Summer Schav Soup
Schav doesn't have to come in a jar. Amy Krizer/JW
active: 30 min
total: 1 hr 30 min
I’ll admit that I was scared when I first purchased sorrel (surprisingly easy to find at farmer’s markets and supermarkets alike, and simple to grow.) I had heard horror stories of the tart herb, so when I took a tiny bite, I expected the worst. Plus, I learned that the sharp taste comes from oxalic acid, which is fatal in large quantities. Gulp. But what I got was bright, lemony and with a hint of unripe strawberries. I liked it!
Sorrel is the necessary main ingredient in schav, the muddy, chilled soup of Eastern European roots and a bad contemporary reputation. Most Americans know it, if they know it at all, from the grayish-greenish jarred versions on grocery store shelves. Manischewitz has discontinued their version, the company told me through a spokesperson, although Gold’s website still mentions schav as one of its products. Manischewitz still makes three types of borscht, which gives you an idea of schav’s relative lack of appeal.
Back in Eastern Europe, when winter diets were filled with bland potatoes and cabbage, the fresh sorrel was a welcome change. According to Gil Marks in “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food”, schav was usually dairy or pareve to go along with the lighter summer fare. Jews from southern Poland, also known as Galicia, even added sugar to theirs to create a sweet and sour soup. Schav was also a food of survival during the Holocaust, making its significance even more vital. When Jewish immigrants came to the United States, they could still purchase sorrel from vendors on the Lower East Side, but as time went on, the unattractive soup dwindled in popularity.
Dallas-based food blogger Evan Grant named schav #1 on his list of the “Five Worst Jewish Foods” in D Magazine calling it “borscht’s pale green sister”. Ouch. When I told Evan I was setting out to recreate schav, he told me, “Amy, I love you for your talents, but this will never happen.” We shall see, Evan. We shall see.
The New York Times offers an unkosher version of schav leeks, sugar, heavy cream and chicken stock. I also found simple versions with just sorrel, water and green onions, and more complex ones that use egg yolks or potatoes as a thickeners. Many boasted a big (huge) spoonful of sour cream, But I decided to make a vegan version so no one would be deprived of the deliciousness of sorrel! You’re welcome.
Avocado and corn stands as my thickeners, though a dollop of Greek yogurt would be tasty on top. Since cooking the herb gives it a brownish hue, and my kitchen is hot enough in the Texas heat, I kept it fresh. The result is a bit untraditional but the fresh, tart soup is a refreshing nod to an essential part of Jewish food history.