Posts tagged Russian
Wednesday, January 6, 2010

stuffed cabbage

stuffed cabbagge

No one ever tells you this, but the week after you get back from vacation is impossibly busy. For all you know, you come back, relaxed and tan, full of those lovely umbrella drinks, sand in your bag – and then wham, you get knocked down by work and life that apparently had the audacity to go on without you. You return to a full mailbox, bills to pay and laundry to do. I mean, the nerve, right? Shouldn’t the world stand still while you’re exercising your right to a bikini and a beach chair every day for a full week?

hollowing out the cabbagesteaming the cabbage
riceonions & celery

Oh and don’t get me started on the cold. The bone-numbing, soul-sucking, stop-you-in-your-tracks cold. I mean, I can’t even properly describe my dismay. Someone at work mentioned today that New York average temperatures around now were always in the mid-thirties and, well, we’ve certainly dipped below that just about every day. As luck would have it, my flight got into Newark on the same day that security breach took place and the airport was in near lock-down mode. I suggested to the pilot we turn the plane around and got back to Dominican Republic and he gave me a stare. I thought to myself, “Fine, but it’s either this, or an umbrella drink, buddy – you choose.”

stuffingall mixed
lining the potremoving the vein

We’re not even a month into this winter and already I’m whining. I swear, as the years go by the cold gets to me more and more. I complain about it bitterly, but get very little sympathy. Russians are supposed to tolerate these temperatures without so much as a shrug, I am told. But since I’ve not lived in the blustery St. Petersburg winter in over 21 years, I really can’t claim high tolerance for cold weather. Even if you do give me a vodka shot to quell the pain.

how to rollhow to roll
how to rollhow to roll

What I find myself doing, however, is craving Russian food. Badly. I like the heartiness and honesty of it; the way that it fills me up and makes me feel warm as if wrapped in a blanket. A food version of Snuggie, if you will, but far more attractive looking. And for me, in moments like this, stuffed cabbage really hits the spot.

a view from the top

In Russia, we called this dish “golubtsi”, and I’ve heard my Ukrainian friends refer to them as “holubki”. My friend Ryan took it one step further and referred to them as “pigs in blankets” and when I made fun of him and told he confused the name with another dish, quickly proved me wrong. But whatever you call them, they are amazing. In fact, they’re even better in the next few days as flavors develop more, and, if that weren’t bonus enough, they freeze beautifully too. Which is a great asset when you arrive home from the airport at 1 o’clock in the morning, starving and cold. A few minutes of defrosting in a microwave and you have a comforting, warm, soothing dinner. And if my week is busy, I can manage it, because I can have dinner ready in mere minutes, and focus on those other pesky things that took place in my absence, clearing my schedule for more important things like editing vacation photos. Clearly, more of a priority than paying bills.

stuffed cabbagge

Continue reading stuffed cabbage.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

vinegret – russian beet salad

venigret - russian beet salad

Okay, so clearly, I’ve a bit of a problem sticking with a writing schedule. I’ve been meaning to post this last week. But, you see, I’m becoming a regular at MGH, which isn’t particularly a good thing, and that place just takes the wind out of my sail. I’d like to think a hospital is not the kind of place you want to be recognized, unless you work there.

By now, you are all probably tired of hearing that I had yet another curve ball thrown my way, but that’s kind of what happened. And because I associate food with happiness and pleasant thoughts and joy, it’s difficult to write, never mind conceive of a way to connect this story to your senses, when you are thinking about things ending in “noma” and traipsing around various oncology wings in a hospital. When it rains, it pours. And let me hand it to you, dear 2009, you’re going down in my history as “la deluge”. In fact, I suggest we have an early break-up. You know, where I get to see other years? You haven’t been kind to me and I’m not the kind of woman who takes abuse sitting down.

carrots and potatoes

I won’t beat around the bush. Another family member of mine, this time my other grandmother, and my only remaining grandparent had to show up at the hospital to meet with her oncologist about a breast cancer diagnosis, so I went down to Boston to support her. The bad news is that this was another emotional hit for our family and we all took it pretty hard. But when the dust settled and once we met with the doctor, the good news came out. Short surgery. Self-dissolving stitches. Outpatient procedure. Allowed to shower the following day. In fact, the surgery should take about half an hour and then the extracted lump gets sent to a pathologist who’ll determine if radiation therapy is necessary. And, we were told, most likely, it will not be. So, bad diagnosis, but as good of an outcome as you can get given the circumstances.

