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Farmer’s Table: Shchi -- Russian Cabbage Soup

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By Susan Maslowski

I don’t often think about making soup during the summer, but last week’s cooler temperatures seemed like the perfect time to try a traditional Russian recipe for Shchi. I had all of the essential ingredients in the garden.

Shchi is a Russian cabbage soup made with fresh cabbage. It is one of the national dishes of Russia. When sauerkraut is used, the soup is called sour shchi. There is also a green shchi made with sorrel or spinach.

The soup has a long history, originating during the 9th century when cabbage was introduced from Byzantium. Like most dishes that have been around for a long time, recipes vary from region to region and cook to cook.

Shchi is very similar to Polish borscht, minus the beets. It is easy to prepare, and it is inexpensive to make. The ingredients can be changed according to what is available. The soup can be vegetarian or made with any number of meats including beef, pork, lamb, rabbit or poultry. In some cases, fish is used.

The major component is always cabbage, to which the other ingredients are added. The amount of cabbage will fill the soup pot and will seem like too much. It will cook down as it softens in the liquid.

Shchi can contain carrots, potatoes or other root vegetables and fresh or dried mushrooms. Shchi contains plenty of black pepper and caraway seeds. The recipe calls for two bay leaves, which I plucked fresh from my bay laurel tree. Bay laurel is a later addition to the traditional recipe, since it was not imported to Russia from Byzantium until the 15th century.

There is a scant amount of water or liquid in this recipe, making the soup rather viscous. I diluted my recipe before serving, because it seemed too thick for my liking.

Shchi is full of nutrients and very soothing. It is served with minced herbs like dill and parsley and a dollop of sour cream. Shchi is traditionally eaten with rye, Russian black or pumpernickel breads.

This Russian specialty has excellent keeping qualities and tastes even better when served the day after it has been made. Long ago, shchi was frozen and carried as a solid on trips. Pieces were chiseled off and reheated as needed.

Russians have a proverb, “Shchi da kasha-pishcha nasha,” which means “shchi and kasha are our staples.”

Shchi (Fresh Cabbage Soup)

1 tablespoon butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium onion, chopped

1 leek (white part only, sliced)

1 large carrot, cut into matchsticks

4 cups beef or vegetable stock

¾ pound cabbage, shredded

3 medium potatoes, cubed

1 medium tomato, peeled and cubed

2 bay leaves

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

½ teaspoon caraway seed

Sour cream (1 tablespoon per bowl)

Chopped fresh dill and parsley for garnish, if desired

Melt butter in large soup pot. Add garlic, onion, leek and carrot. Sauté for about 5 to 10 minutes until vegetables have softened.

Add stock and bring to a boil.

Add cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, bay leaves, black pepper and caraway seed.

Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for approximately one hour, stirring occasionally.

Remove and discard bay leaves.

Ladle soup into bowls. Add a dollop of sour cream on top and sprinkle with dill and/or parsley.

Refrigerate any leftovers.

(In Russia, shchi is often cooled and allowed to “cure” in the refrigerator for a day or two, before serving, because it tastes great reheated. It is sometimes served cold.)

For questions about recipes or other information, contact Susan Maslowski at mudriverpottery@aol.com or go to our websites at metrokanawha.com and putnamreview.com. Susan also has a Farmer’s Table Facebook page.


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