Must every self-respecting cook have a signature dish? Because I don’t seem to have one. If you started reading in the hopes that this sorrel soup is mine, it is not. This season marked the first time I made it myself, even though I grew up eating green shchi — a light Russian soup prepared with fresh greens like sorrel, nettle, and ramps — every spring.
I can’t think of a single dish that I would make over and over again in the last decade that I spent firmly grounded in the kitchen. It has been more than a decade, I believe, but the last decade marks — mostly — successful cooking. Rather, I seem to have seasons.
A season of grain and veggie bowls in the years I spent in the U.S. It was the time when I was working out six times a week, sometimes twice a day — who is that person? Yulia circa 2015 consumed unreasonable amounts of quinoa, allowed herself a dessert once a week and was a lot slimmer. Sometimes I miss her, or rather her body.
There was a season of making granola and jam every single day, albeit for work when I had a home-based bakery in Sri Lanka. I ended up with lots of leftovers, so breakfast was always granola with warm milk and a toast with butter and mango jam.
Even the way I prepare certain ingredients changes every couple of years. I used to buy chicken fillet, for example, cut it into cubes, marinate, saute, and add to salads and bowls. These days I roast a whole bird, take it apart and make at least four meals.
So right now is the season of greens in my life. It started with discovering ramps, also known as wild garlic, also known as wild leeks, also known as bear’s leeks, in April. The fact that something that looks so much like grass can taste so vividly of garlic was nothing less of mind-blowing. So while the season lasted I turned ramps into pesto, stuffed pirozhki (Russian hand-pies) with it, and mixed the leaves with cheese to fill eggplant rolls.
I discovered rainbow chard (for myself that is), and if that seems like not too much of a discovery, you should know that my experience with greens was centered around spinach and kale for the most of my cooking life. I don’t count spring onions, dill and parsley, as every Russian pretty much has them running through her veins.
Lately I went as far as to utilize the leaves of vegetables like radish and kohlrabi, which I am especially proud of because those come for free with the vegetables, so I don’t have to spend extra money on greens.
Which brings us to sorrel and Russian sorrel soup. Sorrel, or shchavel in Russian, is a leafy green plant with a distinct sour taste. As the greenest, both in color and substance, Russian dish I could think of was green shchi, I made it my mission to seek out sorrel and prepare the soup.
In truth, sorrel soup can be also made with nettle, with ramps, or with all of the above. Shchi is incredibly versatile. In winter, the soup is made with sour cabbage; in summer, when the last year’s stock of sauerkraut is gone, fresh cabbage is substituted, turning simple shchi into lazy shchi; and in spring, when the first leafy greens appear, it’s all about green shchi. Or green borsch? If you look for a sorrel soup recipe, you’ll come across both names.
Green Shchi or Green Borshch?
An unpopular opinion: shchi and borsch are actually the same thing. Before you throw rotten tomatoes at me: I didn’t come up with it. As a Russian saying goes, I sell it for what I bought it for. Meaning: I am just telling you what I have heard.
In his article on the differences (or rather many similarities) between shchi and borshch, Pavel Syutkin, a historian of Russian cuisine, makes a point that these are simply two names of the same soup.
If you were to ask any Russian, myself included, on the difference between shchi and borsch, the answer would be that borsch features beets, while shchi doesn’t. But in reality, there are many types of borsch made without beets. While beets were prevalent in Ukrainian borsch and, subsequently, in the southern parts of Russia, in the North of the country borsch was often made with so-called Siberian hogweed, a slightly sour plant.
Green borsch is another case in point: no beets, but seasonal leafy greens instead. Essentially, at least when it comes to green borsch and green shchi, it is one and the same. In Ukraine and in the south of Russia, you’ll hear green borsch a lot. While I, having grown up in the Urals, close to Siberia, am used to green shchi.
A Few Tips on Making Green Shchi (Sorrel Soup)
- Start with a good stock. In this recipe I give directions on making vegetable stock, but you can use chicken or beef to make it heartier. You can also make the stock on day one, store it in refrigerator, then make the soup the next day in under 30 minutes.
- Sorrel, nettle, and ramp can all be used in this soup. Mix all three if you can, but any two or even just one of them will also do. Sorrel does give a distinct sour taste to green shchi, though.
- Spring is the time of new potatoes which are perfect for sorrel soup. Do not peel them, simply scrub them well with a brush to remove any dirt and wash under running water. Then cut into wedges.
- Add the greens at the very end, after turning the heat off, and let the soup rest for a while, covered, for the flavors to marry.
- Serve hot with sour cream, spring onions, and a hard-boiled egg.
For the stock:
- 1 medium carrot, peeled
- 1 medium onion, peeled
- 1 celery stick, trimmed
- 1/2 lemon
- 1 bay leaf
For the soup:
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 carrot, peeled and grated on the large holes of a box grater
- 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 celery stick, trimmed and chopped
- 4 medium new potatoes, washed and scrubbed well, cut into wedges
- 1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
- 50 grams (2 ounces) ramps, stalks removed, chopped
- 80 grams sorrel (3 ounces), stalks removed, chopped
- 4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved
- Green onion, chopped
- Sour cream
Make the stock
In a stock pot, place the carrot, onion, celery stick, lemon and bay leaf. Cover with 2 liters (10 cups) of water and place over medium high heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to allow gentle simmering. Cover the pot with a lid and leave to simmer for 1 hour. Once ready, take the vegetables, lemon and bay leaf out and discard.
Make the soup
In a heavy-base pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the carrot, onion, and celery and sauté until the vegetables are soft and the onions are translucent for about 8 minutes. Add the potato wedges and pour in the stock. Bring it to the boil and add salt, then reduce the heat so the soup simmers gently. Partially cover with a lid and leave for about 20 minutes, until potatoes are completely cooked through (a knife inserted through the center should sink in easily).
Take the pan off the heat and add the chopped ramps and sorrel. Cover with a lid completely and let the soup rest for about 10-15 minutes before serving.
Pour the soup into 4 plates and serve topped with sour cream, chopped onions and a hard-boiled egg (halved).
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 345Total Fat: 13gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 188mgSodium: 641mgCarbohydrates: 46gFiber: 6gSugar: 6gProtein: 12g