Posts tagged Russian
Friday, October 12, 2012

sauerkraut

russian sauerkraut

I was all set to write about sauerkraut yesterday, but then something happened. We came home to find our cleaning lady asleep in our bed. And that proved to be a very distracting thing.

Given my ethnic roots, my relationship with cabbage is so strong, I should have been incredibly focused. After all, Russians and cabbage are linked at the hip. We stuff it, we saute it a number of ways, we make soup out it.

Our Brooklyn apartment is small, so when you walk through the door you are immediately standing in the open kitchen, which becomes our living room/home office. Without moving, you can also see into the bedroom where half of our bed peeks out.

When we came back home yesterday mid-afternoon, after working at a coffee shop since the early morning, as soon as we unlocked the door we felt immediately that something was amiss. Bags of garbage were strewn about the kitchen and the entryway, the vacuum was in the middle of the living room, the furniture was off kilter, and every single light in the apartment was on. And then we saw someone’s feet on our bed. It took us a few seconds to figure out that they looked like our cleaning lady’s feet and then we looked at each other and silently mouthed in unison, “Holy crap, our cleaning lady is IN OUR BED!!!”

Continue reading sauerkraut.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

cold borscht – chilled beet soup

cold borscht

This here, to me, is the epitome of a Russian summer. A cold borscht on a hot summer night. Pull up a chair, stir some sour cream into it, and taste how refreshing beets can be. The tang of sour cream, the crunch of the cucumber, the grassiness of dill – that’s the stuff you remember years later and it makes your mouth water just thinking about it, and your stomach growls audibly. You grow both giddy and slightly melancholy just thinking about it.

I had a good childhood in Russia – a wholesome, leave-it-to-Beaver-whole-milk childhood. It stands at a stark contrast to what people might imagine a Soviet childhood to be – and mine was a good as they get full of books, walks in the forests, fishing in the rivers, and gazing at the stars. Summers were idyllic in particular – I spent them at my grandmother’s: a lot of time outside, hours foraging for berries and mushrooms, dipping my toes into cool lakes (I couldn’t swim back then), scratching itchy mosquito bites, and icing bruises and scrapes – the childhood that was simple and minimalist, yet lacked nothing. Bill Cosby had this stand-up bit back in the day, when he would talk about his childhood and how his parents would give him a stick and would tell him to go play in the back yard. And there he would be, sitting in an empty backyard, dirt all around him, digging a hole in the ground with his stick, happy as happy can be. That was me, happy to be outside and dig a hole with a stick. Happy to find wild strawberries and bring them home in a basket to have them for dessert sprinkled with sugar and dotted with golden-hewed cream so thick you could stand a spoon in it.

Continue reading cold borscht – chilled beet soup.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

cucumber radish salad

cucumber radish salad

Well, you guys are really just swell, you know that? A girl gets gushy and you leap in there with her and get gushy right back! Thanks! And in case you were wondering, it’s making me grin from ear to ear. I feel a gigantic internet hug coming on, do you?

This salad isn’t just any salad, so by pushing the post back, I’m sure I’ve bruised its feelings somewhat. By now it’s probably off in the corner somewhere skulking and pouting. It was all ready for prime time and then, unceremoniously and without warning, it was pushed aside.

Continue reading cucumber radish salad.

Monday, April 4, 2011

salad olivier

salad olivier

This is the salad of my childhood, the salad present at every family gathering I can recall, the salad appearing at every Russian banquet table I’ve ever been to in America, the salad regularly lurking in many Russians’ refrigerators.

In my family, we’ve always referred to this salad as Olivier or Zimniy (“of winter”), but in America, sometimes I see this salad referred to as the Russian salad. And though Russians eat a lot of different salads, perhaps this one wins in the popularity contest department.

Continue reading salad olivier.

