Thursday, April 1, 2010

Russian Cabbage Soup

This cabbage soup, or shchi, is a good soup. It tastes good. It's full of good, healthy, vegetables. The ingredients cost next to nothing. And it's easy to make.

You should make some of this soup right now, even if you're not hungry, because you will certainly want some later, after the flavors have melded a bit and the soup begins to call to you from the stove top or the refrigerator: "Eat me right now. I am hearty and delicious. I will not disappoint. I am a good soup."

I'll admit that the words "cabbage soup" wouldn't ordinarily set my appetite on fire and send me running for a wooden spoon and a stockpot. But the combination of flavors in this soup succeeds in turning ho-hum cabbage into something special. Leeks and carrots lend the soup mild sweetness. A tomato adds bright acidic flavor. And a modest addition of sauerkraut gives the soup a hefty tang that enhances the flavor of the fresh cabbage. A blob of sour cream and a sprinkling of fresh dill provide the finishing touches that make this soup sing.

Darra Goldstein notes that shchi is "the most Russian of soups." Traditionally, winter versions of this soup are made with fermented cabbage only, while summer versions forgo the fermented stuff in favor of lots of fresh cabbage. Goldstein's recipe combines fresh and fermented cabbage to produce a light soup with rich undertones. To make the soup, begin by softening a carrot, a leek, and an onion in butter. Then add beef stock, a chopped tomato, some sauerkraut, and heaps of raw cabbage. Simmer the soup until the cabbage is tender. Very simple, very tasty. And, happily, cabbage is very good for you. Yay.

Russian Cabbage Soup
Adapted from A Taste of Russia: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality by Darra Goldstein. Serves 4 to 6.
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small leek, white part only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 5 cups beef stock (or vegetable stock, if you prefer)
  • 1 small head of white cabbage (about 3/4 pound), quartered, core removed, and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup fresh sauerkraut, drained but not rinsed
  • 1 tomato
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • sour cream for garnish
  • chopped fresh dill for garnish
Melt the butter in a large stockpot and stir in the onions, leeks, and carrots. Cook over medium-low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften. Do not let the vegetables brown.

Meanwhile, cut a small "x" in the skin at the bottom of the tomato and submerge it in boiling water until the skin begins to curl. Remove the tomato from the water and peel the skin away with your fingers, then slice the tomato in half and squeeze out the seeds. Chop the tomato coarsely. You can use canned tomatoes or a few tablespoons of tomato paste in a pinch, but fresh tomato is really nice in this soup.

Turn the burner to high and add 5 cups of beef stock to the pot with the onions, leeks and carrots. Stir in the cabbage, sauerkraut, and tomato. When the soup comes to a boil, cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. The soup is ready when the cabbage is tender. The soup is overdone when the cabbage is a mushy, soggy mess. Try to avoid this sad fate. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Ladle the soup into serving bowls, then put a dollop of sour cream in each bowl. Don't skip the sour cream if you can help it, but if you do choose to leave it out, try adding a little bit of sauerkraut juice or a dash of vinegar to the soup to get the right salty/sour/sweet balance. Sprinkle with finely chopped dill and serve.


  1. I'm loving this blog already. I'm trying not to be offended I can't eat your first recipe due to the beef stock :) I think my favorite line is: "The soup is overdone when the cabbage is a mushy, soggy mess. Try to avoid this sad fate."

  2. I think if you substitute veggie stock, it will still be pretty tasty. Let me know how it turns out if you decide to try it.