Winter’s imminent end

Some countries have Karneval. Others have Mardi Gras. One even has Užgavėnės. In Russia, though, there is Maslenitsa -  a six-day-long festival celebrating winter’s end and the promise of a warm sun, as well as the last opportunity for Orthodox Christians to have their fill of milk, cheese, butter, probably vodka, secular music, dancing, and other such distractions before the start of Lent. If you ever find yourself in Russia during Maslenitsa, go to a small Russian town and find the town center. Once there, you will be tempted with so many blini (similar to crêpes), homemade jams and salads and sweets, piping hot tea from the samovar (which will be very welcome since it’s likely to be freeeeezing), vodka and other such beverages (see previous parenthetical statement), people selling trinkets to tourists, and your typical Russian outdoor game such as shirtless pole climbing, fist fights to the last man standing, or wrestling in the snow.

 

If you can’t get to Russia, you’re in luck – blini, quite possibly the most important part of Maslenitsa, are very simple to make at home. The Art of Russian Cuisine by Anne Volokh has nearly 20 pages dedicated to the history and making of blini and blinchiki: 

“…with the first day of Maslenitsa, everyone [eats] blini, which represent the Sun God. The blin is as round and as golden as the all-warming sun. The piping-hot blin is smothered with melted butter. …And in order for the blini to go down easily, each one was accompanied by vodkas of forty kinds and forty flavors.”

Don’t worry, I’m not giving you more vodka infusions. (Yet.) Instead, I give you a quick blin recipe from Volokh’s book along with a few filling ideas. Try them out for dinner this week, and you might even have a few left over for a nice dessert of blini schmeared with sour cream and fruit preserves. Or, doused in a gallon of Vermont maple syrup.

Skorospelye Gurievskie Blini
Quick Blini, Guriev-Style

adapted from The Art of Russian Cuisine 

  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 scant tablespoon sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 – 3 tablespoons buttermilk*
  • 1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
  • extra butter, for cooking blini
  • sour cream, fresh dill, and other fillings (below) – to serve

*I rarely have buttermilk and instead mix the juice of a half or a whole lemon with milk to achieve the same effect as using buttermilk. Check it. Also, I found I needed the extra 2 – 3 tablespoons in this recipe because I wanted my blini to spread in the pan more easily. Up to you.

To mix blini: Beat the egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl until combined. Add the flour, salt, melted butter, and buttermilk and mix until combined, then beat at a moderate speed for about two minutes. (Volokh suggests using an electric mixer, but I couldn’t be bothered to do more dishes and did it by hand. Seems more authentic, no?) Add the baking powder, mix thoroughly, and set aside. In another bowl beat the egg whites until stiff (if you do it by hand, you get to work those muscles!) and fold into the batter gently but thoroughly.

Cook blini immediately. A few notes: This will go more quickly if you have two or more blini pans going at once, which may require some extra help. Your first blini might not turn out (mine didn’t), but Russian proverbs say the first blin is always lumpy, so don’t fret.

To cook blini: Heat a 5 to 6-inch pan over medium to medium-low heat and brush with butter (I used a sliver, but use your first blin to judge how much butter you need for the rest). Scoop 1/4 cup of batter and place in pan, rotating pan quickly to evenly coat the whole pan. (This video kind of shows you the technique, although it uses a larger pan than I did. You can use whatever size you like, as long as you use enough batter to evenly coat the pan.) Cook for 1 – 2 minutes until light golden brown, then flip and cook other side for just another minute. We found that if you gently lift the edges of the blin with a fork, you can test to see if it it’s ready to be completely flipped, or if it will crumple into a sad heap. Again, use the first blin to guide you. And remember, this isn’t as hard as it might seem.

Stack blini on a paper towel-lined plate as you go; cover with foil to keep warm.

Mushroom and rice filling 

  • 3/4 cup cooked white rice
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
  • 1/4 onion, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Sautee onion in oil over medium heat until softened. Increase heat a little, add mushrooms and salt, and cook until mushrooms have released all their liquid. Add rice and pepper and heat through.

Fish and rice filling

  • 3/4 cup cooked white rice
  • 2 fillets mild white fish, such as tilapia
  • 1/4 onion, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Sautee onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat until softened. Remove from pan. Season fish with salt and pepper and cook until done (depending on the fish, about 5 minutes per side). Break fish up into little bite-sized bits with spatula and add onion, rice, and more salt and pepper to taste. Heat through.

To assemble blini: Put a few spoonfuls of filling in middle of blini and roll up like a burrito (or however else you can figure out to make the whole thing stay together). Top with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of fresh dill.

Yield: 12-13 blini, and enough filling for those and then some. You could always make more blini for your filling, or since the fillings don’t have any defining herbs or spices, you could treat them as a blank canvas and create a whole other dish another night. Tonight we combined the leftover fillings and seasoned them with ground cumin, coriander, chili powder, and a Mexican seasoning mix, then put those in leftover tortillas from another night with a little lettuce and cumin-lime sour cream. I’ve digressed.

Maslenitsa ends Sunday. What are you waiting for?

Kara

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2 thoughts on “Winter’s imminent end

  1. Kelly says:

    Как вкусно… I might make some this weekend if I get to the grocery store. The filling looks wonderful! Thanks for sharing :)

  2. Давай давай давай!

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