“De gazpacho no hay empacho-You can never get too much of a good thing or too much Gazpacho” Old Spanish saying
Most people judge their summers in fun, travel, and the success of their gardens, I judge them in food. I officially declared this a gazpacho summer. I’ve always wanted a gazpacho summer! Warm and perfect with sparkling days that produce ample tomatoes for making this cold Spanish soup. I remember one cool summer, a few year ago, when I stomped over to my mother’s and boldly declared that I was moving somewhere, anywhere there were real summers that I could eat gazpacho.
Gazpacho is a cold vegetable soup that is cooling and smooth. It is chocked full of uncooked luscious summer vegetables and herbs that only come at the height of summer like tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, cilantro and basil. It has ancient roots that originate in Northern Africa and was brought over by the Moors to settle happily in Southern Spain, in the Andalusia region.
Americans have mostly tasted the tomato based gazpacho called “red”, but there is also “white” and “green” gazpacho. The white is dairy or almond based and the green is packed full of fresh herbs and greens for its color. There are many modern renditions that have morphed from the parent gazpacho to include melons, yogurt, tequila, strawberries and cauliflower but the common denominator of them all is lots of fresh produce, pureed and served cold.
Gazpacho is a simple peasant’s meal, made from the produce warm with the sun’s light that has been picked that day, stale bread and very good olive oil. It is intended to not only nourish but also quench the thirst so it is pureed. It is salad in a blender and summer in a bowl. In Spain, gazpacho is often served as a main course with garnishes that make it stick to the ribs. Cubed ham, avocados, hard boiled eggs and almonds are a few of the yummy toppings it is served with.
Before the invention of those mechanical wonders; blenders and food processors, the women would gather together in a group with all the produce and pound it to smithereens in a large wooden vat made just for the occasion. Single families would puree it with a mortar and pestle and all left overs were served with pasta or whatever at the next meal. As romantic as this sounds, I am quite content to whirl mine up in a blender.
Purists in the gazpacho world believe that this summer dish should be served at room temperature because chilling dampens down the sweetness and the fragrance of the fresh tomatoes. Its ok to chill is a bit in the fridge but don’t get it ice cold. However, any left overs should be stored in the fridge. Using a very nice extra virgin olive oil to the recipe is important to make the flavors pop.
The recipe I am sharing with you today is a combination of many that I have experimented with. This version does not have any bread in it but is based wholly on getting as ripe as tomatoes as possible for the true summer flavor to shine. If your tomatoes aren’t ripe enough, in fact almost over ripe, put them in a paper bag with an apple for a day or two till they are there. Here’s to our gazpacho summer! Hooray!
Summer NW Gazpacho
Serves 4. If you want to make this a real meal deal add to the garnishes some grilled cubed chicken breasts or some boiled chopped eggs.
2.5 pounds of ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 pounds of cucumbers, coarsely chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, seeded, deveined and chopped
3 TBLS each of chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup of a good extra virgin olive oil
2 TBLS of fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
6 ounces of chevre or soft goat cheese
3 TBLS each of chopped fresh basil, divided
12 sugar snap peas, chopped into quarters
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 avocado, diced
1 TBLS of lemon juice
Get out two nice big bowls and the blender. (If you have an immersion blender, you are in luck! Use it instead of all the bowls and blender.) In one of the large bowls, toss all the ingredients to the soup in there are mix till all is well married. In batches, put a few cups of the veggies in the blender and blend till smooth, pour into the other bowl. Press the pureed soup through a sieve or food mill to remove all the seeds and tomato skins. (You can skip this step if you want to de-seed and skin the veggies first but it seems easier this way for me.) Taste, flavor with salt and pepper and and refrigerate till you have your garnishes done.
Mix the goat cheese with 2 TBLS of the basil and cilantro till well blended, and roll into four balls. Gently toss the diced avo with the lemon juice in a small bowl. Serve up the gazpacho into summery bowls and add one goat cheese ball to each bowl and sprinkle with the garnishes and left over herbs. You can also serve in shot glasses for an easy starter. Serve with a sunny smile!
