(Originally posted 01/11/14)
Did you resolve to eat more vegetables this year? Good for you!
Now, you may be dismayed by the selection at your local grocery store or farmers market, particularly if you’re trying to eat local and seasonal. It’s true, winter does not offer the widest bounty of vegetables. No tomatoes, fresh corn, sweet baby peas, or delicate gem lettuces.
Winter vegetables are a rugged lot. Their skins are thicker, their greens tougher, their flavors more pronounced. Most have been selected over generations for their keeping power, their ability to stay edible through the cold winter months, mulched in the ground or stored in the root cellar.
These are not vegetables that you pick, rinse off, and eat straight from the garden. They need a bit of coaxing. Slow heat in the form of braising or roasting is often good. So is a good helping of fat. Give them these things and some time, and they will reward you.
Beets are one of my favorite winter vegetables, and I always end up wishing I’d grown more. Here, where it doesn’t freeze, you can leave them in the ground until you need them, and you’ll have fresh beet greens to go with the root. If you don’t garden, they’re readily available just about everywhere. If possible, buy them with greens attached — you can treat them just like chard, to which they are closely related.
On days like this, when it’s chilly and grey outside and I’m still getting over a cold, I make borscht. Or, when I make it from my Polish cookbook, barszcz. Warm and savory without being heavy, the classic beet soup is perfect for cold winter days and nights. This version has a slight acidity that makes it a perfect counterpoint to the season’s steady progression of rich dishes.
Borscht is also extremely adaptable, according to taste and tradition. You can leave the chopped vegetables in for a heartier meal, or strain them out for a lighter broth. Some people stir in sour cream or a dollop of yogurt.
Many versions, including this one, are vegan, kosher, parve, and gluten-free. Dried mushrooms and an assortment of vegetables give it plenty of richness.
This is a meatless version, barszcz wigilijny, traditionally served on Christmas Eve with uszka, little mushroom dumplings. (Uszka translates as “little ears,” which is why a google image search of the term will also turn up lots of pictures of girls in costume.) Note that the uszka are made with an egg pasta — wheat and eggs, for the food-restricted — though you could certainly substitute a different version or leave them out entirely.
This recipe comes from Polish Cookery : Poland’s Bestselling Cookbook Adapted for American Kitchens, by Marja Ochorowicz-Monatowa.