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Soup: it’s the ultimate comfort food. Just as iconic to the Russian cuisine as mayonnaise is, the nation has developed a repertoire of hearty, delicious bowls of liquid goodness. While several of these soups have an ingredient list of unimaginable combinations, take a leap of faith – they work, they really do. So, if you’re in Russia for the World Cup, prep the dill and sour cream and put these bowls on your bucket list.
Probably the most iconic Eastern European soup there is, famous for its bright pink colour. Historically, borscht was made by Slavic people from parsnip or hogweed. It was also the poor man’s meal, and idioms tying the soup to austerity have since evolved in several different languages. Across Russia and Europe there are so many different variations of the soup, that arguably, the only real essential ingredients are beets and stock (and the sour cream and dill to serve). Borscht can also be made cold for summer, and easily made vegetarian.
The key ingredient to rassolnik is the pickled cucumber. Even the stock depends on the brine to get that salty, tart tang to it. One of the lighter Russian soups, traditionally pearl barley and kidneys went into the stock with the pickles. Sorrel is also sometimes added for extra sharpness. As pickle juice reserves a special place in the heart of a hungover Russian, this soup is quite often a go-to hangover cure. A vegetarian version is usually on the dinner table during lent.
Perhaps one of the most strangest concotions ever, but also maybe one of the best. Capers (and caper juice), pickled cucumbers (and pickle juice) lemon and olives give this soup a lot of kick. Multiple meats (usually a bit of offal is included, if that is your thing), cabbage, potato and mushrooms fill out the tomato based broth. If that is not enough of an assault on your taste buds, try it with sauerkraut for a next level soup.
Native to the Urals, this is an easy summer soup featuring another odd list of ingredients, that really work. The stock is made of sour cream, mixed with kvass, a fermented rye drink which is another specialty of the region. Cucumbers, meat (usually bologna, a hangover from Soviet times) radishes, dill, cold boiled potatoes and cold boiled eggs are diced up and then the stock is poured over it. Thats it. Done and delicious.
Another soup loaded with sour ingredients for a sharp taste that can easily be dulled a little with smetana, or sour cream. The essential ingredient in this soup is cabbage – either as is or fermented that is usually mixed in with leafy greens such as sorrel, nettle and spinach. It dates back to the 9th century and was popular due to its quickness to make and use of cheap, accessible food stuffs. By the 10th century is was a Russian staple and was traditionally eaten with rye bread.
Also a summer soup with a kvass based stock. Beet leaves, sorrel, cucumbers and lemon juice is also added to the stock, making it another astringent soup. An expensive and slightly more laborious dish to make, Botvinya isn’t as common as the other soups on the list, so if you find it on a menu – try it. The soups comes in three parts: broth, fish (usually sturgeon or salmon, poached in a salty brine), and ice cubes. These elements either come separately, adding the fish and ice to the broth as the soup is eaten, or the fish is placed in the broth with chopped ice sprinkled in to cool the dish down.
Another fish based soup, with a clearer, lighter broth than botvinya. As fish is the only essential ingredient here (and lots of it), if you’re vegetarian, you might have to give this one a miss. Traditionally just a fishy stock to accompany hearty pies, ukha has been filled out over the years to include multiple root vegetables to go with the fish already swimming in the broth. Made from freshwater fish, ukha aficionados say salt water fish make for a terrible stock and bream, catfish, perch and burbot are commonly used.