When it gets darter and colder, hot soup is the best comfort food for both body and soul. Let’s talk about traditional Russian soups, look at some recipes and cook these dishes at home! Is borsch really the most traditional Russian soup?
Soup has been a staple of Russian cuisine since ancient times. It is easy to cook hot meal and an inexpensive way to feed the entire family. Ingredients are interchangeable. During fasting periods of year meat could be replaced with fish or mushrooms. There is a big variety of Russian soups. Let me tell you about the ones that we cook most often in Russia now.
Unlike the popular myth – it is not borsh, but schi, which is the most traditional Russian soup, made of meat and cabbage. Shi are popular in Russia since the IX century, when cabbage was brought in the country.
The basic recipe, which people use at home now is to cook a beef bouillon (put a piece of beef, preferably with a bone in a cold water, add one whole peeled onion and sliced peeled carrot, cook for ~30 min (taking away the meat foam from time to time). Take the onion out. Then add diced cabbage and cook for 15 more minutes, add diced potatoes and cook until potatoes are ready. You can also add some tomatoes – either blended or diced and cooked in a sauce-pan with diced carrots. Several minutes before the soup is ready, add bay leaf, peppercorns and salt. Or you can add the salt and pepper at the earlier stage as I do. After turning the heat off, let the soup stay on the stove for 30 min and serve with sour cream and diced dill and parsley.
That is a basic recipe and there are many variations to it. First of all – in old times cabbage was not available all year round. So people preserved cabbage as a sour cabbage and added it to the soup instead of fresh cabbage. Sour cabbage adds more flavor to schi, so even now many Russians believe that proper schi should be made with sour cabbage. In Spring, when people ran out of both fresh and sour cabbage, they used nettle to replace cabbage in the soup. Nettle has a lot of Vitamin C and in soup it loses the “biting qualities”.
Most people did eat meat in old times, but during religious fasts meat is not allowed, so it was either replaced by mushrooms (or fish) or was omitted (which makes a really bland soup in my opinion). Russian people have a tradition of mushroom picking and have excellent knowledge of mushrooms. We collect mushrooms in Summer and use fresh mushrooms in our cuisine and use dried mushrooms in winter. Porcini is the best type of mushroom for the soup. Champignons will not work as they do not have enough flavor.
Borsch – a soup that is believed to be Russian, actually has Ukrainian roots. But Russia was really good at adopting great dishes from the USSR countries, so by now even we do consider borsch to be our traditional soup and cook it often at home.
There are as many if not more varieties of borsch as they are of schi. But great news is that since you already know how to make schi – learning how to make borsch will be easy for you. Same process, just add beets with cabbage. I like beets to be diced really thin and usually make a mixture of diced beets, carrots, tomatoes without skin and either make the mix marinate in the vinegar or lemon juice for some time or steer-fry the mix for couple of minutes. Adding vinegar or lemon juice is a necessary step since acid helps to preserve the red color of the beets.
I strongly prefer borsch over schi. I think that beets add the taste and color. Even thought the best borsch is the one made with meat, vegetarian option is also good enough. Make sure you have a lot of veggies in the soup – it should be quite thick. We believe that borsch should also be served with sour cream (we like sour cream)). I am not a big vodka drinker at all, but do understand when people like to have a shot of ice-cold vodka with their borsch. Also – great addition is Pampushki – small round pastries, polished with garlic. And I usually add minced garlic either with dill when I serve the soup or add cloves of garlic to the soup when I turn off the heat and let it sit.
I do not know how I have missed such a rich topic as mushroom picking this Summer in my blog! Russians are crazy about picking mushrooms – it is a national sport! We do go to woods for this adventure – the goal is to collect edible mushrooms, which calls for a lot of skills – finding mushrooms in the forest, using your knowledge to understand which ones are not poisonous, collecting them the right way (so that they continue to grow after your harvest) and knowing how to peel and cook them! If everything is done right – all your family and friends are alive and happy.
The soup, made of forest mushrooms is a fantastic dish! We do not do cream soups if we take the traditional recipes – we peel the mushrooms, make a bouillon, add potatoes and the soup is ready. Of course, make sure you add the sour cream before serving the soup – otherwise the experience will be incomplete!
As for mushroom soup – you can replace forest mushrooms with champignons. Not the best choice, but if you do not have forest mushrooms – that is still a viable option.
Current economic sanctions have made some damage to our cuisine. Not all fish is available any day and some fish became quite expensive. However, soups is still an area where sanctions do not do much harm. Best recipe for a traditional Russian fish soup “Uha” – catch the fish, use it instead of meat in the bouillon and make sure that soup is thick from fish + add some potatoes. Preferably – cook it near the lake, at the open fire.
If those conditions are not possible – take several types of fish, a lot of it, clean it, cut into rather big pieces, make a fish bouillon and add potatoes (and carrots if you like). No need to add sour cream to this soup when serving!
I already wrote about a really bizarre Okroshka soup, made of Russian version of Coca Cola and Russian salad. Here is the most bizarre winter soup, for which you use pickled cucumbers, black olives, a variety of meat etc.
I am not a big fan of this soup myself, so I never cook it home. But I found the most traditional recipe for you. Millions of people love it, so give it a try.
Take lean beef and fatty pork, chop in small pieces and stir-fry with diced onion and garlic. Add diced pickled cucumbers and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Chop capers and tomatoes, add them to the mix and sauté for another 3-4 min. Place everything in a sauce-pan, add some chopped sausages and bouillon and cook for 20 min at a low heat. Add parsley and dill and lemon, cook couple more minutes. Turn off the heat, let the soup sit for 30 min and serve. Black olives are not present in this recipe, so I am not exactly sure at which point you are supposed to add them. (sauté them with pickles or add when serving the soup?)
If sautéing pickles did sound ok to you – here is another invention that may make you wonder. Hot milk soup with noodles!
It is mostly cooked for kids though. Maybe because it is easier to force kids eat something or maybe because it is good way to make kids drink milk. Or maybe because kids really like it for some reason. I also used to like it, when I was a kid, which now seems quite odd. Recipe is pretty easy – heat up some milk, add salt and sugar and noodles and cook until noodles are ready.
There is something about this soup. Every country has its version of chicken soup – from spicy Sopa de Lima or Sopa de Pollo in Mexico to Avgolemono in Greece to Chihirtma in Georgia. Russia is no exception – we also like chicken soup and cook it often. And we also cook chicken soup when we feel sick since it really helps to get better.
Russian chicken soup is usually just a clear chicken broth. Sometimes we add noodles or rice to it. And we almost always add minced dill for the flavor and presentation:
All countries and all cuisines are different. But people everywhere like soups and chicken soup in particular!
And what are your favorite soup recipes? Please share, I love trying out new recipes!
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