New Year’s Day found me with a pot of Schi simmering on the stove, which I posted as my status on Facebook and got some questions about, of the “What’s Schi?” variety. Let me tell how I learned about it, and what it has become for our family.
Many, many years ago, Greg and I ran into our friends Rita and Julian Gilman at a movie theater one wintry night. After the show, they invited us for dinner. “We’ve got a pot of schi on the stove, there’s plenty!” So we went, and had steaming bowls of a remarkable soup, simple, hearty, warming, ample; everything a winter soup should be. Julian learned to make it from his Russian grandmother, and explained that the name Schi is a shorted version of Borschi, or Borscht. I’m not a Russian speaker, but I know that they like to make affectionate diminutives of names, and the word Schi strikes me as such a thing. I have great affection for this soup, and it’s become an annual ritual, making a large pot of it sometime after Christmas and sharing it with friends and family.
It’s not a beet borscht, but a cabbage one, and in this case the cabbage is in the form of sauerkraut. Do not fear the sauerkraut, all you sauerkraut-scaredy cats out there, because it is part of a harmonious whole, and does not make the soup taste of . . . y’know, sauerkraut.
Here’s the recipe — the method for measuring the spices strikes me as something very old, although the garlic powder must be a modern innovation.
2-3 pounds chuck roast, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes, excess fat removed
good quality sweet paprika
2-3 large onions, peeled and cut into narrow wedges pole-to-pole
3-4 grated carrots
28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 package sauerkraut, drained and rinsed — If I can find it I prefer the kind that is in the refrigerated section, otherwise a good jarred sauerkraut will do
Make a pile of salt about 3/4 to 1 inch high. Cover with fresh ground pepper, then garlic powder, then paprika. Mix together, then sprinkle over the meat and pat it in evenly.
Brown the meat well in a large skillet in hot oil, cooking in 2 or 3 batches. Put meat into a large soup kettle — I use a 10 quart model. Deglaze the skillet with water and pour that into the kettle. Add remaining ingredients and cover generously with water. I bring the water up to about 2 inches from the top of my pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer covered for at least 3 hours.
Serve with sour cream and buttered caraway rye. Akvavit and herring is optional, but really takes it to the next level!
For quite a few years now, our dear friends the Harrisons have joined us for Schi dinner. Jurate shares her Lithuanian holiday herring and bread bounty with us. It’s an evening we all look forward to, simple and satisfying.