Fermentation lies at the heart of Russian cuisine as one of the most ancient techniques of preparing food. As you will notice throughout this book, numerous recipes rely on sauerkrauts, kvass, or rassol (the fermentation liquid) for their distinct tangy flavor. This soup, which carries the name rassol in its very title, is the embodiment of such a tradition. While historically rassolnik is an old Russian dish, the go-to recipe in our family comes from Poland. Back in the 1970s, my mom took part in a school program that allowed Soviet kids to find pen pals in neighboring socialist countries. She hit the jackpot, since she was linked up with a boy in Poland (the most coveted country of all friendly socialist ones). After a few years of correspondence, my mom and her parents were invited—and most importantly permitted by the Soviet officials—to visit her pen pal. Along with a bag full of trendy garments, chewing gum, and fancy stationery, which made her the coolest teenager in school, she brought back this recipe for a good old Russian rassolnik, cooked by her Polish friend’s mom. The delicious soup always reminds me of the interwoven nature of the Soviet and Slavic histories and cuisines.
For the stock
10 1/2 oz (300 g) beef brisket
1 onion, skin on, halved
1 carrot, peeled
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon allspice berries
1 tablespoons salt
8 1/2 cups (2 liters) water
For the soup
3/4 cup (5 1/2 oz/150 g) pearl barley
2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon chili sauce of your choice
2 large salt-brined pickles, grated
1 cup (9 oz/250 g) sour cream
small bunch of flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
To make the stock, place the brisket in a large pot with all the vegetables, spices, and salt, pour over the measured water, and bring to a boil, then cook over medium-high heat for 1 hour.
Lift the meat out and reserve, then strain the stock through cheesecloth. Cut the meat into bite-sized chunks and return to the pot with the strained stock. Bring back to a boil, add the pearl barley, and leave to cook for about 30 minutes. Then add the diced potatoes and cook for a further 15 minutes until tender.
Meanwhile, prepare the soffritto. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion and carrot over medium heat for 5 minutes. Then add the tomato paste, a splash of water, and the sugar, chili sauce, and pickles, and fry everything together for another 5–8 minutes.
Once the barley and the potatoes are cooked, tip the contents of the frying pan into the soup pot, stir, and cook together for 10 minutes. Add the crazy amount of sour cream, stir, and then, as soon as the soup starts to boil, take it off the heat. Add the parsley and serve immediately.
Recipe excerpted from Salt & Time: Recipes from a Modern Russian Kitchen by Alissa Timoshkina. Copyright 2109 Mitchell Beazley.
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