No Polish holiday is complete without a bowl of borscht
Borscht is a traditional Eastern European soup that is said to originate from medieval times and is served in two distinct varieties that originate from the Ukraine and Poland. The Ukranian version of the dish is more of a stew than a soup, containing lots of vegetables and a bit of meat. The soup, regardless of where it is made, can be enjoyed hot or cold.
The dish is traditionally served during both Jewish and Christian holidays – Passover and Christmas meals are not complete without borscht, according to the Nassua Telegraph. On Christmas Eve, many Polish families will serve the soup with uszka, small dumplings stuffed with mushrooms and sauerkraut, since meat is traditionally excluded from the holiday menu.
The medieval recipe for Polish borscht contained no beets – rather, it called for cow parsnip that was known locally as the bear's claw, and the news source reports that it is unclear when beets became a standard ingredient.
Polish legend explains how the soup and the parsnip got their names.
One spring, a hungry bear wandered to a nearby village and caught the scent of food cooking. He followed the smell to a home and climbed into the kitchen through an open window. The cook took one look at the giant creature and fainted, so the bear grabbed the pot of soup and left the way he came. Since it was so hot, the bear dropped the pot and the soup spilled out onto the ground. The legend goes that the first cow parsnip grew up from this very spot.
Polish boscht can also be served without straining the vegetables and meats, so it is more of a stew and can be eaten as a main course. The broth for the soup is often made with leftover kielbasa water, and the main attraction of the dish is its acidity. In order to obtain the proper levels of acidity, the soup can be cooked slowly, taking anywhere from three days to one week to complete.
However, if you're in more of a hurry, you can speed up the process with lemon juice, citric acid or vinegar. Since the dish is staple in holiday celebrations, Polish people who are working or living in other countries wire money to Poland to make sure their families have enough funds to buy all the ingredients for borscht and all the other fixings for their holiday celebrations.