Recipe: Russian Winter Vegetable Soup

Russian winter vegetable soup | Photo by Keri White

I came across a version of this in a Facebook post — it was called “Monday Soup,” and was said to have been found in a Russian cookbook called “Kachka” by Portland, Oregon-based chef Bonnie Frumkin Morales.

As the story goes, years ago, Morales’ mother ran a Russian Jewish day care center out of her home in Chicago and made a large batch of this soup every Monday to serve to her charges. It is warm health-giving comfort in a bowl, made with winter vegetables and rounded out with rolled oats, which thicken the soup but kind of disappear in the cooking process.

It reminded me of a dish my beloved late father-in-law used to make — he amusingly called it “a mess.” He, too, was of Russian Jewish descent, and would make this pot of vegetable stew/soup/porridge on cold winter days.

I tweaked the version posted on Facebook to deliver more garlic flavor and used the vegetables I had on hand. But like many traditional recipes of its kind, the Monday soup accommodates varying preferences and larders.

In addition to the ingredients listed below, the addition of cabbage, celery, sweet potatoes, parsnips, kale, beets, onions — really any vegetables — would work here. Ditto rice, barley or farro in place of the oats.

The version below kept us warm and cozy during a recent stormy cold snap. Over the course of a few days, we tried various toppings for the soup: a pat of butter, a dollop of plain yogurt, some grated cheese and a glug of really good olive oil. All were excellent ways to add texture and flavor, but if a lower-fat version is desired, they can easily be omitted.
In terms of rounding out this meal, I veered away from a traditional green salad since the soup is so chock full of veggies.

When I served this for dinner, I added salmon tartines to the menu — open-faced sandwiches on toasted whole-grain bread with a generous schmear of cream cheese, a sprinkling of scallions and a few slices of lox. It was a lovingly delicious nod to my dear, departed father-in-law and some of his favorites.

The soup can stand on its own, certainly, but if you want more dishes on the table there are plenty of options. You could easily go a sandwich route here and, since the soup is vegan, you can choose to go in a meat, dairy or pareve direction. Turkey with avocado? Roast beef with horseradish? Yes. Grilled cheese? Quesadilla? Swiss cheese with pickles and mustard? Absolutely! Tuna on rye? Sure! Ditto a cheese or charcuterie plate, some interesting breads, focaccia or crackers.

Another good option could be a grain or bean dish. Consider a chickpea salad, tabouli, couscous or hummus. Regardless of how you accompany it, this soup is a winner.

Russian Winter Vegetable Soup
Serves 8

One really amazing thing about this soup is the simplicity of it — minimal seasoning, self-cooking broth — it is the quintessential example of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.

The original recipe called for a sprinkling of chopped fresh parsley and dill just before serving; I only had parsley in my fridge, so that’s what I used, but dill would add a lively freshness to the soup. A spritz of lemon and a sprinkle of zest also would be a nice complement.

2 heads garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons salt
1-2 teaspoons pepper
1 gallon water
1 head cauliflower, cut in ½-inch pieces
1 head broccoli, cut in ½-inch pieces
2 large Yukon Gold potatoes cut in ½-inch pieces
4 carrots, cut in coins
1 cup rolled oats
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
Optional toppings for serving: Plain Greek or Icelandic yogurt, sour cream, butter, olive oil, additional fresh herbs, lemon wedges

In a large soup pot, heat the oil with the salt and pepper. Cut whole heads of garlic in half horizontally and place them inside, skin and all, cut side down. Allow the garlic to sizzle a bit and release its flavor, moving it around a bit to avoid sticking, about 3 minutes. Add water, and bring it to a boil. Cover the pot, lower the heat and simmer for about 45 minutes until the broth is well flavored. Add salt and pepper, if needed.

Using a slotted spoon, remove all of the garlic — heads, cloves and skin — from the pot and place it on a plate to cool. Meanwhile, add all the vegetables and bring it to a simmer.
When the garlic is cool enough to handle, remove the cloves from the skin; they will be soft. Discard the skin. Place the cloves back on the plate and mash them with a fork.

Scrape the mashed garlic into the soup. Add the oats, and simmer for at least 30 minutes until all vegetables are soft and the oats are sort of blended into the soup. Taste and add salt and pepper, if needed. Sprinkle parsley into the pot, and serve, topped as desired.


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