May 01, 1998

A Soup By Any Other Name

The word soup came into the Russian language during the time of Peter the Great (along with a great many other “pernicious foreign influences”) and quickly gained popularity. At first, supa (feminine form) meant not a dish but a dinner party – for example, to give a “soup” or a ball. But soon, by the early 1700s, the word supa was being used to mean either the first course of a meal or some sort of drink. And, by the end of the 18th century, supa had become a stable part of the Russian lexicon. Shortly thereafter, the masculine form – sup – appeared, and was used interchangeably with words like pokhlebka or ukha. Linguistic purists protested against the use of this alien word, most notably the poet Alexander Sumarokov, who grumbled in his work On the Use of Foreign Words in the Russian Language: “What need is there to say soup instead of pokhlebka?” But, not surprisingly, Russians did not pay much attention to such pedantry.

Pokhlebka is one of the main types of Russian soups. Like okroshka (see RL, July 1996), it is a light soup based on water and vegetables, but unlike okroshka, which is a summer soup, pokhlebka is served piping hot. As a rule, pokhlebka is made without the addition of fats or oils. The secret of making pokhlebka is to preserve the flavor of the vegetables. Great care should be taken not to overcook it, and the broth should not be stirred during cooking. True pokhlebka always has a clear broth, and it should be eaten immediately and at one sitting in order to appreciate its full flavor. Forget about reheating the leftovers a day later!

Russia has many types of pokhlebkas – potato, onion, lentil and rutabaga, to name a few. And each type has its own characteristic set of vegetables and spices. The recipe shown here is a hybrid of several of the classic types, and one of Russia’s most popular pokhlebkas.

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