Friday, March 4, 2011

pelmeni

pelmeni

I’m worried that by writing about pelmeni, the famed Russian meat-filled dumplings with a cult following, I might inadvertently open the Pelmeni Pandora’s box and pandemonium will ensue. This is a dish that elicits passionate responses as there are just as many different persuasions on how to make pelmeni and how to eat them as there are Russians, probably more. And while the gist might be the same, the nuances, the proportions – will vary vastly. Whether or not you put garlic in your filling can become a central argument point of the evening. And believe me, it’ll turn into a very long evening, indeed. As far as my personal experience goes, every Russian family I’ve ever met (and I’ve met many given my background) equipped with a recipe will lay claims to making not only the best pelmeni, but also the most authentic. Authenticity is huge with Russians. The number of times I’ve heard at a dinner table, “That’s not a real [],” – I’ve officially lost count. To prevent another heated debate, I’d like to tell you, right off the bat, that this is just my family’s version. And, as expected, I like my version the best. But that’s entirely a matter of opinion.

If given the opportunity, I could wax poetic about pelmeni – I’d like to write it little haikus about how delicious they are, how they make a night of no-time-cook-dinner into a veritable feast. But then I’d be writing poems and totally forget to give you the recipe. So you’d be looking at pictures of pelmeni and how to make them without actually know how to bring this bounty to your own table.

Continue reading pelmeni.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

eggplant caviar

eggplant caviar

A few things first. One, my friend Tina thinks the name “eggplant caviar” is an abomination and is misleading, but that’s about the only name I know for it. Blasphemy, she said to me, do you see any caviar here? Alas, I do not. She’s, technically, in the right. So this is partially an apology to her – I don’t mean to mislead. Two, there are two schools of eggplant caviar making that I’m aware of insofar as Russian eggplant caviar making goes. Both parties cling to their version as the version, but the weirdo that is me, likes them both equally – they are quite different from one another. And like a mother to two very different children of the same origin, I cannot pick a favorite.

like little hats!

The first is the method my friends from the Ukraine have taught me – which involves baking an eggplant, removing its skin and combining it with a seductive and potent blend of pureed tomato, onion, garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper, and stirring a bit of finely minced cilantro. It is simple and addictive, and if you’re a fan of garlic, you can’t go wrong here.

halved!

The second is a bit more labor intensive, and hails, at least according to my Uzbekistan-born grandmother, from Central Asia (think former Soviet republics that end in “stan”). It involves slow cooking the eggplant with tomatoes, onion, garlic and red peppers for many hours, until the vegetables combine, disintegrate, fall apart, and grow brown. Their transformation is magical, as things go from acidic, to sweeter, more caramelized, more seductive. While it’s uncommon for brown food to be considered sexy, this dish smolders. If you think you don’t like eggplant, try this and talk to me after. I would be surprised if you didn’t reverse your stance on eggplant.

pretty from the top
looking sadder

Normally eggplant caviar is served during the “zakuski” portion of the meal. For those of you who are not Russian speakers, “zakuski” describes a spread of snacks served at Russian banquets or parties, or in my mother’s case, whenever anyone shows up at the house. Originally, the word stems from the Russian word “kusok” or “kusochik” which means, piece, or little piece. The prefix “za” denotes that you are using these little pieces, or snacks, as a follow up to a drink, a chaser, so to speak. When Russians drink vodka (which they do at most celebratory gatherings), they invariably do it in shots and follow up shots with either a pickle, slice of salami, Russian sauerkraut, a pickled mushroom or a piece of dark, rye bread with something tasty spread over it. Like this eggplant caviar. Zakuski are intense, powerful bursts of flavor designed to quell the burning of alcohol in your mouth.

sad :(
onions tomatoes
cubed peppers

But sometimes you’re not in the mood for a drink (watch the entire Russian clan disown me after this sentence), but what you want is a taste of home, because you miss the food you grew up with. And after you spy eggplant piled high at your favorite farm-stand, you greedily load your bags with the necessary ingredients and then cook the brown mess for hours while you translate your mother’s recipe from Russian, filling in instructions she takes for granted as “given”. And laughing at her description of cooked eggplant as “sad”. If you’ve ever seen a wilted, browned eggplant, you know what she means by that. But invariably, reading that makes me smile.

eggplant caviar eggplant caviar

Looks, my dears, caviar it is not. But were I to really choose between actual caviar and this, I would go for this, hands down. Especially if my mother is making it.

eggplant caviar eggplant caviar
eggplant caviar

Continue reading eggplant caviar.