Category Archives: Russian

The Olympics

Sochi’s Opening Ceremony is just minutes away from starting. I found a live feed to watch online, and the sounds of Russia are blaring from my computer.

Rossiya

If I had my ducks in a row, I would’ve made a huge Russian feast for this day, but my ducks are swimming all willy nilly, as it were, so for now I’ll give you a roundup of all the Russian/Eastern European recipes posted on the blog.

Pskov

To start, a few infused vodkas and a cocktail:

Ginger Vodka

Lemon Vodka, Pepper Vodka, The Slippery Russian

Lemon Vodka II

Some appetizers and snacks:

Tomato and Dill Salad

Badrijani nigvzit (Georgian Eggplant Rolls) and Baklazhanaya ikra (Eggplant Caviar)

Perepechi with Meat and Mushrooms and Perepechi with Cabbage (Udmurt Rye-Crust Savory Pastries)

Syrnyi Pashtet s Chesnokom i Morkovyu (Cheese Garlic Carrot Spread)

A few heartier dishes:

Vegetarian Borsch

Skorospelye Gurievskie Blini (Quick Blini, Guriev-Style)

And for your tea, a few preserves:

Varenye iz Yablok (Russian Apple Preserves)

Apricot and Blueberry Preserves

basil

Enjoy the games, everyone!

Kara

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Bright

A quick post today, for a bright, juicy salad that is also quick to prepare.

juicy juicy

It’s nothing fancy, but it was just what today needed: the ripest, juiciest, summeriest tomatoes, a few dollops of crème fraîche or sour cream, a generous dousing of dill, and a little salt and pepper. Perfect for a quick snack or lunch, and bright for a dreary day.

cloudy

Tomato with dill and crème fraîche
inspired by all the tomato, cucumber, and dill salads I ate in Lithuania and Russia

For one serving:

  • 2 – 3 small tomatoes, or 1 larger tomato, sliced
  • a few spoonfuls of crème fraîche (try making your own!) or sour cream
  • a big handful of dill (or to taste), chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Eat, and be content. Of course, bread (preferably black) would be nice to sop up all the juicy remains in the bowl.

Kara

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Nostalgic apricots

The other day, as we were cleaning up from the farmers’ market, I got a little too enthusiastic about the apricots. Maybe I brought home one pint, maybe I brought home three; it doesn’t matter – there were just too many to handle. You see, back on the farm, we used to have an apricot tree. It was my second favorite tree in our yard, the first being a maple tree whose branches and limbs had conveniently grown into a seat-like structure, perfect for little Kara to climb up with her books.

and evidence I had bangs before they were cool.

The apricot tree, though, well, let me tell you: the apricot tree had a little swing dangling from one of its branches. The apricot tree had a lot of leaves, which come fall time, could be easily swept with all the other leaves into the perfect jumping pile.

apricot leaves

The apricot tree was the tree we used to make homemade ice cream, by filling a few grocery bags with ice and salt and placing our ice cream concoction in a resealable bag nestled inside the ice, slinging the whole thing over a branch, and pushing it back and forth. (Science!) Most importantly, the apricot tree had apricots. Sometimes they were a little spotty, sometimes wormy, but those apricots will always be my favorite.

apricot tree in the summer

You might be able to understand, then, why I became so enthusiastic about the apricots at market. I wanted something simple to preserve them a little longer and looked no further than the Russians. (I knew they would have something for me.) One of my favorite things about living in Russia was tea time, which was basically all the time. When you have tea, you must have a cookie or something sweet. And if you have tea and cookies, you should probably also have a little dish of homemade jam and use its syrup to sweeten your tea. Or you should just eat the jam with a spoon. And if you eat the jam with a spoon, you might quickly eat a whole jar. If you eat a whole jar, you’ll likely clamor for the recipe, and even if you get the recipe, and even if what you make is pretty decent, the magic of that jam in that tea with those cookies might always be lost. (This, I am sure, is what would have happened if the mouse had been given tea and jam with his cookie.) All will not be lost, though, because one day, when you least expect it, you’ll come across a recipe that you know is just the one for which you were always searching.

apricot blueberry preserves

Apricot and Blueberry Preserves
adapted, barely, from here

Note: After I had prepared my apricots and blueberries, I discovered I was out of white sugar. Not to be outwitted again by the elusive Russian preserve, I improvised and used a combination of maple syrup and brown sugar, whose roots, I feel, are decidedly North American. Maybe I should call these Americanized Russian Preserves. Try it either way.

