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Beet soup, or borscht, is a classic Russian dish, but the ruby-red potage might even be more popular in Poland. That’s why Edward Kutas has barszcz (pronounced “basht”) in a prominent place on the menu at his restaurant, Polish Villa II (1085 Harlem Road, Cheektowaga).

“They eat a lot of soups, like barszcz, as a light meal,” Kutas said of Polish eaters. “They grate the beets and cook it up, and they even drink it like coffee, not with cream but a clear red broth. Instead of hot tea, they’ll drink hot barszcz.”

When Kutas makes the barszcz for his Polish family restaurant, he peels a pile of beets first. He makes his own stock as the soup’s foundation, using chicken and turkey bones. The unexpected ingredient is beet skins.

“I use all the skins in the pot when I make the stock,” he said. “I’m looking for that color. I want it as beet red as I can get it.”

He strains out the solids and uses the liquid in the soup. In a separate pot, he sautés onions and garlic in butter, then adds that mixture to the pot.

In Poland, a powdered citric acid is used to help the beets keep their color. Kutas said he can’t find it here, so he uses a judicious amount of white vinegar. “Otherwise my soup will turn brown.”

Then he adds potatoes and cooks them until they’re tender. He adds whole milk and flour, and whisks in a little sour cream. “That thickens it up a little bit, more texture,” he said. He sells it for $3.45 a cup, or $4.45 a bowl, with another dollop of sour cream on top.

The Polish soup that most non-Poles have heard about is czarnina, mostly for its gory back story. Made with the blood of ducks or another animal, it captured people’s attention. At Polish Villa II, customers’ attention might be swinging the other way, Kutas said. “The czarnina was big for a while, but the beet soup took over,” he said. “We’re going about 10 or 15 gallons a week.”

For information, call 800-2088 or visit www.thevilla.biz

Foodie find:

“Cooks for Books”

Local chefs offer their cuisine in support of the Town of Tonawanda’s Brighton Place Library at 6 p.m. today in Bianchetti by Rizzo’s (550 N. French Road, Amherst). Chefs include Mike Andrzejewski of SeaBar and Mike A’s at the Lafayette, J.J. Richert of Torches and Jeff Levea of Banchetti. Southern Wine & Spirits holds a wine tasting. Tickets are $50 through www.brightonplacelibrary.org or call 332-4375.