Sunday, July 30, 2017

Okroshka: Russian Cold Kefir Soup for Cook the Books June/July Pick: "Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking" by Anya Van Bremzen

It's the end of July tomorrow and that means it's also time for the Cook the Books deadline--where  group of book-loving food bloggers read a foodie book and make a dish inspired by it. This round we read Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food & Longing by Anya Van Bremzen, chosen and hosted by Simona of briciole.

Written by a James Beard-award winning writer, it's a memoir about growing up in Russia and tells of Russian history through its food, the chapters divided by the decades from the twentieth through the twenty-first century. Overall I enjoyed reading this book, the subject matter was interesting and I love nothing more than hearing about the food culture in other countries--however I did find myself wishing that there was a little more food description included and slightly less depth on the history side of things. To me, Von Bremzen's writing was most appealing when describing food and cooking, but dragged a bit in her descriptions of people. I think this was because everyone seemed to have at least one nickname, whether historical figure or family member, and I kept getting confused with who exactly she was referring to and going back to reread pages to find out. It's a small, picky thing, but it slowed the story down and impacted my enjoyment of the first half of the book. Whether I caught the rhythm of the writing, or had it figured out by the time Von Bremzen emigrated to America with her mother in 1974, the book picked up its pace for the second half and I enjoyed it much more, through to the end--which included a recipe for each decade. I think foodies who are also history buffs, will enjoy Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking the most. Since I am not that familiar with Russian food and culture as compared to other countries, I'm glad we read the book and I walked away learning a lot--always a bonus.  

Soup, from cabbage-intensive soups like shchi, to millet soup and classics like borscht to botvinya (fish and greens soup) made several appearances in the book and since I love soup and waited until the last minute to make my book-inspired dish, ;-) I knew it was soup that I wanted to make. Since it has been so humid this month, I had thought I would do a cold summer vegetarian borscht but the lovely Amy of Amy's Cooking Adventures made borscht, so I decided to go with Okroshka, another Russian soup that I have been meaning to try ever since the wonderful Judy of Gluten Free A-Z Blog shared it at Souper Sundays a few weeks ago. 

Traditionally, Okroshka is made with kvass, a rye-based fermented drink that is obscure here in America but yogurt or kefir, which is very easy to find nowadays, are great substitutions to add that fermented tang to this soup. Along with the kefir base, there's fresh dill (and other herbs if desired), sliced radishes, cooked potato cubes, sliced radishes, diced cucumber, and hard-boiled egg. I ended up combining aspects of Judee's recipe with one I found on NPR for my version.   

Okroshka (Russian Cold Kefir Soup)
Adapted from Gluten Free A-Z Blog and
(Serves 4)

4 cups plain keffir or 3 cups plain yogurt, out of fridge so it's as cold as possible
3/4 cup ice cold water, plus more if needed
1/3 cup chopped green onions
1/3 cup dill, finely chopped
1 small bunch of radishes, cut if half if large and thinly sliced
1 medium English cucumber, diced
2 Yukon Gold potatoes, or waxy potatoes, cooked and cut into 1/4-inch cubes 
3 hard boiled eggs, peeled and diced
juice from 1 lemon, plus more to taste
sea salt and black pepper to taste

Place all ingredients into a large bowl and gently mix together. Taste and add salt, pepper, and additional lemon juice as needed, and additional water to thin if needed. 

Chill in the fridge for a few hours, until really cold.  Enjoy! 

Sandwich: I paired my soup with a take on a "buterbrodi"--an open-faced Russian sandwich. Since buterbrodi means "butter and bread' in German, and I didn't use butter, it isn't exact but it definitely tasted good. I used dark rye bread, spread with a herby yogurt spread, cucumbers, hard-boiled egg and dill. 

Notes/Results: I really liked this soup--it's tangy, and full of good flavors and textures. I know not everyone is a fan of cold soups but this one is nice and cooling on a humid day and with the all of the good things in it, it makes for a light but satisfying lunch or dinner--especially with an open-faced sandwich. I've made a few yogurt-based soups before, both hot and cold, with Indian and Persian flavors and I liked this one for a change. It's quick and easy to throw together--just some chopping and stirring, once your potatoes and eggs are cooked. I would happily make it again.