I’ve been receiving these jolly green giant cabbages in my CSA boxes lately. (CSA stands for “community supported agriculture” which is a subscription service to receive a glorious box of organic veggies weekly) These cabbages are awe inspiring and a bit daunting on what to do with them, but I have discovered that when life gives you cabbage you make sauerkraut.
Sauerkraut is one of the most well-known foods that are naturally fermented to get the distinctive tangy flavor this food is celebrated for. Genghis Khan is credited with introducing it far and wide but it was an art form born in China. (He ripped it off from them, so to speak) The Germanic tribes of Eastern Europe went wild over it and made it one of their national foods. It’s probably why they grew so healthy and strapping as sauerkraut is a wonder food.
Sauerkraut, that is made the old school way by lacto-acid fermentation, is filled with communities of beneficial micro-organism that are largely devoid in our modern food that is so fixated on everything being sterile. Beneficial micro-organisms work symbolically with us in so many ways that is hard to explain in a weensy article, but they are critically important for our immune and digestive system. They protect us and nourish us, and we do the same to them.
Most sauerkraut is made by fermenting with a microbial called “Lactic Acid Bacteria” (LAB) that are found on all plants and in the soil. You simply cut the cabbage up, give it a nice salt rub, then let the LABs do their magic at fermenting the cabbage and preserving it all at the same time. The LABs do the same thing to cabbage that they do with us, protect it. Then we eat it and we get protected. Genius.
Amazingly enough fermenting vegetables is super safe and a powerful way to take control of your health. Fred Breidt of the US Dept of Agricultural once said, “Risky is not the word that I would use to describe vegetable fermentation. It is one of the oldest and safest technologies that we have.” He went on to say, “As far as I know, there has never been a documented case of food-borne illness from fermented vegetables.”
So with that in mind, give this wild ancient art a try. I explained a lot of it in the recipe but if you have more questions there are lots of resources online and the book called “The Art of Fermentation” by Sandor Katz tells all. Feel free to add some other flavors to the mix like beets and ginger or carrots and cumin. Turn fear into curiosity and take a walk on the wild side!
Homemade fermented classic sauerkraut
1 large head of cabbage, preferably green or Savoy
1.5 tablespoons of salt
1 tablespoon of caraway seeds
Equipment that you need;
2 large mouth quart jars, washed in the dishwasher
A large mixing bowl
2 small skinny jelly jars full of clean rocks
Clean cheesecloth or muslin
A couple rubber bands
A muddler or something to tamp down the cabbage
Okay dokay, ready to ferment? Here we go. First off peel the droopy outer leaves off your cabbage then cut it into 4ths, de-core it, then finely slice each wedge crossways to make thin ribbons. Toss the cabbage ribbons into a large mixing bowl, separating the ribbons as you do. Sprinkle the salt over the mix then begin to rub the salt into the cabbage by massaging it all. At first it seems you are getting nowhere but after about 4-5 minutes you will begin to notice that the cabbage is breaking down and getting wetter and smaller. After somewhere between 5-10 minutes of massaging, when your cabbage is reduced to half the size you’re done. Massage in the caraway seeds for a few more minutes and it is ready to go.
Next, get out 2 canning quart sized jars and stuff them with the cabbage mix. Tamp the cabbage down as you go to tightly pack it in the jars. I used a canning funnel and a muddler and it worked great. You can pack it down with a large wooden spoon too. When you have the mixture evenly divided between the two jars and squished down tight, pour what fluid is left in the bottom of the bowl over the cabbage. Take an outer leaf you pulled off from the cabbage and tuck it over the to-be sauerkraut to keep the oxygen from getting to it. Tamp it down again.
Now place your rock filled (I know, it’s high tech here) jelly jars on top of the cabbage to keep it submerged. Cover with the clean cloth, put a rubber band around each of the jars and place in a quiet room, out of direct sunlight at the temperature of 65-75 degrees consistently, to do its magic. If the temperature rises above 75 degrees, move it to a cooler location as hot fermentation can make the whole thing go off. It will taste and smell bad. Cold temperatures just slow down the process but no harm done.
