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Russian Cabbage Soup

Does anyone have a recipe for that sweet/sour, tomato-based Russian cabbage soup? I know it's sometimes made with sauerkraut, sometimes without, and often includes stew meat cut into small cubes.

I had a bowl of this at Max's Opera Cafe the other day, and I would love to be able to make it at home. They used brisket instead of stew meat, and I know there were carrots and tomato-based products involved, but beyond that I'm clueless! Please help!

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  1. My family ethnic heritage is Hungarian Jewish, but here is a recipe for a sweet/sour cabbage soup:

    3-4 lbs. beef short ribs
    2 T olive oil
    2 T beef base
    28 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
    3 T brown sugar
    2 large onions, chopped
    salt & pepper
    1 large cabbage, cut in quarters, cored, and finely sliced
    1/3 cup white wine vinegar
    4 qt. water

    Brown short ribs in olive oil till well carmelized in 8 qt. soup pot. Remove, reserve for later. In same pot, cook onions till carmelized (15-20 min). Return short ribs, add cabbage and cook till cabbage is "sweated", or starting to turn translucent. Add tomatoes, beef base, sugar, vinegar, salt & pepper and cover with 4 qt. cold water. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to simmer and cook for 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste when finished and adjust seasoning, perhaps more s/p, sugar, or vinegar. Let pot sit overnight in fridge when cooled, then you can easily remove any fat. Remove short ribs and shred or dice meat in small pieces, return meat (not bones) to pot. This improves with age, can be kept a week or fridge (not in original pot) or frozen for several months.

    You mentioned carrots, I have never added carrots, but I suppose you could add 3-4 scraped, chopped carrots when you sweat other vegetables. If you do this, please report how it turned out. Enjoy!

    4 Replies
    1. re: Diane in Bexley

      I forgot to mention that if you add some meatballs made with ground beef, rice & eggs to this soup, you get a "mock" stuffed cabbage dish.

      1. re: Diane in Bexley

        I am anxious to taste this soup, it looks so delicious and satisying, and so different! I am such a huge fan of soup, thanks for the recipe!

        1. re: Diane in Bexley

          This recipe inspired me to finally make a sweet and sour cabbage soup. I didn't have short ribs or beef on hand, but I had a can of consomme, a cabbage, tomatoes, brown sugar & white wine vinegar, so I decided to give it a try. Also added 2 carrots, a stalk of celery, some sweet paprika, thyme, caraway & dill. Turned out great, look forward to trying your family's version when I pick up some beef short ribs!

          1. re: Diane in Bexley

            I always use 4 GOOD sized carrots, scraped, and sliced 1/2". Imparts additional sweetness and taste. Must cook till tender. I dont like to sweat the carrots with the onions. Also, a BAY LEAF adds an additional layer of flavor. I don't use wine vinegar. Just plain old 5% cheap vinegar works.
            My wife and my grown children's favorite soup

          2. That sounds like a wonderful recipe! Thank you so much =)

            1. Here's a similar recipe that my family loves. I'm big on soup, and really try to avoid pre-made ingredients, but the chili sauce and the ginger ale really do add a nice twist to this soup. It was hard for me to try this one, but once I did, it quickly became a favorite. http://www.recipesonrails.com/recipes...

              BTW, it looks like I confused some pictures. There's clearly leeks in the 2nd picture. That was probably a stock picture and not from the cabbage soup, not that you couldn't add leeks too :)

              1. I think you mean щи, which is usually transliterated "schi." There were lots of results when I Googled this, some of which sounded like what you'd had. (There are a few varieties of schi.)

                1. Alright, so I made a batch of what I now know is schi, and it was delicious! I just threw ingredients into a pot and let it simmer. Didn't even sauté the onions in oil or brown the meat, so the recipe was very healthy! You could make it less salty by using "no salt added" diced tomatoes, and/or using less broth and more water.

                  2 pounds of brisket, cut in 1" cubes
                  1 large onion, in large dice
                  2 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds
                  1 medium green cabbage, chopped into 1" square pieces
                  1 28oz can diced tomatoes
                  2 cans beef broth + 1 can water
                  2 tablespoons brown sugar
                  2 tablespoons white vinegar
                  1/2 cup ketchup
                  1 bay leaf

                  Simmer until the brisket is tender, about 2 1/2 hours. Also, like a lot of soups, this recipe tastes even better the next day.

                  1. To be authentic, in Russia, schi typically does not include tomatoes or tomato sauce. There is a version called kisliye schi (sour schi) made with sauerkraut. Also, you would not see sugar added to the soup. I have seen pieces of fresh tomatoes added, however, generally schi is considered to be a winter soup and tomatoes were not available. I suspect that sugar and tomatoes were an American adaptation.

                    1. I think you might be thinking of the Polish bigos.

                      Soupsong.com has a good recipe:

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: frenetica

                        Nah that's not quite right -- the soup I first had at Max's used brisket, not ham. This one's closer to what I made. Includes tomatoes as well:


                        I wasn't so much concerned with being "authentic" as approximating the soup I ate in the restaurant, and I have to say that what I came up with was very very close. Thank you for your replies, though! I've definitely learned a lot!

                        1. re: operagirl

                          Just remember the ultimate finishing touch from the Max's recipe: sliced green grapes. And I remember they shred the cabbage very finely. Oh g-d that sounds good right now, with some steamed potatoes and dill and sour cream.....

