A party, a spread, and a drink

And now for a history lesson:

Back in 45 BC, Julius Caesar implemented the Julian calendar, which is slightly different than the Gregorian calendar we all know and love today. Fast forward a few years (or so) to 1918, when the Soviet Union officially adopted the Gregorian calendar and the Orthodox church kept on celebrating its holidays by the old calendar, thereby making the New Year a holiday celebrated twice each year. Not a bad deal, right?

In honor of Starii Novii god, Old Russian New Year, we had a little gathering complete with infused vodkas, so many pickled things, herring, some Russian salads, spreads, and breads. I went to a Russian store out in Maryland to gather supplies and was pleased as punch to discover they even had Sovetskoye Shampanskoye, which was undoubtedly responsible for the slight hangover I had the next day. No matter, when throwing a Russian-themed party, champagne must be had, and Sovetskoye it must be! Anyways, if you’re ever in the DC metro area and want to get a peek at Mother Russia, go to this store – it’s almost exactly like every little corner store I walked into in Moscow. When I asked the woman which kind of pickled herring is samaya fcusnaya (most delicious), she replied “Devushka, oni VSE fcusniye!” (Girl, they’re ALL delicious!) Typical.

Today I will share a recipe for a cheese-carrot-garlic spread. I first sampled this spread when my host mother prepared it to celebrate her late husband’s birthday (which, coincidentally, also happened to fall on the day of the Russian Revolution. Yep, he was born on November 7, 1917. Cray. Zee.) It’s a mish-mash of finely grated white cheese, finely shredded carrots, and crushed garlic, all bound together with a touch of mayonnaise.  In Russia they use what is simply called “Russian cheese” – when I asked for cheese at the Russian store, she gave me Havarti, which I liked quite a lot in this spread.

Syrnyi Pashtet s Chesnokom i Morkovyu
Cheese garlic carrot spread
Adapted from The Art of Russian Cuisine by Anne Volokh

Note: This is one of those recipes that is hardly a recipe. You can add more or less of anything depending on your taste, just be sure to use enough mayonnaise to hold the spread together.

  • 1 pound Havarti cheese, or other mild, soft cheese
  • 1 – 2 medium sized carrots, peeled
  • 2-4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise

Finely grate or shred the cheese (or use a food processor). You want it to be grainy, not mushy. Do the same with the carrot. Mix together the grated cheese, carrot, and garlic in a bowl. Add as much mayonnaise as needed to bind the whole mess together. (I suppose if you really like mayonnaise, you could use more). If you want to be super fancy and slightly retro, you might even fashion a cheese ball out of it. Serve with crackers, bread, or toasts.

The cheese garlic spread is the orange-y one in the white bowl with a plastic fork. Classy.

But wait, there’s more!

I also infused two kinds of vodka: a lemon vodka and a black pepper vodka. Did you know that infusing vodka is really easy and tastes really good and is also kind of awesome? You heard it here first.

Note: These vodkas take two weeks to infuse, so plan ahead.

Limonnaia Vodka
Lemon vodka

Adapted from The Art of Russian Cuisine by Anne Volokh

  • 4 cups good quality vodka (I used Stolichnaya)
  • 1 lemon
  • sugar to taste

Wash the lemon well and scrub off any wax that may be on the rind. Slice lemon (thickness doesn’t matter) and remove seeds. Place vodka, sugar, and lemon into an airtight container (a quart sized Ball jar would work nicely here), shake it around a bit to somewhat dissolve the sugar, and let sit in the refrigerator* for two weeks. Shake the jar whenever you happen to think of it throughout those two weeks. After two weeks strain vodka through cheesecloth and store in airtight container.

Pertsovka
Pepper vodka
Adapted from The Art of Russian Cuisine by Anne Volokh

  • 10 – 20 whole black peppercorns (depending on taste), slightly crushed
  • 4 cups vodka

Combine pepper and vodka in airtight container, give it shake, and let sit in refrigerator for two weeks. Shake the jar occasionally throughout those two weeks. After two weeks strain vodka through cheesecloth and store in airtight container.

 

Infused vodkas are all well and good, especially if you like to drink vodka straight. I highly recommend at least trying them straight, just so you know what they taste like. If you don’t like to drink vodka straight, then I have just the thing for you: A cocktail! I call it the Slippery Russian. I wanted to make a cocktail that combines Russian flavors but that wasn’t too sweet or too fruity. What I got was a very refreshing drink that kind of sneaks up on you, as the citrus does an excellent job of hiding the vodka taste. Cheers!

Slippery Russian
makes one cocktail

  • 1 shot lemon vodka
  • 1 shot pepper vodka
  • juice of 1 lemon (or half a lemon if you’d like to taste the vodka more)
  • 1 tablespoon of dill simple syrup (recipe below)
  • seltzer water
Combine all ingredients except seltzer water in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake for 10 seconds, strain into a glass, and top off with a splash or two of seltzer water.

 Dill simple syrup

Note: The next time I make this, I’ll let the dill infuse overnight. I could definitely smell the dill in the syrup but when it was all mixed in the drink the dill disappeared; I think I’d like to at least have a hint of dill. Also, if you don’t think you’ll use a cup of dill simple syrup within a week, I suggest only infusing half of the recipe. The non-infused simple syrup will last almost forever in the refrigerator, whereas the dill should be used within a week or so.

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • a few sprigs of dill

Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, transfer syrup to an airtight container, and place dill sprigs in syrup. Allow dill to infuse for at least two hours. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

~~~

And there you have it – the cure to your winter blues. As the Russians say, shto-to stalo kholodat’, ni pora li nam podat’? – It seems to be getting a little chilly out, shouldn’t we have a drink?

Happy Old New Year, everyone.

Kara

 

*Apparently, many vodka infusing recipes specifically say not to infuse vodka in the refrigerator. But, I really liked the outcome of my vodka, so no harm done I suppose. Next time I’ll do as recipes suggest and place the vodka in a dark, room temperature spot and see what happens.

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