  • 3/4 pound apricots, halved and stones removed (don’t bother peeling, unless you’re feeling ambitious)
  • 1/4 pound blueberries, rinsed and removed of renegade stems
  • 1 cup brown sugar + 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Combine sugar, maple syrup, and two cups of water in a pot and heat over medium-high until sugar dissolves. Add apricots and blueberries.

2. Bring mixture to a boil, then lower to a simmer and keep simmering for about 50 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste as you go along, and add more maple syrup if you think you’d like it sweeter. To test for doneness, spoon a bit of syrup onto a small plate or bowl and place in the freezer for a few minutes. Take out of the freezer and run your finger through the syrup – if it leaves a clear line, it’s done. You can also stop cooking earlier if you want a thinner syrup. If you overcook or the mixture seems like it needs more liquid, add more water until it’s at your desired consistency. Just remember the preserves will thicken a bit as they cool, so don’t be worried if they seem a little thin while still hot.

3. When done cooking, transfer preserves to a jar. You’re supposed to allow this to cool to room temperature before placing it in the refrigerator, but it was late and I was sleepy so I just put them right on in. As far as I can tell, it didn’t make a difference.

Yield: about a pint

The preserves will keep for quite a while (a month or two) in the refrigerator. You could also freeze them to make them last forever (…or at least, a year or two). I like these preserves with unsweetened tea, next to lemon bars, on top of granola and yogurt, or with a spoon.

Kara

I don’t have trees to climb any more, but I do have a roof with a pretty alright view.

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Resolve

the roof

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.

Feuerzangenbowle

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.

Borsch.

Badrijani nigvzit.

Pickles: cucumber, red pepper, okra.

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
  • salt
  • 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 seam-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.

Baklazhanaya ikra
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.

Lemon-infused vodka
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.

how to drink vodka

Until next time, with promises of more pictures.

Kara

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Party for Everybody, Dance! Come on and . . . Boom! Boom!

First, even if you don’t normally click on links in recipe posts, trust me – this will bring you a smile: meet the Buranovskiye Babushki, Russia’s entry and the second place winner in Eurovision 2012, which was held in Baku, Azerbaijan in May.  I saw a little blip about their performance on German news, and that set me off searching to learn more about them.  These grannies from the Udmurtia region of Russia are cute from the scarves on their heads to the bark booties on their feet.   And don’t you wonder what it is they are baking?

Well, wonder no more!  The grannies are making perepechi, a traditional Udmurt rye-crust tart filled with meat or vegetables, and they shared their recipe and baked some up to serve to the press in Baku.  I needed just a bit more to go on than what one of the grannies described, and when I went hunting for recipes I had pretty good luck after I started searching in Google.ru and using the translate feature.  I actually started writing this post right after I saw the grannies on the news, but I got busy finishing up the school year and left it sitting in my drafts folder.  Then this week there was a photo and story in the New York Times about how the grannies’ fame has finally brought improvements to their rural village of Buranovo, and that reminded me: time to finish up the recipe, and here it is.  Why don’t you make some perepechi and play the Babushki’s song while you eat them?

Perepechi with Meat and Mushrooms
Adapted from Gotovim.ru

Crust:

  • 2/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • ½ cup wheat flour (I used spelt flour instead; all-purpose flour is fine)
  • 1½ cups rye flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • A little milk, if needed

Filling:

  • ¼ onion, chopped
  • ½ pound mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon butter or vegetable oil
  • ¾ pound ground meat (I used all beef, but from my reading I think a mixture of lamb, pork, and/or beef seems to be more traditional)
  • Fresh or dried thyme to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup milk

For the crust, combine the yogurt, egg, and melted butter.  Stir together the flours, salt, and soda and add the dry ingredients to the yogurt mixture to form a fairly stiff dough (add a little milk if the dough is too dry).  Form the dough into a ball, cover with a towel, and let it sit for half an hour while you are preparing the filling.

Cook the onions and mushrooms in a little butter or oil until lightly browned.  Remove from the pan and brown the meat.  Mix the onions and mushrooms back in and season to taste with thyme, salt, and pepper.

Heat the oven to 400 F.

Divide the dough into eight pieces.  Roll each one out on a floured surface to a circle about six inches across.  Lift up all around the edge and pinch at intervals to form “baskets” with a rim about ¾ of an inch high (see photo).  Place the dough baskets on a baking sheet and fill them with the meat mixture.

Beat the egg and milk together with a little more salt.  Pour the egg mixture over the meat mixture in each crust and immediately put them in the oven to bake (if you leave them sitting, the edges will fall).  Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the filling is set and the crusts are done.

