Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Okroshka: Cold Beer Soup

It's sticky with humidity here in DC today. I just got back from a run to Whole Foods for some tomatoes to make a salad, and ended up getting more than a little beer. When I was a kid, sticky humid days meant Kool-Aid and Popsicles; now, it means beer.

Nothing Beets Borscht agrees with me, and shares this strange little recipe.
Cold Beer Soup (Irina-Style)

Okroshka is a cold soup -- refreshing, unusual, and ideal for a hot summer day.

The base of the soup is kvass, Russian bread beer, which tastes like a milk beer. Some people might shy away from making the beer from scratch. But let me assure you, it is not so difficult to make. As a matter of fact, it isn't difficult at all -- it's just a question of setting aside the time. When I make it I start it in the evening and then do the next step in the morning; later that evening I bottle it. From that piont on it's just a question of waiting for the kvass to mature. If you still are not excited by the idea of making your very own, delicious kvass, however, substitute soda water, or a dry champagne.

This is a do-it-yourself soup. The kvass is served in a bottle. Then, there are four bowls of goodies to put in your soup bowl. The kvass is then poured over your pile of goodie, and your soup is ready.

1 quart kvass (see page 173)

Bowl 1:
5 small cucumbers, peeled and grated
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
4 new potatoes or 2 large potatoes, boiled and mashed

Combine the above ingredients, prepared as indicated.

Bowl 2:
Scallion greens
Salt and pepper

Coarsely chop the scallion greens. Then sprinkle with salt and pepper, and hammer them so that they're very flat. This makes the scallion juice flavor the soup as soon as it is put in.

Bowl 3:
Precooked frankfurters and/or sausages, cut into bite-sized rounds

Bowl 4:
Chopped fresh dill

To serve okroshka, put the bowls out on a table, with a serving spoon in each, and the kvass, well chilled in its bottle or in a pitcher. Each person will help him/herself to the goodies from the bowl, in whatever proportion he/she wants, and then pour kvass over it.

I know that I have heard of milk beer before (and not Japanese variety that seems to have some web traction these days), but can't find a good reference. However, we can intuit from both the recipe for kvass and the context here that milk beer is a light beer that has little in the way of hops or aging. Good ol' Wikipedia points out its low alcohol content, and says that it's considered suitable for kiddies to drink. I remember kvass being sold on the sidewalks of Moscow... I was freaked out by the common "glass" which looked for all the world like a cross between an old trumpet mute and a diaphragm, so don't remember actually partaking. Plus, face it, at 18, I was a prim little thing, and didn't drink.

If people are interested, I can post the recipe for kvass as a bonus post. [[ETA: Recipe for KBAC/kvass up, here!]

Wikipedia suggests that you can substitute light kefir for the kvass, which makes me think that if you're going for something creamy, you could also use buttermilk. Why not! Wikipedia also tells us how much should be in that pile of goodies: "The ratio of chopped food to kvas is similar to that of cereal to milk." Good to know!

I think most "he/she" constructions are awkward beyond believe, but I like the usages here, as this is a 1974 book -- I like the idea of a teenaged girl not only writing and publishing a book, but also being aware of her choice of gendered pronouns. (And, no, I would not prefer the author use the gender-neutral pronoun "they" or any of its offshoots; it's plural, damn it.)

I am tagging this "vegetarian" because the sausages/frankfurters look entirely optional -- if anyone strenuously objects to that, do let me know. I want the tags/labels to be useful, but not over the top (yeah, there are two potatoes in this dish, but it doesn't seem like a potato dish, so no potato tag... etc.)

My dinner tonight isn't anywhere near as exciting as okroshka; an English ale, a slice of cheese on a piece of whole wheat bread, and eventually, the tomato salad that launched this post.


  1. sounds like a very refreshing cold soup. in the philippines we can get pretty humid weather, the sun can be bitingly cruel. i will keep this recipe in mind. these days however the weather has been intemperate in the kindest of ways. gentle rains, friendly wind, i sometimes feel like i might be in america. is that crazy or what?

  2. Gentle rains and friendly winds make me think of my home state -- Oregon. Even in the heat of the summer, it's not anywhere near as humid as where I live now (Washington, DC).

    What do you eat to beat the heat in the Philippines?