Press the cabbage down every few hours the first day to get the juices flowing. (I just pressed down and the rock filled jar to do this with no need to remove the rubber band and cloth.) The liquid will begin to seep out of the cabbage and cover it. This is your brine. Allow the cabbage to ferment for 3-10 days, pressing it down daily under the brine. ( I found that 7 days was just about right)
While it is fermenting you will see lots of bubbles and activity, which shows it is alive and well. As long as the cabbage stays under the surface of the brine, fermentation will occur perfectly. If any mold or scummy stuff grows on the surface, remove it immediately and then re-submerge your cabbage. The sauerkraut under the brine is fine.
Begin tasting it at day 3-4 and then every day until it reaches the perfect tangy-ness for you. When it gets at your preferred flavor, remove the cloth, the jelly jars and the top cabbage leaf and fluff it up into the liquid. Store in the fridge with a lid on it and it will last months. As long as it still smells and tastes good, it’s good. Put on your salads, with your hot dogs, or anywhere else you can think. It is GOOD for you!
“We cannot set down foot but tread on strawberries,” an early English settler in America
Last weekend I was at the Portland farmer’s market downtown and bought a BEAUTIFUL half flat of organic strawberries. The strawberries were from California (I prefer Oregon ones) but that was fine, I had red gold in my hands! There is nothing like red ripe strawberries to make me totally dork out and do the “strawberries are here!” dance then turn the kitchen into a strawberry wonderland.
Even though strawberries are available all year round due to the miracle of shipping them from Peru or some such place, those aren’t real strawberries. They don’t taste, smell or act like a real strawberry, just resemble one…sorta. Real strawberries are red all the way through and are fragrant and juicy. So when the “real” strawberries appear, I am overjoyed!
Strawberries are an ancient fruit that many cultures have danced over for thousands of years. They are native in the Northern hemispheres but the modern strawberry was developed from plants born right here in North America. The first written history on this adored plant is by a Roman Senator in 224BC and from there on out they are a popular subject to (droll) write about. When the European invaders, I mean settlers, came to America they were astonished at all the strawberries growing in the new world.
Not surprisingly, the strawberry is woven through many Native American tales as the berry that brings peace to the home and village with its bright color and sweetness. They would take the wild strawberries and mash then up, add cornmeal and cook them on the fire. (Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the ancestor of the strawberry shortcake.) The settlers waxed poetically about these humble cakes.
Those Native American’s were no dummies as strawberries are a super valuable source of antioxidants. In fact they are rated 3rd highest in antioxidants out of all foods with blackberries and walnuts in first and second place. Strawberries are also turning out to be a powerful anti-inflammatory and actually help regulate blood sugar instead of spike it. (That has the nutrition geeks furiously researching!) So if you have diabetes you can regularly enjoy this delights.
I recommend only buying organic strawberries as conventional ones are sprayed with up to 300 types of anti-fungals, pesticides and herbicides. We aren’t the only ones who love these sweet nuggets so the commercial farmers fight back with chemicals. Conventional strawberries are listed second (with apples being first) as the most “dirty” produce. They are literally poisonous like Snow White’s apple. Please don’t be tempted by the witch of modern chemicals and buy conventional strawberries.
I couldn’t help myself, I had to do strawberry shortcakes for the recipe to share today. I mean, there is no other way to better enjoy the season’s best. These sweet little nuggets have a couple of interesting ingredients that you wouldn’t normally think would be good together but they add a depth instead of detract. I have a gluten free option that is equally amazing on my website, cavewomancafe.come. Take a walk on the wild strawberry path and be amazed!
