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Okroshka is a chilled vegetable soup that is a facet of Russian and Ukrainian summertime cuisine. Traditional okroshka ingredients include cucumber, green onions and hard-boiled eggs, along with boiled potatoes and herbs, usually dill. All of the ingredients must be chopped and placed in a shallow bowl, then filled with kvass, a fermented rye beverage that serves as a broth. After being chilled, the soup is served directly. No cooking is required, although grilled meats or smoked fish are sometimes added.
The soup is simple and economical but is rarely seen outside of Russia and neighboring Ukraine. It is based on locally available produce and generally is served only when the weather is warm. The crispness of the vegetables and the refreshing qualities of the kvass make it a go-to favorite for Russian and Ukrainian soups throughout the sweltering Baltic summers. Density from the potatoes and eggs lend substance and protein, as well.
Cooks often take liberties with their okroshka ingredients, frequently using whatever is freshest or is on hand. Just the same, all okroshka falls into three main categories: vegetable, meat or fish. Vegetable variations can contain pepper or beet, for example, and smoked sausage is a common addition to meat versions. Dried and salted fish distinguishes the final category. To be traditional, however, all versions should contain at least potatoes, cucumbers, eggs and green onion.
Kvass is a central ingredient to the oldest okroshka recipes but is one that is increasingly substituted. During Soviet rule in Russia, access to kvass was often limited. The beverage is only mildly alcoholic but is made primarily from fermented black rye — the same rye that is used in many Russian breads. When the country faced crisis-level bread shortages, there was no rye available for kvass production.
Innovative cooks began substituting kefir, a fermented yogurt drink, which lent a similar tang. Yogurt-based okroshka remained popular even after the rye drink became available again. Many modern Russian and Ukrainian chefs make their soups exclusively dairy-based. Kefir is available in many specialty markets throughout the world, but cooks outside of Russia who want to try their hand at the soup and cannot locate the beverage can use diluted yogurt for a similar effect.
Garnishes are another way that cooks can leave their mark on okroshka. The soup is commonly topped with a dollop of sour cream as well as with a sprinkling of salted dill. Sometimes a dressing made of egg yolks, mustard and horseradish is also mixed in.
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