                      2. Hi!  Just wondering if you ever found a recipe similar to the Russian Soup from Max's Cafe.  I live in the Boston area and went to San Francisco twice in the past three years.  I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Burlingame and went to Max's for dinner.  I ordered the Russian Soup and I fell in love.  I had it every day for a week the first time in the area and when I was there in 2007 I had it again, everyday and found a Max's Cafe takeout at the S.F. Airport and took the soup on the plane.  I will not be back to CA. for a while but I want to make the soup and I would like it to be as close to Max's recipe as possible.  Also, do you know if they use stew beef or brisket?  Thanks! 

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: zoceangirl

                          Hi there! Sorry for replying sooo late . . . but I made Diane in Bexley's recipe, except I used brisket instead of short ribs, as I think this is what Max's uses. It was delicious, and very similar to what they offer. Mm.

                          1. re: operagirl

                            Just in case you want to try more variations (or if you just like Eastern European flavours), I will copy and paste my post from this thread:


                            "If you have cabbage and stock, I'd say your best best is to make щи (schi). That might even be what your mother called "cabbage borscht."

                            I've made the version in Anya von Bremzen's "Please to the Table" and the version in Darra Goldstein's "A Taste Of Russia." Both are very good.

                            You can also find recipes online for regular щи and кислый щи (sour schi, sometimes called green schi), which gets a lemony tartness from sorrel (http://www.ruscuisine.com/cooking-rec...).

                            I can't vouch for any of the recipes you'll find online, but I am sure there are some good ones out there!

                            Here are some schi recipes (most contain beef, often brisket specifically, to make the broth richer, but you're already close with chicken stock, so it's your call):


                            You can also check out the soups sections here:

                            http://www.ruscuisine.com/cooking-rec... - check out #7
                            http://www.russianlife.com/storindx.cfm - search departments by "cuisine"

                            As you can see, there's a lot of searching around involved- I've found this to be the case when searching for Russian recipes. I lived in Russia for a while, and ever since I've been on the hunt for recipes for the Russian foods that I miss now that I'm back in the states. I highly recommend getting a hold of the two cookbooks I mentioned above if you're interested in doing more Russian cooking- it makes life so much easier!"

                        2. I know this is a reply to a really old post, but if you mean Max's in nothern California-the one I went to is in Redwood City-I went every chance I got to have the cabbage soup-just loved it. One night, our waitress brought us the list of ingredients for it. Come to find out, restaurants must make the list of ingredients available on request for reasons related to allergies. We loved that oddly spicey soup. Anyway, it was a long long list of things, and a very odd combo-I would never have guessed most of them. The ONLY thing that comes to mind right now is golden raisins-I know it's weird, but it WAS on the list, tho I never saw any raisins in the soup. This was a couple of years ago. If you go back, maybe you could ask the waiter/waitress quietly for the list...and leave a nice tip since they could potentiallly get in trouble. .

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: onewally

                            I know too this is an old post, but a great addition is ....Ginger snap cookies, added and dissolved into soup , The Raisins mentioned "golden" are more common in a sweet n sour stuffed cabbage, but could be added for sweetness, I think the brwn sugar does enough though.

                          2. I made shchi from the cookbook "Please to the Table." It was more labor-intensive than switching out the tranny of a '51 Studebaker. Now I go with a much simpler recipe that is just as delish.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                              I am pleased to see that someone else has done this (I'd have related it to a '37 Packard but that is just me). Now you gotta try selyanka mysnaya. You'll thank me someday.

                            2. Does anyone have a good family recipe for vegetarian schi (the kind of schi the Russian Orthodox might eat during Lent or Advent)?

                              I did notice this recipe listed above, http://www.soupsong.com/rshchi.html , which uses either beef or vegetable broth, but was curious if anyone had any other good recipes.

                              I realize I could also just leave the meat out of meat-inclusive schis, but if anyone has a recipe they like, please share!

                              1. My mother was from Minsk. This is her recipe
                                Brisket,about 2 lbs,fat removed
                                1 Large cabbage,shredde2 Large onions,chopped
                                1 can(28 or 35 oz) tomatoes,crushed in your hand. I use Pastene brand
                                sour salt-citric acid
                                1 Tbsp oil
                                Brown brisket in oil in large Dutch oven,add onions and saute til clear. Add cabbage,tomatoes and water to cover Simmer til cabbage is well cooked and brisket is starting to come apart-2 or more hours. Add salt,sugar and sour salt til flavored to your taste. Eat with black bread and beer

                                You can substitute chopped raisins for sugar,lemon juice and/or vinegar for sour salt,as per my friends mother,who was from west of Minsk

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: zaydex5

                                  Classic. Perfect. You can play with this, but it really can't be improved upon. Love the black bread and beer advice, too: is there any other way? Especially if that bread is dense, and sour, with a good schmear of decent unsalted butter? Aargh. Don't get me started.

                                  1. re: mamachef

                                    Butter? You need duck, goose or pig fat!

                                2. I didn't mention this earlier, operagirl, but Max's is pretty mellow when it comes to giving out ingredients, if not recipes proper. You may get something designed to serve 400, but I know you can scale that back, and freeze the rest. I'd call corporate offices, or even your local Max's, and just ask. It helps it you inject just the teensiest beggy voice you have.

                                  1. Has anyone made a great schi lately? Making a veggie schi for supper tonight.