Strawberry shortcakes with a new twist
Heads up! These take 20 minutes of chill time so figure that into your prep time. Please use as many organic products as possible but the flour, sugar and berries are the most critical. Serves 8
1.5 cups of unbleached organic flour
1/2 cup of cornmeal, Fine ground
5 tablespoons of organic sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/4 teaspoons of salt
The zest of one lemon
1/2 cup (1 stick) of chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup of half and half
1 large egg, beaten
2 pounds of organic strawberries, washed and sliced
A few tablespoons of sugar, depending on how sweet the berries are
3 Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (I used white balsamic)
A few cranks of black pepper or a large pinch
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
Whipping cream or ice cream
Heat the oven up to 425 degrees and get a mediumish. In the bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and lemon zest till all fluffy and well mixed. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or with two forks or the old fashion way, my favorite, with your fingers. (Hopefully you washed your hands first) When the butter is fairly well incorporated, add the cream and mix till just barely blended. (BTW this first step can be done in a flash with the food processor. Just mix the dry ingredients with a few pulses, then add the butter and pulse till the butter is just starting to mix in, then add the cream and pulse till barely mixed)
Turn you dough out on floured work surface and gather into a ball then flatten out into a rough 8×5 inch rectangle about 1 1/4 inches thick. Don’t overwork the dough or it gets tough. Cut the dough into squares to make 8 biscuits. Put the biscuits onto a lightly greased baking sheet and chill for 20 minutes. Brush the top of the biscuits with the beaten egg and sprinkle with some sugar. Tuck in the oven to bake for 15 minutes or until they are golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack to await their grand moment. (This step can be done a day ahead of time)
Gently mix your lovely fresh red ripe strawberries with the sugar, balsamic vinegar, black pepper and vanilla. Let them set for about 30 minutes to marry the flavors. (You can whip your whip cream up here with a dash of balsamic vinegar, a couple tablespoons of sugar and some lemon zest) Cut the biscuits in half and serve the strawberries spooned in the middle with whip cream. Place the top of the biscuit tittering on top and a dollop of whip cream. Sprinkle a wee bit of black pepper on the whip cream for beauty. Do the happy strawberry dance.
About 160,000 years ago, the human diet went gourmet and started eating seaweed. This was about the time that all homo sapiens became coastal dwellers due to the fact the ocean contained a limitless source of nutrition including the super nutrient dense, salty seaweed. It turns out our ancestors were way smarter than us as we hardly eat seaweed unless it is wrapped up in a sushi roll.
It is interesting the note that seaweed contains the flavor profile of umami, which lights up the taste buds and ignites the response to eat as much as possible. In fact, seaweed is umami which MSG was originally grown from before it was turned into the chemical monster it is now days. Our bodies have evolved to highly desire this umami flavor since it was only in seaweed to our ancient grandparents. So seaweed=umami=nutrition, simple.
Seaweed is a supercharged food filled with antioxidants, calcium and a broad range of vitamins that we don’t typically get from land food. One of the most important of those nutrients is iodine, which is missing in most every other food we eat. Iodine is imperative for maintaining a happy thyroid gland and its and hormones. (That’s why they add it in salt)
It also has extraordinary high levels of calcium, B-12 and soluble fiber in it. Sea veggies seem to help regulates many of the hormones and it a major anti-inflammatory food. This is quite possibly the fountain of youth in Japan as some claim the high consumption of seaweed contributes to the county’s super low incidence of diseases.
I bet your thinking, “That’s great Dana, but I haven’t got the foggiest idea what to do with it.” My best suggestion is to get local herbalist Vivi Tallman’s Seaweed Sprinkles” and sprinkle it on everything. (Her number is 503-368-8255 and she also sells at farmers markets in the area) I love the stuff and find it easy to use. You can also pulverize nori sheets in a blender and put it on the table with the salt and pepper. You’ll find yourself reaching for it a lot!
Also familiarize yourself with the seaweeds of the world and its culinary uses. (I found it interesting that there is not any known poisonous seaweed to humans and it is located in all oceans.) Start finding ways of incorporating it into your cooking. Get playful and curious here, it will pay off!
I decided to do just that and have been playing with many types of seaweed in the kitchen. I started making dashi, which is a Japanese soup stock made with kombu seaweed (which is kelp, yup, kelp). It is the base of many Japanese’s dishes. I also made a fish soup out of the dashi that was wonderful! Have fun playing with your (sea) veggies!
