Snow and Spicy Soup

Last week, when New York and New Jersey surrendered to a blizzard, my Petersburg friends regarded our snow paralysis with bemused contempt.  A foot of snow made them chuckle.  Since December, they’ve been living with constant snowfalls and temperatures in single Fahrenheit digits.  My friend Irina and her family make their way around the city through tunnel-like pathways fenced off from the street by 6-foot-high snow banks, with a narrow trench to cross to the other side.  There is no place to dump the snow: all the canals in Petersburg are filled up to the top of their railings, with snow spilling onto the embankments.  This is the winter of my childhood: snow-capped monuments, petrified trees, and awkward snow-clearing machines with two greedy metal arms, clanging along the sidewalks, tossing the snow into a truck trailing behind.  To my friend Slava, however, this white abundance we so much fear on this side of the Atlantic has been a boon: he dug out a cave in the corner of his snow-filled courtyard and now has a garage for his car.

The only commonality my Russian friends and I share in our response to snow is that both in Petersburg and Ridgewood we make soup.  A winter soup must be thick and spicy, and that makes Georgian kharcho a perfect choice.

Ingredients: 1 lb of lamb, 2 onions, 3 cloves of garlic, 2 tbsp. of tomato paste or 2 fresh tomatoes, 1/2 cup of rice, 1/2 cup of sour plums.  (The secret of this soup is cheap, fatty lamb).

Preparation: Cut the lamb into 1 inch squares, cover with cold water, bring to a boil and cook for 1-1 1/2 hours.  Skim off the foam.  Add chopped onion, garlic, rice, sour plums, salt, pepper, and cook for 30 min. longer.  Saute the tomatoes (or tomato paste) in oil and add to the soup 5-10 min. before it is done.  Before serving, sprinkle with cilantro.

This soup must be thick as a stew.  It is (as most soups) better on the second or third day, when all the tastes have a chance to coalesce.  It is also known as an excellent remedy for hangover.