Chłodnik (Chilled Polish Beet Soup)

Apparently the propitiation of the sun gods has worked: London has finally gotten a real hit of summer this week, and what a glorious week it’s been. People here are giddy; delirious even. Bathed in lambent sunlight, the narrow passageways and brick soften. The city at once feels broader and more open, and more risqué. London’s decided to show some milky-white leg. My flat has windows that face east and west. In the winter, when the sun sets at four o’clock, these windows are a lifesaver. These past few days, however, the afternoon sun has baked my front room to a sub-tropical heat. Working at home, I douse my top in water (a trick I learned from a friend who had family in Death Valley) and type until the water evaporates.

When I lived in Seattle, during the hot summers (they can and do get hot) I’d make a soup that I knew of only as my mother’s cold summer beet soup. I’d make it by the pitcher, pour it into glasses, and drink it. When the pitcher was empty, I’d make another batch. Soon friends in the know would drop by for some in the afternoons. Vividly pink-magenta, this soup is delightfully sweet-tangy and refreshing; it gives gazpacho a run for its money. I only learned its Polish name when I decided to make it for this blog. Continue reading

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Polish Sorrel Soup (Zupa Szczawiowa)

Eastern Europeans have been foragers since long before ‘foraging’ became synonymous with Rene Redzepi and trendy $160 copycat tasting menus. I grew up in New York City, but my Polish mother has a Northerner’s intolerance for heat and a Pole’s love for woods and mountains and cold lakes to swim in. In the New York summers, when the humidity index crawled up to 95% and the air was thick with the stench of gingko and the sidewalks beat with a steady heat, my mother would escape to upstate New York with me and my sister, while my poor father commuted up on the weekends.

Carless, my mother would take us for walks through cow pastures and up grass-covered ski slopes into quiet woods of maple and pine. Continue reading

Polish Mushroom Barley Soup (Krupnik)

This post is part two of the series that could be subtitled, “Delicious Things I Cooked Using Homemade Beef Stock.” About a week ago the Guardian food blog ran a piece on comfort food. It was a nice musey piece; good ‘food for thought.’ What defines “comfort food?” Certainly it means something a little different for each of us. I agree with Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall (the post’s author) that comfort food doesn’t need to be heavy stodgy stuff like shepherd’s pie, although I’m not totally persuaded that it can really extend to anything you’re in the mood to eat. I may be ecstatic about the beautiful salad I’ve just made, but that doesn’t make me want to call it “comfort food.” For me, sometimes comfort food is spicy Asian noodle soups like pho or Szechuan beef tendon soup. But usually when I think of “comfort food,” it is something that evokes a feeling of nostalgia. So I think I liked best what my friend Sabrina said, which is that comfort food is food that feels like a hug. Continue reading