Remember that glorious Russian feast I keep promising you? Today’s the daaay!
But. (I know, I hate buts too.)
You’re not getting any pictures of the food. I had some, quite a few actually, but they are no more. My purse (with phone) was rather traumatically stolen at the end of April (hence April being a rather rough month), and alas, those darn thieves just didn’t want to return my fancyschmancy phone with all the pictures of food on it. I hope they enjoyed the Merriam-Webster word of the day and Kittens of Instagram as much I did. So, I had the phone remotely erased. Which, honestly, probably doesn’t matter anyway, since it’s almost definitely in some warehouse or en route to being completely out of reach. Hey! Maybe someone is enjoying
his or her my fancy phone right now. Really glad I paid $100 three weeks before to have the shattered screen fixed. I’m sure everyone involved appreciates it. (Ahem.)
Ironically, “figure out how the Cloud works so I can back up all my pictures” was on my to-do list, nestled inside a little black Moleskin notebook, which was also in the purse. I was on the verge of celebrating my lack of will to do anything (you know, since the to-do list was stolen) when the nice police (and I say “nice” quite sincerely – the police were wonderful) returned a few of my belongings, including the to-do list notebook but noticeably not including the phone or wallet. (Seriously, punks? You want my library card? I hope you check out lots of books about how assaulting people in the middle of day is rude. But hey, thanks for taking my voucher for a $15 brunch entree with unlimited mimosas out of my wallet before you took the rest of it. I’ll be needing that.)
Loathing sarcasm and the urge to throttle glass bottles against the ground aside, I’m starting to get over it. I went outside the other day (by myself!) and only looked behind me, like, 10 times to make sure I wasn’t being followed. Baby steps.
Aaaaaanyway. All that is to say: I have no pictures of past food adventures, save for the few that survive on instagram. I have learned my lessons: I will take pictures with a real camera from now on. I won’t walk on sunny, quiet, pretty [deserted] streets (in my own neighborhood, no less) anymore. I’ll try my hardest not to be afraid, which is something I already struggle with. I’m sure somewhere, sometime, someone wise said something along the lines of: “What are you waiting for? Get on with your life.”
So here we are.
The second annual Old Russian New Year’s Party was another success. Really, when you combine good food, infused vodka, and wonderful people, I don’t know how you can go wrong. Most of the food was more suited for mid-January consumption, when it’s cold outside but you can still drink just enough vodka to feel comfortably warm and be able to climb onto your roof.
Old Russian New Years, take two
Bread: black, rye.
Cheese-carrot-garlic spread, baklazhanaya ikra, lobio.
Vodka: lemon, pepper, plain, honey, and caramel.
Feuerzangenbowle (pictured, in part, above)
Sunflower seed butter cookies, toffee chocolates, pomegranate seeds.
Of all of these morsels, the badrijani nigzis are definitely my favorite. Affectionally dubbed “vegan egg rolls” by a friend who happens to be vegan, they are Georgian (the country, not the state), spunky, and fabulous. For ease of terminology, let’s call them eggplant rolls. The eggplant rolls are a work of genius – simple, garlicky, genius. You take strips of lightly fried eggplant, make a filling of ground walnuts, garlic, onion, and celery, roll the filling into the strips, and garnish the whole dish with bright pomegranate seeds that give the perfect tangy punch to foil the rich, garlicky eggplant rolls. Well done, Georgia. Well done.
Eggplant Rolls (Badrijani nigvzit)
filling adapted from Please to the Table by Anya von Bremzen, method adapted from this lovely post
Note: These will be especially delicious in the summer, when the eggplants are fresh and delicious. However, I fear you won’t be able to easily track down pomegranates in the summer, and the pomegranate seeds really add a little somethin’ to the dish. I’m working on substitutes and hope to report back later with success. [Update: Maybe fresh currants would be nice? They're slightly sour and have the same sort of burst-in-your-mouth qualities, and are slightly easier to come by in the summer than pomegranates.] The filling will likely make more than you need, but it makes an excellent spread for toast or in a sandwich, would be great thinned with pasta water for a unique sauce, or would almost definitely be delicious dolloped on a lamb chop or baked potatoes. Go ahead, get crazy.
Also: these are best prepared at least two hours in advance of serving, and are even great prepared a day in advance. This allows the garlic to mellow and the flavors to meld.
- 3 medium eggplants
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 2 cloves garlic
- a sliver of onion, finely chopped
- 1 small rib of celery, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika (original recipe calls for hot Hungarian, I had sweet Hungarian. Adapt for your tastes.)
