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Okroshka

OkroshkaI have been fortunate to have had some beautiful weather on my travels this summer.  Last summer it seemed to rain in every country I visited.  Each time I landed I was greeted with “You should have been here last week.”  This summer was better.  Much better!  I visited several countries including Greece, Turkey and Ukraine.  I don’t think I saw a full day of rain or a temperature below 25 degrees C the entire summer.  Most of the days in Greece and Ukraine were in the high 30’s.  The problem when it is really hot, is that while you may be hungry and thirsty, you really don’t feel like eating.  Especially not a hot or heavy meal.

So what dish do you imagine in your mind when you think about something that could quench your thirst and satisfy your hunger?  It would need to be something cool and light that could also refresh your body in a hot summer day?  It’s not an ice-cream or sherbet.  My favorite solution is a cold soup that I first tried in one of the best restaurants in eastern Ukraine a few years ago.  In the north eastern city of Sumy is a hotel/restaurant called ‘Zdybanka” and they have what is probably the best okroshka in the world.  Since first trying it, I have sampled many different versions and I don’t make that statement lightly.

I have visited this Hotel and Restaurant Complex many times.  It is a place where I feel comfortable and it has become my home away from home for the past 5 years while researching naturally gluten-free cuisine throughout Europe.  “Zdybanka” is situated on the picturesque bank of the river Psel. It is surrounded with trees and greenery. The restaurant looks wonderful both inside and outside. You’ll be surprised with its calm and relaxed oasis like atmosphere.

Okroshka 1

 

But let’s talk about okroshka. It is a traditional Ukrainian and Russian soup dish.  In the west it is sometimes referred to as white soup or cucumber soup.  The history of this cool soup is very old and complicated, but there are currently three primary variations made from kvass, kefir or sour crème.  The original versions were made from kvass (bread juice).  While it is seldom made this way anymore it is something anyone with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity must check.

The majority of okroshka is now made with sour crème or kefir, making it a pro-biotic powerhouse that creates a great break from the parade of sweetened yogurts available today.   Other ingredients can include finely diced meats and vegetables to provide a light, tasty and nutritious meal.

The version that Zdybanka serves is a variation of the most common recipe of the dish that is prepared in countless restaurants and at homes in Ukraine.  I am not sure what they do to put the flavor of theirs over the top, but it truly is a foodie’s delight.   They use buzhenina (baked ham), eggs, potatoes, fresh cucumbers, green onions, dill and sour cream.  It is served with a slice of lemon and ice-cube, which keeps it to fresh and cool.  It is the perfect dish for lunch on a blazing hot day.

As I said before, okroshka is my favorite cold soup.  It is the perfect dish for lunch on a blazing hot day.  Try it!.  You’ll see what I mean.

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