Thursday, November 18, 2010

Between Autumn and Winter – Time for Rich Soups

When I created my blog, I promised myself that irrespective of how busy I would be, I will always find time to publish at least one post per week. Today we are in the middle of November and several long weeks have passed since my last post. This is how dreams change into reality – one cannot do everything.
I hope that those five difficult weeks of hard work will turn into my favor in January (this is when the Government will publish results of the competition) and that I will be able to share some good news with you.
I had no time to cook regular, warm dishes, except for my daughter, who – on the other hand – has no taste for anything at the moment. Always no, no, no, not good!
On the contrary, I was eating « in between », meaning quickly, not complicated or simply I was forgetting that I was hungry. I could not believe that it was me, a person, who loves to cook and eat so much. After two weeks my stomach shrank to the size of a dried raisin. I was full after one sandwich and too tired or just too lazy to cook a proper dinner.

Do you like soups?

A few days ago I read an article according to which, in Poland, despite the fact that we own cars, mobile phones and shiny kitchens, the revolution did not affect our culinary habits. According to some statistics (I do not know who prepared them) Polish people, today, cook and eat nearly the same way as our parents did. The only radical change shows that they do not make huge supplies, as we did during the communist era.

Allegedly we eat a bit healthier, but still quite greasy. The standard Polish daily menu is: sandwiches for breakfast (didn't I tell you that in my post about sandwiches), a “nutritive” and rich soup or meat, potatoes and.... sometimes …. salads and vegetables for the main meal which is “obiad”. And again sandwiches for dinner. Only 10% to 15% of Polish society, mostly young, better educated people experiment in their kitchens with food from other countries.

According to the article, Polish people still love to eat soups (always made from meat or vegetable broth) and eat the largest quantities of soups per year in the World (around 72 l per capita). Contrary to the south of Europe, where “veloutés” or “moulinés” are more popular, our soups consist of larger pieces of meat and/or vegetables – partially because this comes from our traditions, partially because of the climate.

I agree that the tradition of eating soups was, and still is, strong. For example, in autumn and the winter, thick soups with “kasha” are popular, as Polish people are used to eating quite a lot of “kasha” grains (for example, barley, buckwheat, and others). In Polish, “krupnik” is the name of a soup with barley, and comes from the word “krupy”, meaning “kasza”, porridge. This type of soup is known from at least few hundred years, therefore it really is a traditional and ancient dish.
“krupnik” is often served to children. I will not exaggerate too much if I state that a lighter version of the soup, with no bone stock, is served to really young kids, under one year old. When I was a kid, I hated it.
In Polish language the word “krupnik” has another meaning as well. It is also a type of sweet honey and herb vodka, which you can find in every Polish liquor store, prepared after a traditional formula.

Today's recipe is made with rabbit meat. However, you can replace it with whichever meat you like, beef, chicken, or veal. You can make a vegetarian krupnik as well, without any meat. The soup is usually served with barley, but sometimes I use various grains, for example, bulgur or quinoa. Caramelized onion is my own idea; you will not find it in traditional krupnik recipes.

Barley Soup (Krupnik) with Caramelized Onion

Serves 4 to 6

For the soup
Rabbit – 21 oz (600 g) (preferably a body and two legs)
Pearl barley – 3.5 oz (100 g)
Carrots - 2 medium, peeled and washed
Root parsley or parsnip - 1 medium, peeled and washed
Celery root - 1/3 medium, peeled and washed
Leek - 1 small, washed and cut into halves
Onion - 1 peeled and cut into halves
Garlic clove - 1
Potatoes – 7oz (200 g), peeled, washed and cut into small cubes
Bay leaves - 2
Allspice - 3 grains
Black pepper - 4 grains
Dried ceps – 5 to 6
Sour cream – ½ a cup (120 ml)
Fresh parsley - 2 tablespoons, finely chopped

For the caramelized onion:
Onion - 2 medium, peeled and cut into very thin slices
Olive oil - 3-4 tablespoons

Soak mushrooms in about 300 ml of water (1.25 cup) for at least 2 hours.

Prepare the broth: In a saucepan, bring to a boil about 1,6 l of water (1.7 quarts)
Add the meat, pepper grains, all spice and bay leaves.
Cook for about 30 minutes.
Then add carrots, root parsley, celery root, leek, onion, garlic, mushrooms and their soaking water.
Cook for another 30 minutes, until the vegetables and mushrooms become soft.

In the meantime, prepare caramelized onions:
In a hot frying pan, heat olive oil and put onions. Simmer for between 20 and 30 minutes, over a low flame until soft, golden and caramelized.
Mix often and do not let the onions burn.

Put barley in a thin strainer and wash it under running water, then strain and put aside.
Once the broth is ready, strain it.
Separate meat from the bones and slice it according to your liking.
Cut carrots and root parsley in small cubes; slice the mushrooms and put aside. Throw away all other leftovers.
Bring the broth to a boil again and add pearl barley.
Cook for about 5 minutes, under cover, on a medium flame, then add potatoes and cook under cover until the barley and potatoes are soft.
Finally add sliced meat, mushrooms, carrots and root parsley.
In the meantime, in a cup, mix a bit of broth with cream.
Remove the soup from the heat, add the cream mixture to the soup, mix everything well but do not cook. Season with salt, pepper and some freshly chopped parsley.

Serve immediately, hot, sprinkled with warm caramelized onions.
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