Chawan Mushi with shrimp and spring peas
Chawamnushi is a Japanese custard steamed in a cup. Chawan means tea cups or rice bowls, and mushi means steaming in Japanese. Simple enough and amazingly delicate and addictive.
1.5 cups of dashi or chicken stock
1 tablespoon of sake(or use a white wine)
A pinch of sugar
2 teaspoons of low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon of sesame oil
1 tablespoon of finely grated fresh ginger root
3 large eggs
1/2 cup of fresh shelled peas
OR 1/2 cup of frozen peas
OR 1 cup of chopped fresh pea pods
3/4 cup of baby shrimp, cooked
1/2 cup of chopped shitake mushrooms
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Pick out 4 small heat proof bowls of ramekins to make your Chawan Mushi and turn on the oven to 375 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, combine dashi stock, 1 tablespoon of sake and sugar in a bowl and stir till the sugar is dissolved. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil and the ginger and mix some more. Measure out 4 tablespoons of this mix into a small cup and set it aside for now.
Gently whisk the eggs up in a bowl. Do this so gently that you do not create any bubbles in it. Gently stir the bulk of the dashi mixture into the eggs. Divide the peas, shrimp, mushrooms and green onions among your four ramekins, saving out some for garnishes. Pour the egg mixture over the veggie-shrimp mixture.
Get out a rectangle glass baking dish (9×13 works) and set the ramekins in there. Set in the oven and fill the baking dish with water till is about halfway of the ramekins. Bake at 375 for 5 minutes then turn the heat down to 325 and bake for 25 minutes and check for doneness. The custard is set when it is still quite jiggly and if you poke it with a toothpick or knife it produced clear dashi like fuild. If it isn’t quite done yet, keep baking and checking every 5 minutes so you don’t overcook it. Garnish with the saved veggies and shrimp then add one tablespoon per ramekin of the reserved dashi mix and serve up with a smile.
How to make Dana Dashi
This is Dana Dashi, other words, not traditional. If you want traditional, remove the ginger and add bonito flakes. You can get the kombu and other sea veggies at Mother nature’s and bonito flakes at an Asian store in Portland or order online.
A 4 inch square piece of kombu (or there abouts)
A piece of fresh ginger, about the size of two fingers, cut into thin slices.
6-8 shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 quart of water
Get out a nice stainless steel pot and place the kombu, mushrooms and ginger in it. Cover with the water and soak for 30 minutes. (No heat) Set the saucepan over mediumish heat until the water just starts to boil. Remove the seaweed and keep the ginger in it and simmer for about 10-15 minutes. When it is cool, pour the liquid through a fine mesh strainer or 2 layers of cheesecloth and into a bowl. Ta daaa! You have Dana dashi. That wasn’t hard, was it? Store it in the fridge for up to 1 week. Compost the strained out stuff.
“Curing inflammation may well turn out to be the elusive Holy Grail of medicine.” William Joel Meggs, MD
I know chronic inflammation it isn’t a soft and fluffy subject but it is a big issue that has been causing a lot of health problems in the western world. What is amazing about this epidemic is that we can affect it dramatically with what we eat. Understanding inflammation and why it is stomping around among us can be confusing but I’ll give it my best shot.
Inflammation is (mostly) our friend. It is the body’s very natural and healthy response to injury and infection. It defends our bodies by sending immune cells and key nutrients to the areas that need them most. Say you get a paper cut your finger and you notice it turns red, gets hot and swells around the wound. The body has increased the blood flow around the cut to heal it and keep out the nasty bugs. The inflammation is healing the wound. Good.
Where it all goes awry is when inflammation persists for too long and spreads too far. That is when it becomes chronic (long term) and systemic (full body). This fiery type of inflammation has been linked to cancer, arthritis, heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and anything else that ends in “itis”. Bad.
The big question is how does inflammation turn from good to bad? This issue stems from the fact that most of our immune systems in this day and age are overworked and underpaid. Image that your immune system is a fire station. Every time there is an emergency, as in an invasion by something not good for your body, the fire station ramps up and runs out in full gear to put out the fire. Then, in a healthy immune system, all the firefighters go back to the station and clean up, repair the equipment and rest.
