When it's too hot to deal with the oven, try a bowl of okroshka
Russia may be primarily known as a land of frigid winters, but summers in that country can be sweltering, especially in the arid southern steppe. On long, oppressively hot days, it’s often hard to make yourself eat anything substantial; the thought of a heavy cooked meal can turn the stomach, no matter how tempting, and the last thing you want to do is stand over a hot oven. That’s why one of my favorite summer recipes is an adaptation of a Russian classic.
It’s a cold soup called okroshka, which comes from the verb kroshit’ – to chop up – because it combines the crunch of a fresh chopped salad with a cool, hydrating broth. True to a practical Russian tradition, the soup contains plenty of protein – eggs and meat—along with the bounty of fresh vegetables a summer harvest provides.
There are many different versions of okroshka, a recipe that dates back centuries. It’s most commonly made with kvass—a traditional Russian summer drink made of fermented rye bread—but kvass is difficult to obtain outside specialty Russian markets (unless you want to be adventurous and ferment it yourself).
A common Soviet-era substitution for kvass in okroshka broth is kefir, a salty, savory and deliriously excellent yogurt drink; you can find kefir on Amazon or in your local health food store. My recommendation: to keep cool during the dog days of summer, make a giant pot of okroshka, store it in the fridge, and ladle yourself portions as needed. It’s got the blissful combination of cucumber and yogurt that spans cultures—like Turkish caçik, Indian raita, and more—and the peppery snap of radishes, plus a savory undercurrent that will leave you feeling light and full.
3 cups kefir (or substitute ¾ cup plain yogurt, ¼ cup milk for each cup of kefir)
Sparkling water as needed
1 bunch radishes, very thinly sliced lengthwise
1 bunch scallions (just the green parts)
1 bunch dill, chopped
2 small cucumbers, finely diced
2 hard-boiled eggs, coarsely diced
2 medium-sized boiled potatoes, coarsely diced
2 hot dogs, diced
Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons or more to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
Pour the kefir into a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients. Use sparkling water to thin out the broth if more liquid is required. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chill until it feels cold to the touch or tongue.