Cabbage Perepechi

When I was reading perepechi recipes I saw several comments from other readers who said they like to make perepechi with cabbage.  I thought that sounded good, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it until I came across a clip from a Russian television show.  In the 4½ minute segment, a reporter journeys to Udmurtia and has a perepechi-making lesson from a group of local ladies (I don’t understand what they are saying, but it is worth watching to see the technique).

It looked easy enough, so I gave it a try (mmmmm!).  All you have to do is substitute about 2 cups finely chopped cabbage for the meat filling and use two eggs and 2/3 cup milk seasoned with salt and pepper.  I didn’t add any other seasoning, but I think some fresh dill would be nice.  Somehow this time I made my dough a little too soft, and I had a feeling the rims wouldn’t stand up on their own.   No problem, I made little foil collars to hold the edges up and that worked perfectly.

   

We ate the cabbage perepechi as a side dish, and the next day I warmed a couple up in the oven for lunch.  I had some leftover roasted cherry tomatoes in the fridge and decided to put them on top before I put the perepechi in the oven, and they were even more delicious that way.

Leftover perepechi can be kept in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, and they are also fine reheated in the oven after freezing.  I like the cabbage version best, but the meat perepechi are also very good.  Do you need an excuse for a party for everybody?  Boom, boom!

Tami

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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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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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Varenye iz yablok (Russian Apple Preserves)

Please don’t get mad, but this is one recipe I just have to tell you about. It is, again, about apples – Russian apples this time.

When I was studying in Moscow during my third year of college, I would frequently visit Kelly and Phil at their host family’s beautiful apartment. This apartment is in one of my favorite spots in Moscow: by the Moskva Reka, or Moscow River. The apartment was steps away from a few of the most central metro stops and home to a cautious black lab named Roma. The family’s little grandson would sometimes be over, playing on his toy truck and chattering with Kelly or Phil in squeaky, baby Russian. Foreign languages are so much cuter when they come from little kids.

The apartment was exactly what I imagined all Muscovite apartments to be: classy. The wallpaper felt old, the floors were made of a creaky wood, hundreds of Russian books lined the bookshelves, and one of Moscow’s Seven Sisters  could be seen from the window in the long, narrow kitchen. And, more importantly, there was plenty of tea, bread, cheese, and homemade jam to be had – always crowded around the little kitchen table, often while playing a game of chess.

Homemade preserves are my favorite, and Russian ones are especially good. The two most memorable came from the apartment by the river, and I will forever crave them. One was made from a Siberian berry that I’m pretty sure is called the oblepikha, or Sea Buckthorn in English. The preserve had the most unusual taste, a little tart and very distinct. I loved it.

The other preserve was made from little crab apples, and always sat in a bowl on the kitchen table, just waiting to be gobbled up with tea. Luckily, Kelly got a copy of the recipe for the apple preserves so we could make it ourselves. There is only one tiny problem.

Translating recipes from quickly scribbled Russian is hard.

But, not to be outsmarted by my own major, I decided to tackle the recipe and make those preserves even if it proved to be the end of me. Sure I could phone a Russian friend and ask them to help me out, but I wanted to do it myself. So dramatic, so Russian.

For a recipe that I’m pretty sure only has two ingredients, apples and sugar, and six or seven steps (the sixth is mysteriously missing…whatever, it’s Russian), I had quite the time translating this. I’m admittedly not the best at reading handwritten Russian cursive, but with a handy little online dictionary I could type in what I thought the words were until something that made sense came up. This, of course, brought a few interesting results – mistaking “segments” for body parts, “add” for the verb meaning to fall asleep, and coming up with “shine, beam, to be resplendent” and “action, suit” for the last instructions.  All that plus the seemingly random ratio of numbers in the first step (which I still don’t understand, but we’re just going to ignore that) made me more than a little nervous to try this recipe. (Edit: it’s most likely the ratio of sugar to apples, resulting in more than 1.5 liters of preserves)

I couldn’t just ignore the recipe, though. After all, if it didn’t turn out, it would at least make an entertaining blog post.

And so, dear friends, this is what I translated:

Varenye (Preserves)

  1. Cut the apples into segments, cover with sugar. 1 kg : 1 kg -> 1.5 L
    Let sit 3 hours.
  2. Heat on low heat without mixing, then when there is a lot of juice mix it all together. When it starts to boil, take it off the heat right away.
  3. After 5 – 10 hours bring to a boil again for 5 minutes.
  4. After another 5 – 10 hours, bring to a boil for 15 minutes.
  5. ………
  6. Boil for 10 minutes
    (No idea what this says, but it’s presumably something to do with storing the preserves.) Edit: Carrie informed me that it says спечь пену, which means “skim the foam” that forms on top of the preserves. Thanks, Carrie!

