Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Russian Cabbage Soup

If you ask a person in Russia how to make cabbage soup, you'll get a different response each time. Nobody agrees on any of the ingredients except the one in its name. I've had several different kinds of cabbage soup myself, but my heart belongs to my first, which also happens to be the easiest.

In Russia I pretended to be a vegetarian, a decision I made as soon as I saw someone selling frozen chicken on a blanket on the sidewalk (these chicken legs were called "Bush legs" because apparently President Bush sent surplus frozen chicken legs as some kind of humanitarian aid). This made life difficult, not only because telling people you were a vegetarian was met with the same kind of baffled stare as if you said you had just been abducted by aliens, but also because there really wasn't that much available for me to eat. I didn't really cook at the time and had to rely on cafeterias and street food.

This meant that pretty much anything that was home-cooked was the most wondrous thing in the universe. One cold evening my neighbor, sensing I was starving to death (at least that was how she put it), gave me a big bowl of cabbage soup, then proceeded to heat it in our communal kitchen and instruct me on the proper ways of eating it. It had beef broth, but I didn't care. She cut up a clove of garlic and put it on the top, then gestured for me to stir it in (my Russian wasn't that good), which I did because there was absolutely no way I could refuse her. Then she put a huge dollop of sour cream on top instructed me to stir that in as well. The result was creamy and rich, and the added garlic gave it an extra zing. I was hooked.

After a while I got sick of eating only cabbage, beets, potatoes, and cucumbers and when I got back home I kept all of them at arm's length (except the ever-versatile potato). Finally, after about 15 years, I've started to crave my favorite Russian foods again. Maybe the constant cold and ice has made me crave foods that kept me warm in Moscow. Next stop, borscht.

I decided to add caraway seeds because they reminded me of black bread, which I would normally dip into the soup so that it would be more filling.

Russian Cabbage Soup

1/2 a head of cabbage, cut into small pieces
3-4 carrots, sliced
1/2 an onion, diced
olive oil
1/2 box of Beef Broth
2 cups water
1/4 cup beef, cut into small pieces
1/4 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1 clove of garlic per bowl, minced (optional)
sour cream or almond milk (optional) 

Saute carrots, beef, and caraway seeds in olive oil until they are slightly browned. Add to pot. Saute the onions until they are translucent, then add them to the pot. Pour the beef broth and water over them. Heat to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Add the cabbage and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook on low heat for 45 minutes or until the carrots are soft and tender.

Ladle into bowls. Stir in a dollop of sour cream (or a teaspoon of almond milk) and minced garlic. I added almond milk to my bowl instead of sour cream to make it a little creamier, and was surprised at how much of a difference it made. It really brought out the flavors of the cabbage and caraway seeds.

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