Russian Cabbage Soup (Shchi)

(jump to recipe)

This soup is essentially a warm hug.

Russian soups tend to be meat-heavy for all the good reasons so it’s difficult to find something vegetarian and light in the soup category; I do make a vegetarian Borscht from time to time but this time I wanted something light, bright and clear, and this Cabbage Soup, or Shchi, totally hit the spot.

This soup is basically a Russian mixed vegetable soup starring cabbage, carrots and potatoes, in a base made with onions sautéed in butter. Bay leaves and whole peppercorns are added, leaving the soup clear, bright and sharp (not muddled due to addition of ground pepper). Sometimes sauerkraut is added, as are greens, but I’ve added neither to keep it simple. I also used this soup as a vehicle to use up odds and ends in the fridge (I’m looking at you, diced celery and turnip from 2 weeks ago).

The soup seems overly austere right until the moment you dollop it with sour cream, because once that is stirred in, it makes the soup so creamy and decadent, with a slight tang that’s most welcome.

The soup is a prime candidate for Chop Therapy when you need it most. Of course you could cut the vegetables into bigger pieces, but that would increase the cooking time and also affect the bite and mouthfeel.

Clockwise from top: Diced russet potatoes (in salted water), diced turnip, diced onions, peppercorns, bay leaves, diced celery ribs, roughly chopped cabbage, diced carrots

Calling this a recipe would be overkill – it’s basically just a quick sauté of onions in butter, followed by the addition of each vegetable (diced) one at a time, spices, salt, 8 cups of water or broth, and a good boil+simmer.

I wanted everything to stay bright and intact so I am suggesting the shorter simmering time.

NOT boiled to death as the you can still see the colors!

Adding potatoes toward the end may seem counter-intuitive but it keeps them intact and the soup clear.

Once the soup has simmered for about 15 minutes (or until the potatoes are tender), and the seasoning has been adjusted (salt, pepper) it is ready to be served. Ladle into bowls and top with sour cream and chopped dill.

Russian Cabbage Soup with Sour Cream and Dill

This soup will keep in the fridge for several days (there’s no garlic, so the flavor doesn’t bloom in the fridge!) and freezes well too. Just be sure to defrost by thawing in the fridge or on the countertop and gently rewarming, so as to avoid turning it into mush.

If dairy-free butter and sour cream are available (I use WayFare and just love it) please use them by all means to keep this recipe dairy free! I made this soup with dairy-free butter and also added dairy-free sour cream on top, and it tasted really good. You could use extra virgin olive oil as well (instead of butter) to make it healthier, but I would urge you to spring for some butter here, dairy-free or not, because the “onions sautéed in butter” are a big part of the flavor in this soup.

Serve the soup with some dark, buttered bread or just as is. It’s sure to warm up your belly for days!

• Recipe •

Russian Cabbage Soup
Adapted from The Russian Cuisine Cookbook

Makes 6-8 hearty servings (as a main)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter (dairy-free if available) or extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 medium turnip, peeled and diced
2-3 celery ribs, scrubbed clean and diced
1 medium head cabbage cut, roughly chopped (about 4-6 cups)
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 large russet potato, peeled and diced
2 bay leaf, whole
8-10 black peppercorns, or to taste
8 cups water or vegetable broth (adjust salt if using)
3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

To garnish
Fresh dill, chopped
Sour cream (dairy-free if available)

In a large heavy-bottom pan or Dutch oven, sauté onion in butter until translucent. Avoid browning.

Add turnips and sauté for 3-4 minutes until slightly tender. Add celery, cabbage, carrots and finally potatoes, sautéing for 3-4 minutes after adding each ingredient. Season with salt.

Add peppercorns (packed in a disposable or reusable teabag/tea dispenser, cheesecloth, or loose if you don’t mind biting into one) and bay leaves, and 8 cups of water or vegetable broth and bring to a boil; reduce heat to simmer for 15 minutes, until potatoes are cooked through but not falling apart.

Discard bay leaves and peppercorns, and adjust salt levels to taste.

Ladle into bowls and serve piping hot with a dollop of sour cream (dairy free if available) and chopped fresh dill leaves. Mix the sour cream into the soup while eating for the full flavor.

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