The basic Polish borscht (barszcz) recipe includes red beetroot, onions, garlic, and other vegetables such as carrots and celery or root parsley. The ingredients are cooked for some time together to produce kind of clear broth (when strained) served as boullion in cups or in other ways. Some recipes include bacon as well, which gives the soup its distinctive, "smoky" taste.
Other versions are richer as they include meat and cut vegetables of various kinds where beetroots aren't the main one (though this soup isn't always called barszcz, but rather beetroot soup). This variation of barszcz isn't strained and vegetable contents are left in it. Such soup can make the main course of obiad (main meal eaten in the early afternoon).
Barszcz in its strictly vegetarian version is the first course during the Christmas Eve feast. It's served with ravioli-type dumplings called "uszka" (lit. "little ears") with mushroom filling (sauerkraut can be used as well, again depending on the family tradition). Typically, this version does not include any meat ingredients, although some variants do.
A key component to the taste of barszcz is acidity. Whilst barszcz can be made easily within a few hours by simply cooking the ingredients and adding vinegar, lemon juice or citric acid; the traditional way is to prepare barszcz several days before and allow it to naturally sour. Depending on the technique, the level of acidity required and the ingredients available, barszcz takes 3–7 days to prepare in this way.
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Barszcz Czerwony; Polish Beetroot Soup, www.realepicurean.com