One of my favorite introductions to summer is the first sorrel I pick in my garden and find in my local farmers’ market. This sour-tasting leafy green grows prolifically—some say like a weed—throughout the summer. During the hot months, Jews from the Eastern European countries of Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania often served sorrel in a cold borscht (soup) called tchav (sometimes spelled schav). Sour-tasting foods like tchav were and are known throughout this area, once called the Pale of Settlement.
Ukraine once had a population of about 300,000 Jews. Many of them had ancestors who’d come up from the Middle East, some from the semi-nomadic Khazars, others from Spain at the time of the Inquisition, and still others from elsewhere in Europe during the frequent expulsions. Although the population has continued to diminish during the current round of violence with Russia, with many Jews recently immigrating to Israel, around 70,000 Jews remain in Ukraine.
Ukrainians serve tchav for the holiday of Shavuot, a time of the year when milk is more plentiful because cows, goats, and lambs are nourished by abundant springtime grass. There are many varieties: Some include hard-boiled or raw eggs, others add rhubarb or chard or embellish with sour cream and croutons. But the one constant is the sour-tasting sorrel, which is always a crowd-pleaser. However you make tchav, it’s is simple, refreshing, and the perfect way to welcome summer.
Joan Nathan is Tablet Magazine’s food columnist and the author of 10 cookbooks including King Solomon’s Table: a Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World.