But if the fire station was called out on constant emergencies, with no back up, there would be full scale burn out eventually. The equipment would fail from overuse and no repair and the firefighters would fall down on the job. This kind of chaos is exactly what is happening in an overburdened immune system that is constantly under threat. Chronic inflammation harms rather than heals because the immune system’s attack never stops, never repairs and makes poor decisions due to fatigue.
The causes of chronic inflammation vary from person to person but some of the fires are started by being overweight, under stress, lack of sleep, smoking and in a toxic environment. The biggest fire of all is the foods we choose to eat — or not to eat. Think about it, eating is the #1 thing we do day in and day out that affects our health. If your immune system decides that the food you are ingesting is an enemy, then it battles to put out the fire. 70–80 % of your immune system is located in the gut so if the enemy food is constantly present you have full systemic chronic inflammation due to your diet.
There are quite a few foods that are proven to cause chronic inflammation and they are unfortunately the foundation of the American diet. Foods like wheat (gluten), milk, alcohol, sugar, MSG, preservatives and food colorings are enemies of the immune system. Low fat, high carb diets have been discovered to cause inflammation too.
Also many of our oils like partially hydrogenated oils and Trans fats are big culprits. Surprisingly the polyunsaturated vegetable oils like safflower, sunflower and soybean oils are just as bad. They are loaded with omega 6s which are proven fire starters for sure. Our ancient ancestors ate a diet with an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 1:1 and now our current diet is on the average 16:1 with it going up 200% just in the last 50 years. That is due to the obscene rise in process foods filled with these bad oils.
Consequently foods rich in Omega 3s like fatty cold water fish (i.e. salmon and sardines), pasture raised, grass fed meats and eggs, macadamia nuts and flax oil are powerful anti-inflammatory foods. The foods ginger, turmeric, onions, garlic, vegetables, fruit, dark leafy greens and green tea are your friends too. It’s actually pretty easy to remember what foods are anti-inflammatory, just think of whole foods that are intense in color and flavor. (I’m not talking Jelly Belly beans either)
This salad that I am sharing with you today is loaded with anti-inflammatory foods. Just look at its bright color and flavors and you know you have a food that puts out the fires of inflammation. Serve this with a cumin glazed salmon and you will have a happy immune system sitting next to the pool, on vacation…finally.
Cabbage-carrot slaw with cranberries and mint
Try to get juice sweetened dried cranberries and all organic ingredients to really make this perfect. The cranberries are available at Mother Natures.
¾ cup of dried cranberries
3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 teaspoons of honey
½ teaspoon of ground cumin
1/8-1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/4-1/2 teaspoon of a fine salt
1/3 cup of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
1/2 of head of thinly sliced red cabbage
2 large carrots, julienned or shredded
1/2 cup of thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup of sliced almonds, lightly toasted
To start off this color bang of a salad give your cranberries a spa treatment by putting in a small bowl and cover them with hot water. Let them soak for 10 minutes, then drain them in a mesh strainer and let them dry off while you do the rest of the salad. Clean and prepare all your veggies and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, honey, cumin, pepper and sea salt. Then while whisking away like crazy add the olive oil in a slow steady stream till combined. Add the cabbage, carrots and mint and toss well. Adjust the seasonings and then right before serving, toss in the nuts. As with any slaw, if you let the flavors marry for a few hours it is always better. To your health!
“Rodnoi otets nadoyest, a shchi—nikogda! One may become fed up with one’s own father, but never with shchi!” Traditional Russian saying
I don’t know if you have been watching the Winter Olympics but the hubby and I sure have. Watching them has been a tradition long upheld in my family. Not only am I constantly astonished by the talent and tenacity of all the athletes but also fascinated by the country that hosts it. This year the host country Russia, is particularly interesting.
I grew up in the “Cold War” era and Russia has always been this mysterious and dangerous country steeped in tradition and pride. Everything about the place is dramatic and edgy; their weather, politics, history, music and even their alphabet seems a bit menacing somehow. As I ponder all these things, the inevitable question comes up for me, what do these people eat?
