Catherine I grew up on a nourishing and simple Baltic Russian cuisine, allowing her to withstand a lifetime of hard physical labor in a harsh climate. Northern and Eastern European, Caucasian, Central Asian, Siberian, and East Asian cooking traditions influenced this cuisine, which combined plentiful fish, pork, poultry, caviar, mushrooms, berries, along with honey, crops of rye, wheat, barley, and millet, enabling a plethora of bread, pancakes, pies, cereals, beer, and vodka.
Soups were a special staple, either eaten hot or cold. I imagine that Peter the Great and Catherine were fond of Borscht (see recipe), a whole meal in a bowl, and of pleasing red color—in Russian, red also means beautiful.
Borscht (Beet Soup)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 3 medium beets, peeled and grated
- 2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 6 cups water
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
- Smetana (sour cream), for topping
- Sliced rye bread and roast beef, for serving
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add beets, carrots, and potatoes, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened.
- While vegetables are sautéing, bring broth and water to a boil in a large soup pot. Add the soft vegetables, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.
- Remove bay leaf. With a handheld blender or food processor, blend the liquid and vegetables into a thick soup .
- Serve soup warm topped with a generous dollop of smetana (sour cream), and rye bread with roast beef on the side.