which is technically two different soups: Żurek and barszcz biały, which translates as “white” barszcz. Both soups are “sour” in taste and off-white in colour and neither really bears any resemblance to a traditional borscht made with beets — there are no beets in white barszcz or zurek (which may be a relief to some of you). Both use different “souring” techniques to accomplish a similar goal. Zurek uses a sourdough starter made from fermented rye meal. White barszcz traditionally uses wheat as the starter. As such, neither are gluten-free. There are thousands if not millions of variations on both of these soups with other techniques to sour the soup, including sour cream or even sauerkraut is used as the souring agent. But traditionally, it is a grain.
The stock can vary widely as well. Often, as in this case, it is uses sausage and/or bacon as the base — and I’m not talking about cheap, run-of-the-mill bacon, I’m talking about the good stuff, like that seen here. And, not to be outdone in terms of symbolic importance, the white barszcz is central to the Polish Easter meal … which is why at the centre of the soup is usually placed a boiled egg, symbolic of regeneration, new life, hope.
All of these soups are delicious — even flaki (if you like tripe). The thing is, if you’re not Polish or don’t have access to a Polish household, you probably haven’t had these soups … and I haven’t eaten most of these since I returned to Canada. It makes their nostalgic draw, all the stronger. So this year, I decided to tackle the problem of the missing white barszcz … and see if I might only make here, but also make it in a way that was gluten-free.
The solution was really the collision of another longstanding desire to make a sorrel soup … and it’s been on my list of to-do’s since I made scallops with sorrel butter earlier this summer (god those were good). If you weren’t part of that previous post, what makes sorrel unique as a vegetable/herb is its sour flavour. Why couldn’t I, then, use the sorrel leaves to do for the white barszcz what the sourdough starter would also do? Or, in essence, could I fuse together a classic French sorrel soup with a classic Polish barszcz biały?
The answer lies before you … and I have to say, as I person who loves barszcz biały, soup took me back to the ‘milk bars’ of Warszawa where a young man first took his fancy.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes + 30 minutes simmer
Total Time: 90 minutes
Optional: Serve with rye bread or your favourite gluten-free bread.
White Barszcz with Sorrel
- 1 tablespoon (15mL) butter
- 2 cups (500mL), or 1 large onion, chopped
- 1lb (450g) white Polish sausage (approximately 3 links)
→ substitute any white sausage like bratwurst
- 1/4lb (110g) bacon
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 4-5 grains allspice
- 8 cups water
- 1 cup (250mL) carrot, ‘cubed’ or diced
- 6 cups (1½ litres) fresh sorrel, washed, leaves removed from stems, packed chiffonade
- 3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1/2 cup (125mL) whipping cream
- 1½ tablespoons (20mL) cornstarch
- Salt and pepper to taste
→ Be careful since there is salt in bacon and sausage
- 2 tablespoons (30mL) fresh dill, chiffonade
- 4 hard-boiled eggs cut into quarters
- Marjoram for garnish
- To begin, first hard boil your eggs. Place 4 eggs in a medium pot of cold water and fill above the eggs 1-inch. Bring the water to boil and let boil for 2 minutes. Remove pot from burner and let eggs sit in the hot, hot water for 15 minutes. Then pour the water from the pot and run cold water in the pot until water stays cold. Let eggs sit in this water for 5 minutes. Remove from water, dry, and place in the fridge until ready.
- Meanwhile, in a large pot, begin by sautéing onions in butter for about 10 minutes, until translucent.
Chop up the bacon and add it to the onions and continue to fry until bacon is cooked (not crisp), about 5 minutes.
Slice the white sausage into bite sized pieces and add them along with the garlic to the pot and continue to cook until they’re browned completely (another 5-7minutes).
- When the meat is fully cooked, begin to deglaze the pan of any ‘brown’ bits by slowly stirring in the water and scraping the bottom of the pan as you do so.
Peel and chop the carrots and potato and add them to the barszcz.
Add the seasonings to barszcz (pepper, allspice, bay leaves)
Clean the dill and then remove the fronds from the stems by sliding your fingers down the stem. Coarsely chop the dill and add it to the soup.
In a small bowl, measure in the cornstarch. Add a few tablespoons of soup stock to the bowl and blend in with the cornstarch. Gradually add a few more tablespoons at a time to the cornstarch until it is liquid … then quickly stir it into the soup to prevent clumping. Add the cream now as well.
- While soup simmers, finally prepare the sorrel and note, 6-cups of prepared sorrel is a lot.
- Remove the leaves from the sorrel stems by holding the stems at the ‘root’ end and, cupping your hand around the leaves, slide towards the top: the leaves will come loose from the stems. Wash them well and then rolling them together in batches, chiffonade them and ‘pack’ them in a measuring cup until you have 6-cups.
Add this to the soup and watch it almost melt in and dissolve in the broth.
Stir it in and let simmer while adjusting for salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, peel the eggs and carefully cut them into quarters, lengthwise. Place 3-4 pieces in the bottom of each bowl.
And when the soup is ready, laddle some into each bowl.
Serve with rye bread (toasted if you prefer) and enjoy on a cool fall day or spring …