7 Jun

Sammy & Bella’s chlodnik: Polish beetroot gazpacho

I can’t say that I’m always a fan of reality cooking shows, but the upside is that I’ve met some amazing people because of the skyrocketing profile that those shows gave them. Standout personalities like Aaron Harvie and Alvin Quah from MasterChef Australia’s second season come to mind, as well as Sam Sgambellone from My Restaurant Rules, who’s now rocking it in the coffee game as a bigwig at Sydney’s Mecca Espresso.

And then there are Sammy and Bella Jakubiak, the winners from the second (2011) season of My Kitchen Rules. Not only did they singlehandedly save that season with their terrific energy and skilled cooking, but they are also among the loveliest people you’ll meet in the food industry. They’re fun, genuine, driven (but not at all costs) and, despite good looks worthy of a modelling portfolio, you won’t find them anywhere near a catwalk diet – they know how to eat and do so with pleasurable abandon.

While they’re now enjoying the same treatment as celebrity chefs – TV spots, food festival appearances and party invites galore – they are, in reality (no pun intended), home cooks. It’s just that they are fantastic home cooks, and ones who manage to repeat the experience for a big crowd. Their catering business and Burger Bar stem from the love and dedication of a hardworking family kitchen, with all of the generosity that goes with it.

Sammy and Bella

Anyone who watched last year’s MKR will know that Sammy and Bella have a lot of passion for their Polish roots, including a zeal for cooking traditional and modern interpretations of the cuisine. They can partly credit their early love of food and cooking skills to experiences gleaned from their Polish grandmother Ula, a caterer whose career highlight was cooking a meal for Bill Clinton.

So for this month’s soup competition on The Melting Pot, Sammy and Bella are sharing one of their favourite ladle-worthy family recipes: their Polish beetroot gazpacho. It’s a cold dish, perfect if you’re in Australia’s north, or anywhere else when the sun is shining and you crave a soup that’s bright and fresh. It also has all of the nutritional-packed value of a raw vegan dish. In fact, if you’re eating raw (or a strict vegetarian), you can simply swap the natural yoghurt for coconut yoghurt.

But that’s beside the point – you’ll want to make the soup because it’s delicious. To get the full story behind the recipe, The Melting Pot recently chatted with Sammy to about the recipe’s origins and her and Bella’s Polish roots. Here’s what we she had to say about this interesting twist on a dish that stands in stark contrast to Poland’s reputation for stodgy, colour-deprived foods. – Michael Shafran

Beetroot gazpacho with crème fraiche and horseradish
Serves 4

“My grandma’s best dish through and through was her hot barszcz, which is Polish for borscht. It was the one dish that we ate the most. It’s a very traditional dish for Christmas and Easter because it’s vegetarian, since we don’t eat meat on Good Friday or Christmas Eve. Also, good Catholics also won’t have any meat for Lent.

“My grandmother cooked her barszcz with a clear broth and we’d eat it with uszka, which literally means ‘little ears’. It’s almost like little ravioli bent into ear shapes and filled with finely chopped mushrooms that are caramelised with butter and flavoured with marjoram or other Polish herbs.

“Polish food has a real patriotic feeling to it. Polish citizens consider themselves to be really strong people who have lived through wars, famine and communism. It was such a hard time, and it’s still a big part of its culture. You can feel that when you visit: there’s a certain sadness, while at the same time, people are very proud of their country.

“Beetroot soup is the colour of blood, so in Poland they say it’s good for you. It’s good for your blood and makes you strong. If you’re feeling sick, you cook it to make yourself feel better.

“In summer, you’ll find this chilled version of beetroot soup: chlodnik, which translates to ‘cooler’. It’s quite a popular dish in Poland, and is one of our most popular canapé dishes on our catering menu. Because of the beetroot, it’s such a bright pink colour. I think it’s one of the prettiest Polish dishes for that reason. You typically have it with crème fraiche and chives on top. It’s like a gazpacho, which is perfect for Poland, because it gets quite hot there in summer.

“My grandmother passed away at the end of last year, but she did teach our mum how to make her beetroot soup. Mum would sometimes make chlodnik for us, while my grandmother usually made us the traditional, hot version. Polish people will still eat hot stop in summer. When I would get home from school and it was 40 degrees, mum would be like, ‘Sit down and have some [hot] soup.’” – Sammy Jakubiak

300g (about 3 medium) beetroot
100g (1 medium) brushed potato
2 cups (500ml) vegetable stock
2 small eschallots
1 small Lebanese cucumber
1 cup (250ml) natural yoghurt
Salt and white pepper, to taste
1/2 to 1 lemon, juiced, to taste
1/4 cup (60ml) crème fraiche
1.5 tablespoons chives, very finely chopped
1-2cm piece of fresh horseradish*

1) Using gloves, peel and coarsely grate the beetroot, then peel and chop the potatoes. Place in a pot with the vegetable stock, bring to the boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer and cook until tender. Remove, allow to cool slightly, then place in the refrigerator to chill.

2) Peel and roughly chop the eschallots, chop the cucumber and place in a blender with the cooled beetroot mix and yoghurt. Blend until smooth, then season to taste with salt and pepper, and add as much lemon juice as you like. Top with water to make 1.2 litres and mix to combine.

3) Pour into bowls, top with a dollop of crème fraiche and the chopped chives, and finely grate the horseradish over the top.

* Fresh horseradish is available seasonally from select farmers’ markets and greengrocers. If you can’t find fresh horseradish, use Eskal, Krakus, Gold’s or another good-quality brand of preserved horseradish, available in the international or kosher section of your supermarket, or at any Polish or Russian deli. Blend the preserved horseradish with the ingredients in step 2.