I am so excited to offer this recipe for Botvinia (BOHT-veen-yaw), a traditional Russian cold green vegetable soup with fish. I was hesitant about how it would turn out because the base for the soup, kvas, tasted awfully sour and malty. My husband and I loved it, but I worried it might make the soup taste “funny.” But it turned out beyond delicious. If you make this recipe, you will have 3 goodies: a “non alcoholic” (1%) sipping treat for the dog days of summer; the drained bread “mush” which I used to make poor man’s muffins and pancakes (simply add an egg and some flour and baking soda to the mush and fry up or bake up); and, the most unusual, tangy, bracing soup.
Spinach and sorrel are the greens of choice for the soup and, normally, salmon or crab meat is used. But the kicker, and what is always present in Botvinia, is kvas, beloved by Eastern Europeans, who drink it cold as an elixir, or use it in recipes. The kvas takes about 5 days to ferment properly, so plan accordingly. We sampled the kvas as it was fermenting, sipping it (it is definitely not to be gulped!) with little pub-type food bites.
Yield: 4 servings Cold Fish Soup
1.5 quarts water or vegetable or chicken stock. I used homemade bone broth but you can easily use store bought.
2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
1 tablespoon snipped fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon caraway seeds (optional)
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tbps mustard
1 Tbsp capers
1/4 cup yoghurt
1 pound fresh spinach leaves, stems removed, thoroughly washed
1 pound fresh sorrel leaves, stems removed, thoroughly washed
2 Tbsp cup grated fresh horseradish (optional)
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon honey
3 cups kvas (see below)
1 cup finely sliced green onions, including the green part
2 small japanese cucumber, diced 1/4 inch
1 pound cooked salmon (cut into 4 pieces). I like to brush salmon pieces with a bit of olive oil, mustard, salt and lemon juice, pan fry on medium heat for 3 minutes skin side down, without moving, then transfer to a 375 degree oven for about 3-5 minutes to finish cooking, skin side up.
2 sprigs fresh dill
Kvas: (makes 6 cups)
1 pound day-old black bread or pumpernickel
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar, honey or agave. Sugar works best but you may easily substitute.
1/4 cup lukewarm water (110 to 115 degrees)
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves or 1 tablespoon crumbled dried mint
2 tablespoons raisins
First we make the kvas: Heat oven to 200 degrees. Toast bread until it is thoroughly dry and crisp, darkly toasted but not burnt. Chop the cooled bread coarsely. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in an 8-quart casserole and drop in the bread. Remove from the heat, cover loosely with a kitchen towel, and set it aside for at least 8 hours. Strain the contents of the casserole through a fine sieve set over another large pot or bowl, pressing down hard on the soaked bread with the back of a large spoon before discarding it.
Sprinkle the yeast and 1/4 teaspoon of the sugar over the 1/4 cup of lukewarm water and stir to dissolve the yeast completely. Set aside in a warm, draft-free spot for about 10 minutes, or until the mixture almost doubles in volume. Stir the yeast mixture, the remaining sugar and the mint into the strained bread water, cover with a towel, and set aside for at least 8 hours.
Strain the mixture again through a fine sieve set over a large bowl or casserole, then prepare to bottle it. You will need 2 to 3 quart-sized bottles, or a gallon jug. Pour the liquid through a funnel 2/3 of the way up the sides of the bottle. Then divide the raisins among the bottles and cover the top of each bottle with plastic wrap, secured with a rubber band. Place in a cool, but not cold, spot for 3 to 5 days, or until the raisins have risen to the top and the sediment has sunk to the bottom. Carefully pour off the clear amber liquid and rebottle it in the washed bottles. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Next we make the soup: In a large pot, combine water, chives, mint leaves, caraway seeds and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and add spinach and sorrel. Return to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove spinach and sorrel and purée in a blender or food processor with 1 cup of the cooking liquid (pour the rest of the liquid into a soup tureen or serving dish and let come to room temperature). Transfer puréed to a separate bowl to cool. Mix the cooled greens with the cooled cooking stock and add the horseradish, salt, honey, and kvas, a cup at a time. Alternatively, you can puree all the greens and most of the liquid together, which is what I did. Add the green onions, cucumber, salmon. Adjust seasonings. Chill at least 2 hours.
Stir in the mustard, capers, honey and 1/4 cup yoghurt, mixing well. Set aside.
Add cucumbers, , green onions, and 2 tablespoons chopped dill to the liquid. Mix well. Adjust the seasonings. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
Place a spoonful of the yoghurt mixture into each bowl. Ladle soup into bowl. Top with salmon. Serve garnished with remaining dill, scallion and cucumber.