Today's Culinary School Recipe: Barszcz
When I was about 14, I came across my Babcia's (the Polish word for grandmother but I'm actually referring to my great-grandmother here) cookbooks that she brought with her when she immigrated to the States. Sitting cross-legged on my parent's couch, I flipped through the pages, pouring over each word and even though I didn't understand it (it was in Polish after all), I liked looking at all the letters and wondering what each recipe was for. A couple pages into the cookbook, my eyes were drawn to a familiar word that was printed repeatedly: my last name. There it was in black and white type, plain as day. Turns out, my last name means soup. Beet soup to be exact (or what is most universally known as Borscht).
Running seven letters in length, one vowel and a whole mess of silent letters, it's the sort of last name that everyone who comes across it has to comment on. "Wow, that's some last name! How the heck do you say that?" or my personal favorite, "Where are you from?" said in a tone that infers I'm sort of alien. The truth is, I've always liked my last name. It's unique and I've never met anyone who has it that wasn't related to me and seeing my last name in that cookbook made it seem all the more special and gave it meaning - my last name is a recipe!
Hmm. Maybe I have always meant to be doing something with food?
Anyway, today's focus at culinary school was soups and stocks and, for the first time, I made borscht. I can't say I knew what to expect. In the past when I thought of borscht, images of old Polish and Russian gentleman sitting around in those tall puffy hats, drinking "vood-ka" and smoking cigars while slurping back borscht in a room that smelled vaguely like cabbage is what came to mind. What I made today was a beautifully vibrant reddish color with bright hues of magenta. It was beefy and surprisingly sweet at the same time and had a voluptuous quality to it. And now that's that's a word I wouldn't think I'd ever use to describe borscht - "voluptuous". But it's true and quite frankly, it was delicious. Dotted with smooth and tangy sour cream, I found myself totally smitten.
So in homage to my first borscht, I decorated appropriately:
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