The Russian summer can be gone before you really know it's there. A two-week stretch of blue skies in June, some thunderstorms in July, and by late August, days are growing shorter and jackets are coming back out. In spite of this, or maybe because of the six months of winter waiting at the other end of the calendar, Russians cherish every second of their summers. If they are not sunning themselves on some Mediterranean beach, they spend as much time as possible at their dachas (July through mid-August is the time of the year when business grinds to a standstill), expose their bodies to all the sunlight they can and try to generally be good sports about the heat. And, of course, they roll out the summer soups.
Foreigners are often amazed at how many cold soups Russia has. Actually, most of the summer soups you'll come across are just variations on the big three. There's svekolnik, the summery cousin to borsch that we wrote about last year. Botvinya, a summer soup that uses a very old and notoriously difficult recipe, is seldom attempted by anyone other than gourmet chefs and grandmothers. The last of the big three summer soups is okroshka - the soup everyone loves and almost anyone can make.
It doesn't take a sharp eye to notice okroshka doesn't have any one ingredient that is particularly summery. These are the rank and file vegetables of the Russian table - potatoes, cucumbers, scallions and radishes, for the most part - thrown together with some meat and doused with kefir. The sum of the whole, in this case, is greater than its parts. Made right, this is one of the tastiest and most refreshing soups out there.
The classic okroshka recipe, which I have not included here, calls for kvas, a traditional Russian beverage made from fermented bread. As kvas can be notoriously difficult to get overseas, the recipe below is for what is commonly called "Soviet okroshka," which became popular in Soviet times and uses kefir instead.
3/4 pound ham
2 boiled eggs
half sprig dill
half sprig parsley
1 quart kefir
Wash and boil potatoes. Remove skin once, cool. Wash and peel cucumbers. Boil eggs and peel.
Dice potatoes, ham, cucumbers and eggs.
Wash and dice radishes.
Wash greens and chop finely on a cutting board.
Place all vegetables, greens and ham in a bowl, salt to taste and mix.
Add kefir and stir. Chill in refrigerator for 30-40 minutes and serve in bowls.
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