The deadline for this Cook the Books round is tomorrow, Monday, July 31st ;-) and Simona will be rounding up the delicious entries at the CTB site shortly after. If you missed out on this round and like books, food, and foodie books, consider joining us for August/September when yours truly will be hosting here at Kahakai Kitchen with the classic children's book:  Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Hope you join us! 

I am linking this post up as my sixth entry for Foodie Reads 2017. You can check out the July Foodies Read linkup, hosted by Heather at Based on a True Story, to see what everyone is reading this month.   

We have some delicious dishes waiting this week in the Souper Sundays kitchen--let's have a look!

Tina of Novel Food and Squirrel Head Manor shared this Roasted Chicken and Smoked Gouda Pressed Sandwich and Salad inspired by The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. She said, "There’s a bit of leftover spinach in there too.  A simple side salad with grape tomatoes, feta and balsamic vinegar dressing. Oh. Yeah.  This was a treat Cassandra may enjoy at the hotel in Cornwall."

Shaheen from Allotment2Kitchen made Oven Baked Lemon Zucchini and New Potato Salad and said, "Zucchini aka Courgettes in the UK as you all know are pretty bland and that is the reason I doused these with some zingy lemony oil.  This Oven Baked Lemon Zucchini and New Potato Salad was served as part of a light buffet style meal."

Mahalo to Tina and Shaheen who joined me at Souper Sundays this week! 

Souper Sundays is back with a new format of a picture link each week where anyone interested can post their soups, salads, or sandwiches any time during the week and I post a recap of the entries the following week.)

(If you aren't familiar with Souper Sundays, you can read about of the origins of it here.

If you would like to join in Souper (Soup, Salad, and Sammie) Sundays, I would love to have you! Here's how...

To join in this week's linkup with your soup, salad or sandwich:

  • Link up your soup (stew, chili, soupy curries, etc. are fine), salad, or sandwich dish, (preferably one from the current week or month--but we'll take older posts too) on the picture link below and leave a comment on this post so I am sure not to miss you.

On your entry post (on your blog):
  • Please mention Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays at Kahakai Kitchen and link back to this post.
  • You are welcome to add the Souper Sundays logo to your post and/or blog (optional).

Have a happy, healthy week!


  1. Deb,
    Thanks for the shout out on the Okroshka! Your soup looks delicious and I love the open face sandwich with the sliced egg and the dill.

  2. Soup sounds interesting, but I think I would grab a bite of that sandwich. Nice interpretations of Russian food, Deb. I agree with you summation of the book. Wasn't quite my cup of tea. I swear I have a salad to post and will get back to Souper Sunday ASAP

  3. I had a difficult time with the book as well but I made Anya's father's recipe for Borshch and it was as amazing as your soup sounds. I think I would like to start joining you on Souper Sundays.

  4. Good review Deb, though as I enjoy history, the book was quite interesting, especially when you throw in lots of food. Not exactly a "fun" read though. I keep kefir going from the grains, so should try this soup for sure.

  5. She did cover a lot in this book (and in the cookbook she talks about, Please to the Table) and for me it was interesting to get the perspective of an insider about events I remember reading about and/or watching on TV. Growing up in Europe, the Soviet Union was there, just next door, yet far away in terms of culture and access.
    I would like to taste some of your soup (and of the sandwich too), especially served in that pretty red bowl ;) Thank you for your contribution to this edition of Cook the Books :)

  6. We certainly learned a lot about Russian history. I to had a hard time to pick up the pace at first but I got sucked in. Glad you enjoyed the book overall. And great soups, your Okroshka sounds delicious. Kefir was a great idea!

  7. This soup is unlike anything i have eaten and it has peaked my interest, going to pop to the library to see if they have any Russian cookbooks.

  8. My mom's family is eastern European and I'm familiar with some of the se recipes, but I follow my Dad's Italian recipe more frequently

  9. Sadly, I didn't get the book to participate but I sure have enjoyed reading so many reviews of it. I brought a salad, one I have made before, for Souper Sunday. Hope yu are doing well!


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