In Poland one of the many traditional Christmas dishes is a ruby crystal-clear soup called barszcz / b a : ʃ t ʃ /which is served at Christmas Eve with uszka / u ʃ k a /, dumplings stuffed with forest mushrooms. The word uszka means “little ears” because they are small and ear-shaped. Barszcz is made of soured beetroot juice concentrate obtained in a natural “home-run” fermentation process, a tradition which few people bother to observe. I do! Every year and only once a year, exclusively for Christmas!
If you are too lazy to carry out the fermentation, you may sour your barszcz with vinegar or even better with lemon. For Christmas I use the natural soured juice.
The size of jar and the amount of beetroots depend on how much concentrate you want to produce. I use a huge six liter jar in which I put up to 2kgs of peeled and sliced beetroots. But you may need a jug or jar of the volume of 2 liters in which you may put just a kilogram of beetroots. I make a lot of soured juice which I pour it into bottles and store them corked in the fridge.
STAGE ONE (at least one week before X-mas)
For making the sour concentrate you will need :
1- 1 & 1/2 kg of nice fresh beetroots
2 liters of boiled but luke warm water
a pinch of salt
1-2 cloves of garlic
1-2 slices of genuine brown (rye) bread
Make sure the jug/jar has been washed thoroughly and rinsed with very hot water to kill any fungus or bacteria which might spoil the fermentation process
Boil 2 liters of water, leave to cool to be only luke warm, add a pinch of salt and stir
Wash and peel the beetroots, slice them and put in the jug/jar
Put a crushed clove of garlic in the jug/ jar
Pour the luke warm water into the jug/jar
Put a slice (or two) of the brown bread on top. It should float on the surface of the water
Cover the jug/jar with a clean cloth
Put the jug/jar in a warm place in the kitchen (I put it near a central heater because it speeds up the process).
After 3-4 days check the colour (beautiful dark ruby) and smell (sourish & garlic-like). Do not exceed 5 days of fermentation. On the floating slices of brown bread you should see foam. Remove it slowly and carefully with a small sieve or big spoon. After removing the bread with the foam drain the concentrate through a sieve which you may additionally line with a clean linen cloth to avoid letting bits of bread or other impurities into a pan. Pour the concentrate into smaller glass jars or bottles. Store in the fridge.
STAGE TWO -
Uszka (mushroom dumplings) can be made well in advance and put in the deep freeze. You boil frozen uszka before serving them with barszcz on Christmas Eve.
Ingredients for the dough for uszka (small dumplings like ravioli):
250 -300 g of flour
1/2 – 1 glass of luke warm water
1 whole raw egg
a pinch of salt
Ingredients for the farce (mushroom stuffing for uszka)
150 g of dried forest mushrooms – preferably boletus (the king of forest mushrooms in Poland); they will increase the volume considerably when you keep them in water for several hours
a small cup of dried bread crumbs
a big onion
1 whole raw egg
salt / black pepper
How to make the mushroom farce (stuffing for uszka)
Soak the mushrooms in cold water for at least 5 hours. It is a good idea to put the mushroooms in water the previous night
Boil the soaked mushrooms for about two hours (add a pinch of salt in the water; you may also put in an onion and a root of parsley so that you get nice mushroom stock).
Drain the mushrooms but do not get rid of the mushroom stock; you will use it in your Christmas barszcz. Wait until the mushrooms cool down.
Chop up a big onion, fry it in butter or oil until it becomes the colour of gold. Add a little water and simmer until it becomes soft. Wait until it cools down.
Mince the mushrooms together with the onions to obtain a homogenous brown stuffing. Add the egg , bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Mix them all well. Be careful not to put too much salt as the water for boiling the dumplings will be salty as well.
How to make the dough for „uszka”
Kneed the flour with the egg and water plus a pinch of salt. The dough should be a bit stiffer than for noodles (but not too stiff). Add more water if it is much too stiff.
Roll the well kneeded dough and cut into ver small squares.
Put tiny bits of the mushroom stuffing on the squares, fold the squares diagonally and press the edges of the obtained triangles firmly. No stuffing is allowed on the edges of the triangles; otherwise they won’t stick properly and the dumplings will disintegrate in the boiling water. Making the dumplings will take a lot of time. If you are impatient, cut out bigger squares of the dough and put in more stuffing so that the job will be done more quickly. But you need to devote yourself to the job entirely, anyway.
Put the „raw” dumplings immediately in the freezer and boil them on the day of the serving. The dough will become sticky and the dumplings will fall apart unless you freeze them or boil them immediately.
We like very sour barszcz. Polish cuisine is genearlly sourish. Most soups, „bigos” and salads are sour . Depending on how sour you want your barszcz, use more or less of the barszcz concentrate prepared beforehand.
I prepare at least 2-3 liters of barszcz because my family love it and eat it for at least two to three days. So you might want at least 1 liter of the concentrate plus 1 liter of the mushroom and vegatable stock.
Ingredients for barszcz
1 liter of barscz concentrate
3 big fresh beetroots
1 parsley root
1 seleriac (root of celery)
1 big onion
2-3 glasses of mushroom stock or just one or two dried mushrooms
salt / pepper
1- 2 grains of all-spice
1-2 grains of black pepper
Boil in water the root of parsley, carrots, seleriac and an onion with three raw beetroots (plus a grain of all-spice and black peper) until they all become relatively soft.
Remove the vegetables.
Add the mushroom stock initially drained after boiling the mushrooms. Add the naturally soured barszcz concentrate. Boil it (just a minute or two).
Add a clove of crushed garlic. Leave to give flavour to the barszcz. Remove before serving
Barszcz should be clear and of deep red ruby colour. The mushroom stock may change its colour into brownish ruby red. To preserve the nice colour you may add some ready made real beetroot juice mixed with apple juice. You can probably buy it only in Poland. It’s natural juice and can be drunk staright from the carton but it may also add to the quality of Christmas barszcz. Lemon juice will also help preserve the colour.
Serve barszcz very hot, it should be slightly stingy to the throat (sourish plus garlic and peper-like taste). If barszcz is very hot then the uszka don’t have to be as hot. You may boil them a couple of hours earleir (in slightly salty water).
When serving barszcz with uszka, first put uszka in the bowl then pour in hot barszcz.
I will do my best to illustrate the barszcz and uszka soon. I hope you have not been discouraged by the lengthy process of making barszcz and uszka.