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Going back to my roots – Barszcz

September 15, 2010

My two daughters are growing up fast and the less complicated days of their youth seem light years away rather than one or two.  Take the inaugural international day at my daughter’s school that happened a year or so ago. Maria and I were talked into helping run the Polish stall (both our fathers were born in Poland) . I say talked into as we were both hyper-busy at the time and, with my car in for repair, I did a very un-Dubai thing and cycled down to meet Maria in a coffee shop.  We hit it off straight away and came up with a plan and lots of ideas.

International Day DESS

Maria and I poking our heads through the picture board her husband made

The day arrived with us feeling slightly exhausted but excited too.  It was absolutely scorching for February in Dubai; the sun beat down on us all as we set up with over 30 nationalities represented. The opening procession almost brought a tear to the eye as the children marched past in a fabulous array of costumes. The Polish stall looked great; we had lots of information and activities including decorating eggs.  The was a fete-like atmosphere and all nationalities were eager to promote their food, culture and traditions.  My children alternated between helping out with the egg painting and watching the entertainment – from Scottish to Lebanese dancing – and tasting all the lovely dishes.

Decorated eggs

Some eggs painted by me, my children and my sister who was on holiday. The brown ones are dyed with onion skins and then etched by her.

Our table of Polish food looked delicious. I had made faworki, fried pastry bows, and watched nervously as Alice, a Polish teacher and first generation Pole, tasted one.  I was relieved when she pronounced them just right. She seized Maria’s flask of Barszcz (Polish beetroot soup pronounced barscht) and impelled every visitor to our stand to drink some. It is very Polish to force-feed people. Hot soup on a boiling hot day sounds strange but it was really refreshing and delicious. My daughter has been asking me to make some ever since and I was inspired in more ways than one by this beautiful illustration and recipe that was posted this week on They Draw and Cook.

Illustration of making Borscht

Please click on the image or visit They Draw and Cook to see a full-sized version of this beautiful illustration

Maria’s Barszcz  was different from this one. She used beef stock and removed all the vegetables except the whole beetroot after simmering. The resulting broth is more liquid and watery in texture – good for that hot, hot day. I tinkered with Valentina’s Borscht recipe (a Russian variant) and give my version below. It’s quite substantial and has a gorgeous velvety texture, plus a hint of spice with the cloves and dill.  I also got out some coloured pencils and my two teens joined me to do some drawing and colouring, just like the toddler days.  Ahhh. Hope you like my scribbles and do visit They Draw and Cook to see the real artists.

Barszcz - beetroot soup

My illustrated beetroot soup


Ingredients for the soup

1 large beetroot (or 4-5 small ones), peeled but left whole
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, diced
1.2 litres of water (or more)
3 vegetable bouillon cubes (trust me – you need this amount)
2 tsp red wine vinegar
a pinch of ground cloves
2-3 fronds of dill, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp sugar
black pepper to taste

To serve

juice of 1/2 lemon
sour cream
dill, chopped

Place all the ingredients for the soup  in a large pot.  Bring to the boil and simmer for about 40 minutes or until the beetroot is tender. Remove the bay leaf and puree in a blender (I advise against using a stick blender as beetroot can stain your clothes – plus you want a velvety texture).  Add the lemon juice, taste and adjust seasoning and return to a pan to warm through.

Pour into warmed bowls and serve topped with sour cream (or creme fraiche) and dill. Delicious with rye bread. Serves 4  for lunch  or as a first course.

  1. September 15, 2010 9:27 am

    Mmm, I always love the sight of beetroot soup! I usually have them in a Russian restaurant, yummy with cream…

    Appreciate the recipe too 🙂

  2. September 15, 2010 9:42 am

    Love this post!!! It takes me back to my Ukrainian roots!
    From the fried pastry bows to the beet soup! It all seems so familar.

    I also do the art of Pysanky and have taught both my children!
    Though we use more modern dyes, the tradition is there!

    Thanks for the memories!!!

  3. September 15, 2010 12:18 pm

    A much under-rated vegetable. I Like the leaves of the stems chopped up in stir-fries, and the leaves themselves when young and tender to add a bit of colour to a salad.

  4. September 15, 2010 3:53 pm

    Sally! Your colored pencil doodles are GREAT and you can clearly cook! We’d love to see an illustrated recipe from you. Thanks so much

  5. September 15, 2010 3:55 pm

    I love the eggs too – tell your sister that her onionskin etchings are amazing and I really love that lion – so SWEET!

  6. September 15, 2010 4:16 pm

    Nate you’re SO kind. My sister will be delighted (think the lion’s hers too). Will keep visiting They Draw and Cook for inspiration.
    And Jonathan – much underated or misunderstood (spouse gets through ridiculous amount in jars with vinegar).

    Thanks for commenting.

  7. Anna permalink
    September 15, 2010 6:06 pm

    I just realised that you drew those illustrations – they’re LOVELY!

    • September 20, 2010 7:26 pm

      I thought you’d spot my doodlings a mile off – not as good as your pig pics sis.

  8. September 19, 2010 10:48 pm

    oh my goodness, you’re so talented!! the drawings are phenomenal, and so are the pictures! what camera did you use for the main Borscht photo? Really, really good – absolutely love it.

  9. September 20, 2010 2:00 pm

    That looks wonderful! Borscht is one of my favourite soups and I love the vivid colour of yours! 🙂

    • September 20, 2010 7:24 pm

      I’m still using my Sony DSC T900 (point and click) and searching for the best lighting conditions in my house (never use flash). It has a food setting on it but I’m not sure if this adds what I want so I do some with and some without! Thanks for the very nice comments foodonymph and Lorraine.

  10. September 24, 2010 1:21 am

    Loving your stories and your delicious photographs!

    (Fellow expat) Laura,

    • September 26, 2010 12:41 pm

      Thank you Laura. Visited your site and loved being an expat in my own country for a few moments.

  11. September 28, 2010 3:53 am

    Oh, I love Borscht or just about anything with beets 🙂 my brother-in-law would cook it for us often, I will have to try this myself, looks like a lovely recipe and the colour of the soup in your pics is so delicious.

    • September 28, 2010 6:59 am

      Thanks Trudy – it’s fun to eat purple food sometimes.

  12. March 5, 2011 1:10 pm

    Dear Sally, this is such a wonderful post! My mother and father are Polish although I was born and raised in the UK. I love cooking Polish food and my mother taught me how to make Barszcz recently. I love it! I think Polish culture is also amazing and can’t wait to decorate eggs this Easter and prepare an Easter basket. I’m so pleased to have found you…I hope we will meet at Food Bloggers Connect as I am going too! PS your drawings are beautiful too!

    • March 5, 2011 11:33 pm

      Thanks for lovely comment. I’m very glad I found your blog, I’m so excited about Food Blogger connect and really look forward to meeting you.


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