I’ve kept you in suspense, I know. Are my varenye what I’ve been missing for almost two years now?

First things first: I don’t have the right kind of apple to make the apple preserves. The apples the Apartment by the River used looked more like this, resulting in one-bite-able apple preserves that looked almost exactly like this. I only had Granny Smith apples and a bunch of larger crab apples from Braeden’s parents’ neighbor’s tree. So, they aren’t exactly the same. But my dears, they are pretty darn close. More importantly, they are pretty damn good.

I experimented with two Granny Smith apples first, peeling and cutting them into chunks, covering them in a lot (probably 1 or so cups) of turbinado sugar, and then following the “let sit three hours – boil – rest – boil – rest – boil – rest – boil – done” technique. And, it worked! They’re really good. Sweet but still somehow tart, soft chunks of apples. Perfect for tea time and chess.

Now. I had all intentions to try the crab apples next, but, well, by the time I got around to it, they were looking pretty rough. They had already been outside when it frosted (and snowed!) and looked a little sad. Instead of using the crab apples, I used the remainder of my Granny Smiths, but changed the method a tiny bit. After investigating a recipe for Crab Apple Preserves on a popular Russian cooking site, I decided to add a little water to make the varenye more syrupy like I remembered from Russia. This syrup, by the way, is excellent added to black tea. Oh, and Russians also add jams to their tea. It is unsurprisingly really good.

Varenye iz yablok

  • 3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into large cubes
  • 2/3 cup sugar (I found that cane sugar results in more syrup, while turbinado results in more jell. Or maybe the pectin was different in the apples?)
  • 1/2 cup water

Place the apples in a medium sized bowl with the sugar, and stir to coat. Let sit for 3 hours.

Pour apples in their juices and water into a medium sized saucepan and bring just to a boil over low heat. You’ll hear the juices start sizzling, and see little bubbles rise to the surface. Take off the heat at this point (don’t let it boil), cover, and let sit for 5 – 10 hours.

Uncover, heat again on low heat, and this time boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit another 5 – 10 hours.

Again – uncover, bring to boil for 15 minutes, cover, and let sit. And one more time, cover and let sit for up to 10 hours, then boil for 10 more minutes (I added a little more water at this point), and then you’re done. Store in the refrigerator, and pull them out to have with cheese and bread and tea.

Yield – about two cups. The preserves should last quite a while because of all the sugar, but mine didn’t last that long because they were eaten.

These preserves still didn’t get as syrupy as I wanted, and a lot of the chunks also turned mushy. This, according to Matt, is because of the type of apple. He also says I could use a different apple variety and use less sugar, making the preserves more healthy and even better tasting. …what? Do something differently than how the Russians do it?! Unheard of. Absurd! But, after a little arguing, he convinced me to try it with different apples. I hope to be back soon with a report of success. Fingers crossed.

Thanks to Kelly for the lovely chess-playing picture. Как я скучаю!

~

And, since writing this post made me all sorts of nostalgic, here are a few pictures from Russia – just so you can glimpse it yourself. These are more pictures from the Apartment by the River, during a birthday party for Jon. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

                                                  

Kara

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When all else fails, make borsch

Now. Although I promised* you all a lovely homemade chicken noodle soup recipe, I will not give it to you. It, sigh, did not turn out how I wanted. It’s certainly edible, but it wasn’t chickeny enough. You know when you taste a soup that’s supposed to taste like something, but then it doesn’t? It’s no fun. No fun at all.

And so, instead of wallowing in my lack of chicken-preparing abilities, I bring you something better. Something red. Something…Russian.

Before I go on, I must first briefly explain my obsession for Russia. I, well, I don’t really know why I’m so obsessed with this frost-bitten land. I just am. So taken am I that I majored in Russian language and spent my third year of college studying in Moscow. Oh, the stories I could tell. In fact, I did! If you care to read, I made a blog while over there to document my quirky insights. Enough of this shameless plugging for blogs of yore, and back to food:

Borsch (which for some reason in English is spelled with a ‘t’ on the end, which I refuse to do since adding the ‘t’ doesn’t make it any easier to pronounce, or make it sound more Russian – seriously, why did that happen? Why the ‘t’? Grr.) Ahem, borsch is the Russian soup. Interestingly enough, the borsch that many people seem to like the best is not actually Russian in origin, but Ukrainian. (Please note that my seemingly benign previous statement could quickly bring on a heated argument about Ukraine actually being Russian in origin, or vice versa, and so on, and so forth. No matter, back to borsch.) There are a large number of recipes and styles of borsch.  Some use beef as a base to build a broth, some use cow tongue, some use no meat at all. I’ve had all three, although the second one unwittingly, and they are all delicious.

