Monday, August 11, 2008

Norma's Shchee

I was in the Soviet Union for a bit less than a month back in 1990. I remember eating a lot of soup, and wondering why none of it had any beets in it. I was pretty darned happy there were no beets, as I had not yet learned how backwards I was on that point yet, but remember wondering where the iconic beets were.

Turns out, there are lots of iconic Russian soups. Nothing Beets Borscht has a recipe for a shchee, which looks to be just what I remember having all over the USSR.
Norma's Shchee

This recipe for shchee, given to me by a good family friend, was the recipe of somebody's grandmother. It is one of the easiest recipes I have encountered, and also one of the best.


1. If boneless chuck or brisket is used, take the meat out of the pot when it is ready -- check after 1 1/2 hours -- and when you serve the soup, serve the meat, heated and sliced, as the main course. The meat can also be used to fill piroshky to serve with the soup.

2. Carrots, parsnips, and turnips can be added to the soup. First peel these vegetables, then dice them, then brown them in butter, then dump them into the pot when you add the cabbage.

3 pounds flanken or shin beef or chuck or brisket
3 pounds cracked marrow bones
8 cups water
1 head cabbage (3 to 4 pounds), shredded
1 large onion, diced
3 tablespoons butter
4 cans tomatoes (8-ounce size)
10 pitted prunes (optional)
1/4 cup raisins (optional)
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice
6 tablespoons brown sugar (optional)
2 tablespoons honey (optional)

Garnish: sour cream and chopped fresh dill

Boil the meat and bones in the 8 cups of water for 1/2 hour. Skim off the scum.

Meanwhile, sauté the shredded cabbage and the diced onion in the 3 tablespoons of butter, for only 3 minutes. Add a can of tomatoes and continue to cook the cabbate until it is limp.

When the meat has finished its 1/2 hour, and the scum has been skimmed, add the sautéed cabbage-onion-tomato mixture to the beef.

Then add the rest of the tomatoes, the prunes and raisins, salt, lemon juice, brown sugar, and honey.

Bring the soup to a boil and then lower the heat and let simmer, partially covered, for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the meat is tender.

Remove the meat from the pot and let it cool. When it is cool, either cut into cubes and return to the soup pot, or put it on a platter to be reheated and sliced, and served along with the soup.

Shchee tastes better at least a day old, so either refrigerate it or leave it on the stove and bring it to a boil twice a day (to prevent any bacterial growth that would make the soup toxic).

To serve, bring the soup to a boil and ladle it piping hot into soup bowls with a dollop of sour cream in each bowl. Then sprinkle with freshly chopped fresh dill.

Also served cold, in my experience. And you have to love any recipe that includes the word "toxic." But, hey, a good life lesson: how to keep large amounts of soup edible when you lack proper refrigeration!

When I had shchee there was never any meat in it, nor on the side. Meat was not plentiful where we were, and when someone offered you meat, you accepted it graciously. Usually, when asked, people would say that it was veal.

It was never veal.

It was this way that I had camel, horse, dog, cat, and various other animals. Truthfully? The camel gyros were delicious.

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