We have a dear, long-time friend whose mother taught me much about Polish food, and much about motherhood. We don’t see him much these days, and his mother has gone home to be with her Lord.
This beautiful Christian woman had an amazing story. I certainly cannot do it justice, but I will try to share it as best as I can recall. She was born a Polish Jew and was a young woman at the time of World War II. While the Nazis were rounding up Jews, she happened to be on a train. Her identity as a Jew was kept unknown to them; however, she was taken to work for the Nazis as a kitchen helper at one of the camps. I think the story continues that she remained there until she was liberated at the end of the war, her identity never discovered, adding that she was treated fairly well. How her heritage was hidden all that time is a mystery that cannot be explained outside of God’s intervention. It is often difficult to understand why some people must suffer in this sinful world at the hands of sinful men and why some are spared, sometimes in a miraculous way. We have heard many incredible stories such as these, and many more that did not have a happy ending.
I did not intend for this to be such a serious post, so I will move on. This lovely woman served us many meals, many with a Polish flair. She taught me the art of making pierogis–a lengthy process to be sure. This woman was passionate about cooking for her loved ones (and their fortunate friends!). She would never sit with us, waiting to refill our plates as their contents were consumed. One never went hungry at that table! I wish I received the pure pleasure of serving my family as she did. I remember the first time I made pierogis after my lesson. My solo endeavour took me an entire afternoon. All to be devoured in a matter of minutes that evening. With a sigh, I realized that the smiles on the faces of my husband and children did not actually make my hours of hard work a joy, nor was I fulfilled by their enjoyment. Perhaps, it would have if they were able to slow down long enough to savour each delectable bite.
Our friend later married a sweet woman from Belarus. Her family’s story of coming to Canada is also very interesting, though at a different time period. Though I was no stranger to Eastern European cuisine, she served me my very first bowl of borscht. As one who loves soup, beets and cabbage, what was not to like?
Borscht is a popular soup in many Eastern European countries. There are many variations on this sour soup, but most include beets, which provide its beautiful (or unnerving, for some) red colour. (I wish my photos accurately represented the vibrant red colour of this dish!) Borscht may be served either hot or cold, may or may not contain meat. When done simply with vegetables, it is an inexpensive, yet hearty meal.I began by roasting my beets. This is not necessary, but roasting beets is my favourite way to cook them; it brings out their earthy-sweet flavour.
Roast in a 400 degree oven:
4-6 beets, trimmed, but left whole, wrapped in foil
It will take 30-45 minutes to cook them, depending on size. Peel (they should slip off quite easily) and dice or julienne.
In your soup pot, with a little oil, sauté:
1 onion, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
2-3 carrots, shredded (sliced or chopped is fine, too)
When softened, add:
2-3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
Cook for a few minutes, then add:
4 cups of stock (any kind will work–obviously vegetable stock, if you want this to be vegetarian–I used beef)
1/2 a head of cabbage, cored and shredded or finely chopped (I used red cabbage)
enough water to cover (about 2 cups)
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
Bring to a boil and cook until vegetables are soft, about 30-45 minutes.
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
4-6 roasted beets, peeled and cubed or julienned
1/2 teaspoon dill
Bring back to boil an cook for 10 minutes.
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (use more or less to taste)
Serve with sour cream and dill.
We were given a bread maker for Christmas, so I decided to serve a fresh garlic loaf with our soup.
I don’t remember if our soup measured up to our friend’s, but we sure did enjoy it! I love that when you make a big pot of soup for dinner, there’s usually enough left over for at least one more meal. Cook once, eat twice…or even three times. Yes!
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