The recipe I’m about to share is special. First, it’s vegetarian. Second, it was passed on to me from my dear friends Kelly and Phil, through their host mother and host grandmother. Their family would make variations of this soup every week.  Whenever anyone came to visit, they promptly took the pot out of the kholodil’nik, ladled a bowl full of their borsch, zapped it in the microwave for a bit, and spooned on a slop of smetana, or sour cream. This deliciousness was also, of course, served with tea and plenty of black bread covered in cheese or butter and homemade preserves. Da, it was great. It is in this spirit that I share their borsch recipe with you, although it’s really more guidelines than actual rules.

Vegetarian borsch

  • 1 small to medium onion
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, or to taste
  • 4 small potatoes (I used russets this time, but it doesn’t really matter)
  • 1/3 to 1/2 a head of green or red cabbage
  • 2 medium beets, or more if they’re small, or more if you are especially fond of beets
  • 3 or 4 medium to large carrots
  • a large handful of parsley, leaves only
  • a slightly smaller handful of dill, or to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • vegetable oil or, to be really authentic, sunflower seed oil
  • 8-10
  • Sour cream or crème fraîche and fresh dill, to serve
—Optional additions, which I’ve used before but didn’t have on hand this time: an apple, cored and roughly chopped; a tomato, roughly chopped; anything else you think would be good. It’s basically your “everything but” soup.

You can either prepare the ingredients as you go, adding them to the pot as you go, or you can chop everything before hand and then throw things in at the appropriate intervals. I prefer to chop as I go, but you really can’t go wrong.

First, roughly chop the onion and begin cooking it over medium heat in a glug of oil. Let the onion cook until it softens a bit, but don’t caramelize. In the mean time, peel and mince the garlic; set aside. Next, peel and chop the potatoes into small bite-sized pieces. The size doesn’t really matter, it will just affect cooking time. Once the potatoes are all prepped, add the garlic to the onions, let cook for a minute, then add the potatoes. Add 4 cups of the water, ensuring everything is covered.

Continue with the vegetable chopping and adding: it’s next to impossible to mess this soup up, as long as you keep enough water in the pot to cover the vegetables and stir it occasionally. Remove the core from the cabbage and thinly slice, cutting the longer slices in halves or thirds. You want the cabbage pieces small enough to be manageable to eat with a spoon, but don’t stress about having angel-hair thin slices. Add that to the pot, and again add enough water to cover.

At this point, your life will be easier if you have a food processor or an immersion blender that comes with a food processor-esque attachment. If you do, peel the beets, cut in chunks, and finely grate; add to pot. Do the same with the carrots. If you don’t have a food processor, simply peel the beets and the carrots and grate them by hand. Keep adding water to make sure the vegetables are covered. I ended up using about 10 cups of water.

If using apples or tomatoes, chop and add those now. The general guideline is to add the vegetables in order of its cooking time; since the potatoes need the most, you add them first, but an apple takes less time, so you add it last. Since the beets and carrots are grated, they take much less time to cook, etc.

Finally, chop up the bunch of parsley and dill then add those to the pot. Stir in some salt and pepper, cover the pot, and lower the heat to medium low. Let the whole glorious thing simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes. The vegetables will definitely be cooked by then; the extra time is just to make everything blend and become perfect.

Yield: A big pot of borsch. I can never scale this down even when I try, so be prepared to have a week’s worth of delicious soup.

To serve, I (and every Russian I’ve ever met) strongly suggest that you put a spoonful of sour cream and a sprinkling of more dill into your soup bowl, stirring everything in to mix. The sour cream adds just the right amount of creaminess and fat to make the borsch stick to your bones and keep you warm on a cold winter’s day. Also, you must eat this with bread. As a Russian proverb reads, “Don’t say you’re full if you haven’t touched the bread.”

There you have it! This soup has converted at least three non-beet eaters, and it might just convert you. Priyatnovo appetita! 

Kara

*While I’m at this whole breaking promises thing, I will still give you the recipe for the beet-feta tart. It was good, but I think I’d like it more with another root vegetable (maybe sweet potato?) in addition to the beets.

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