If you think about it, there is not a lot of Russian food to be had in our neck of the woods. In fact I think the only thing close I have had was the very interesting and delicious food at the Bosnian restaurant “Drina Daisy” in Astoria. (A must try if you haven’t eaten there yet) My curiosity aroused, I dove down the rabbit hole of Russian cuisine.
Russia is the largest country in the world and its cuisine reflects its diverse and vast cultural span but there are definitely some foods that they all seem to love and eat often. The Russian menu, not surprisingly, is made up of hearty simple foods that sticks to your ribs and keeps you warm. Foods like stewed and smoked meats, potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, onions, fish, honey and whole grain breads to name a few. They also really love pickled foods.
In a land of harsh winters, it’s no surprise that soul-warming soups are a mainstay. They have over 7 different categories of soups but the oldest and most venerable is the Shchi, (pronounced “sch-ee”) a cabbage based peasant soup. This soup is recorded in the written word as far back as the 9th century when cabbage was introduced to Eastern Europe. Shchi is considered the national Russian dish and it is generously woven in their history.
Generally speaking, shchi is a cabbage soup with meat broth base. The peasants had to stretch every morsel of meat they had and this soup was the way to do it. There are many recipes for it as there are soup pots in Russia but the two common variations use either raw or sauerkraut. Undoubtedly the most recognizable shchi to Westerners is borscht, a hearty, colorful, beet soup. It actually came from the Ukraine but was quickly adopted throughout all of Russia and Eastern Europe.
The base of borscht is either beef or pork broth then it is filled with beets and other hearty root veggies that can last through the long white winters of Russia. After a lot of research I liked this recipe the best. The traditional recipes do not call for the beet greens but I could not help myself, I had to put them in. You know how I feel about those nutritious greens! Enjoy this earthy soup with a fat dollop of another Russian fav, sour cream. Naslazhdat’sya! (Enjoy!)
I made my pork stock from a juicy ham bone left over from Christmas. I do not peel my beets or potatoes and they are wonderful that way (and saves time!) Serves a Russian army or 8 people.
3-4 quarts of beef or pork stock
Meat picked off the bones from making the beef or pork stock
4 medium potatoes, cubed into large pieces
8 medium beets diced
1 15 oz can of low salt diced tomatoes
OR 2 large tomatoes, diced
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 tablespoons of olive or coconut oil
1 large onion, diced
2 fat carrots, grated
1 green pepper, cored and seeded then diced
1/2 head of a big green cabbage, thinly sliced
1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon of honey
1 tablespoon of dried dill
OR 2 tablespoons of fresh dill
Salt and pepper to taste
Beet greens from beets, chopped into bite size chunks
Sour cream to serve with it (Try cultured sour cream)
Make your stock the night before by plopping a ham or beef bone with meat on it in a gallon of water and simmering for hours. Chill in the fridge overnight and the next morning skim the fat off the broth, bring to slightly warm on the stove and then pick the meat off the bones. (By bringing the broth up to warm it saves your hands!) Put the meat back in the soup and discard the bones. (You can skip this step and use store bought beef broth with water and add some chopped beef of some sort and simmer till tender but I’m warning ya, it won’t be as good.)
Bring the broth up to a simmer on medium heat then add the potatoes, beets, canned tomatoes and tomato paste. While that is simmering, heat up the oil in a large skillet over med-high heat, then sauté the onions and carrots till fragrant (about 4-5 minutes) Add the cabbage and sauté till the leaves begin to wilt then add the bell pepper, cooking for another minute or so. Turn off the stove and let that sit till the beets are tender in the soup stock, then add the veggies to that and simmer for another 5-10 minutes.
Time to season this jewel bright soup with the lemon juice, honey, dill and salt and pepper till it tastes just right. Add the beet greens and cook about another 5-10 minutes till they are wilted then serve in big bowls with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of dill alongside a crusty rye bread and salad. Priyatnogo appetite!