From A Polish Country House Kitchen's Barszcz (aka Borscht)

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[Photograph: Bogdan Bialy]

When I think of Eastern European cuisine I think of pierogi (coming later this week) and I think of barszcz (also spelled borscht). Barszcz is seen in many iterations throughout Poland, Russia, and Ukraine; sometimes it is thick with pieces of beet and shreds of beef, sometimes the soup blushes with sour cream, and other times it it served crystal clear.

The traditional Polish version in Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden's From A Polish Country House Kitchen is a third type. After simmering a multitudinous concoction of beets, carrots, celery root, leeks, onions, garlic, and beef bones in several cups of water until rich in color and deep in earthy flavor, the entire contents of the pot are strained out. The soup is then served simply with a squeeze of lemon and a dollop of sour cream.

Why I picked this recipe: Can you cook Polish food without simmering a pot of barszcz? I think not.

What worked: Brilliantly violet red and beguilingly fragrant, this clear soup is a beet-y winner. Be sure to include the dried marjoram; while its addition may seem strange, the herb's grassy notes contribute a pleasant savory note to the broth that brings the flavors in harmony.

What didn't: No problems here.

Suggested tweaks: If you must have pieces of beet in your barszcz, give the simmered a quick chop before returning them to the strained broth before serving.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of From a Polish Country House Kitchen to give away this week.

About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer out of Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American, Berkeleyside NOSH, and blogs at cookingwolves.wordpress.com.

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