Christmas in our house is all about Christmas Day, although I must admit I enjoy the leftovers of the turkey as much as (or probably even more than) the main roast. However, across the world the main Christmas celebration meal is often had on the evening before.
Wigilia, literally meaning “vigil,” is the main focus of Polish Christmas and is a meatless Christmas Eve meal, also known as the Star Supper, as it doesn’t begin until the first star appears in the sky.
One of the traditional elements of this meal is a soup called barszcz; the Polish version of the Russian beetroot soup, borscht. We have quite a bit of beetroot at the allotment; I love the earthy taste and vibrant colour, which seems to offer some brightness in the cold, dark winter. There are different versions of this soup, but mine is a clear soup with finely chopped beet, served with boiled potatoes and sour cream. The sour cream element is both authentically Polish, and simultaneously unauthentic as the sour cream I use is Lithuanian. Apparently Polish sour cream is superior to that usually found in our supermarkets, having a deeper flavour and thicker consistency. We have a local Eastern European store run by Lithuanians, so I went to find some Polish sour cream. On asking, the shop assistant agreed that Polish sour cream was indeed good, but insisted that Lithuanian was even better! I have to say that the sour cream I left the shop with was amazing; creamy, yet still sour and refreshing, a brilliant accompaniment to the earthy flavours of the soup.
Preheat the oven to 200°C, wrap the washed beets in aluminum foil and roast until tender (about 30-45 minutes). When they’re cool enough to handle, peel and slice into strips or finely chop. In a medium saucepan, bring the stock to the boil, add chopped beetroot, garlic, sugar, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for about ten minutes, allowing the flavours to combine. Serve hot with the boiled potatoes and a spoonful of the sour cream.