- finely chopped parsley and cilantro, totaling about 3 tablespoons combined (again, adapt to taste)
- 5 tablespoons vinegar (I used red wine, the original recipe calls for tarragon)
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 3 tablespoons water
- pomegranate seeds to garnish (just seed a whole pomegranate, you’ll find uses for any leftover seeds)
- vegetable or peanut oil (or any other oil with a high smoke point)
1. Prepare the eggplant: slice the top off each eggplant. Unless the peel seems particularly thick, there is no need to peel. Slice eggplant from top to bottom into roughly 1/4 inch thick slices. (Really wish I had pictures, but look! Google does.) Lay the slices in one layer on a paper towel-lined sheet and liberally apply salt. Let sit at least 30 minutes to expel liquid, then rinse and drain the slices in a colander. Pat dry and set aside.
2. While the eggplant are expelling the liquid, prepare the filling: grind the walnuts and garlic in a food processor or mortar and pestle. If you are without either, chop everything up as finely as you can. Place in a bowl and add the onion, celery, paprika, cilantro and parsley, vinegar, water, salt, and pepper. Stir well. Set aside.
3. Cook the eggplant: In a lage skillet, heat a thin layer of oil over medium heat. Add the eggplant in a single layer and don’t crowd them too much. Work in batches if you have to, adding more oil if needed to prevent sticking. Cook the eggplant until golden brown and easily pierced with a fork. (I’d guess about 5 minutes per side.) If in doubt, try tasting a little nibble – if the texture is chewy or rubbery, cook a little longer. It should be soft, and delicious. Set the cooked strips aside on more paper towel-lined sheets.
4. Assemble: when the eggplant is cool enough to handle, place a spoonful of filling on one end of a strip. Roll the eggplant closed. (Reference google if you can’t picture it.) Place seem-side down onto serving platter, cover, and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.
5. Serve the rolls at room temperature garnished with pomegranate seeds.
Don’t be put off by the name of this next one: Eggplant caviar. Or, if you are put off by the name and afraid others might be too, here it is in Russian: baklazhanaya ikra, pronounced “bach-luh-zhahn-ah-yah eek-rah.” One of many versions of a poor man’s caviar, this tastes anything but. It’s silky, garlicky, and perfect spread on slices of black bread. My host mother in Russia would make this often, and her version included zucchini, eggplant, carrots, tomatoes, onions, and presumably a mystery ingredient only available in Russia, as I have been haunted by and as yet unable to recreate her version. Luckily, Anya von Bremzen saves the day again. Below is an Odessian version of the dish.
adapted from Please to the Table by Anya von Bremzen
Note: This is another dish best made in advance, to allow the flavors to mellow and meld.
- 1 large eggplant
- 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 medium tomato, finely chopped (and peeled, if you like)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- salt and pepper, to taste
- chopped parsley and/or cilantro, to garnish
1. Preheat oven to 375 Fahrenheit. Pierce the eggplant in several places with a knife and bake on a baking sheet until soft, about 50 minutes, turning midway through. Set aside to cool (and turn off the oven.)
2. Once cool, cut eggplant in half lengthwise. Scoop out the pulp and place into a large bowl.
3. Add the onion, tomato, garlic, oil, and vinegar, mashing everything together with a fork. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for several hours.
4. Serve garnished with cilantro and/or parsley. I enjoy it best on slice of black bread, but white or rye are nice as well. It’s also great in an omelet or as a pasta sauce. I’m also dreaming of using it on pizza (specifically, grilled.)
Last but not least, a vodka infusion. Last year, I gave you a lemon vodka that took a whole two weeks to infuse. Guess how long this year’s took? Less than a day. And it was, dare I say, even better than last year’s. I’m also guessing it would welcome a spot in your summer cocktail repertoire.
adapted from Please to the Table by Anya von Bremzen (starting to sense a theme here?)
- grated zest of 2 lemons (zest only, no white pith)
- 750 ml good-quality vodka (I used Skyy, Ms. von Bremzen suggests Stolichnaya)
Add the zest to the vodka and infuse at room temperature for at least 4 hours, but no more than 12. (I did around 8). Strain and chill.
You could mix this vodka with some bubbly water and a little simple syrup, or during the summer with some sopping ripe, crushed raspberries. But really, this vodka is so tasty you should just drink it like it was meant to be: icy cold and straight up, followed immediately by a little bite of food (we found that pomegranate seeds made excellent chasers).
I leave you with (again, I know) the wise writings of Anya von Bremzen, on how to take the proper shot of vodka.
Until next time, with promises of more pictures.