Well, when life throws you lemons, you make lemonade, right? Right. In my case, I came into a nice little dowery of locally grown, beautiful beets. Beets. Beets? Really? No? No beets? No, really, come back, don’t go, you’ll like this, I promise you.

lots of picklesloads of beets

I feel like the poor beet is forever maligned in America. I remember mentioning once in middle school (I learned that lesson fast) about how much I loved beets and a boy sitting next to me smirked and said “Figures. All Russians smell like cabbage. Beets are gross.” While I have still no idea what cabbage had to do anything with beets, I’m guessing it was another vegetable he found disgusting. And I understand, beets aren’t easy vegetables to love. They’re oddly, deeply colored and they dye everything in sight a deep shade of magenta. They’ve got curious texture. They’re just not popular. They’re the unpopular kids of the vegetable garden. Like those kids in middle school who weren’t cool, but didn’t know it and ran for Student Council anyway. Beets try hard. They so badly want to be loved. And loved they are, at least in my kitchen anyway. By the way, I do not, nor have I ever (nor has any of my family immediate or extended) smelled like cabbage. Ever.

canned peas

Now, to the point. Vinegret is a Russian beet salad made with potatoes, onions, pickles, carrots and other things. It is hearty. It is filling. It’s got a bite. I was told, and I cannot recall by whom, that vinegret was invented during Soviet times. I’m not sure if this is true or not, but it was a regular staple in our household and it tastes so Russian to me, that I wonder if there was ever a time Russians lived without it. We made it in the summer, when local beets were hitting the market, and we had it in the winter, when vegetable stores seemed to have little to offer by potatoes, carrots and beets. And then you wonder how those three came to be together. What would otherwise be a someone unexciting salad, it gets some edge from pickles and onions and an extra zing from a dash of dill. And while traditionally, you’d think of nothing else but sunflower oil to dress it with, all I had was extra virgin olive oil and it worked beautifully.

venigret - russian beet salad

I’m in such vinegret-loving stage right now that I’m thinking I’ll have to serve this around New Years, to greet 2010, bidding 2009 a farewell forever. And the leftovers (that is if you have any) are even better the next day. Now, that’s something I can look forward to.

Continue reading vinegret – russian beet salad.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

russian cabbage soup

Cabbage Soup

You probably want me to write about cookies and such, it being the holiday season. And trust me, I would much rather tell you about cookies, and I will. This month will be very much about cookies. I can’t even wait to begin, but first, I have to just share this recipe for Russian cabbage soup with you because even though this is the official cookie season (aka Christmas), man (or woman) cannot live by cookies alone. It’s cold outside and I bet you would just love something that will warm you up. Why not cabbage soup?

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

russian borscht

soup - ready to eat

Sometime last week, I felt the inspiration to cook and toss all my daily tasks to the wind. I suspect that sudden burst of energy and desire were prompted more by the cold weather and bone-chilling wind than by anything else. My mother, one of the best soup makers I know, happens to have an amazing borscht recipe under her belt. And when seasons shift definitely colder, borscht is one of the soups, along with Russian cabbage soup (schi) that I turn to.

Many an American has wrinkled his nose when a beet is introduced into a conversation. Growing up in suburban America, I was always defending the virtues of root vegetables: turnips, carrots, beets, radishes. Because I was an immigrant, my food preferences were considered strange at best, and disgusting at most. And I grew up thinking that not only beets were uncool (albeit tasty), but they were also a form of lower-income diet. Imagine my surprise when my monthly issue of Martha Stewart Living arrived (I must have been the only 16-year old with a MSL subscription) and I found a salad of beets and chevre beautifully displayed as one of the recipes. Either beets were gaining ground or Martha was going back to her Polish roots. Either way, beets were comin’ up!

These days, you will find beets in the most illustrious of restaurants. They’re tucked into salads, displayed in vegetable arrangements, cooked in soup, and hidden in chocolate cake. Their deep, rich color and sweet earthy flavor and texture are both filling and surprisingly light. They smell of the earth, of winter, and of home. And despite their lowly upbringing and modest looks, they’re quite elegant and sophisticated.

Borscht is a little bit of a commitment. Set aside a few hours over a weekend to make it if only because you want the flavors to gradually develop. Deeper flavor means more delicious borscht. To make up for taking its time, borscht is not a complicated soup to make. And as most soups often do, borscht tate better the next day. If you make this soupd with beef, it’s a meal in and of itself. Russians often serve it as a first course at dinner, but in smaller portions. Whichever way you choose to eat it, borscht is guaranteed to make this winter season a little more palatable.

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Thursday, December 1, 2005

porcini barley soup

porcini_mushrooms

Porcini Barley Soup

As soon as colder weather hits, my thoughts turn to comfort foods. Foods that are warm and liquid that make me feel all cozy inside. And what can be more comforting on a cold winter day than a bowl of soup? Mushroom soup to be precise.

I’ve made this soup every Thanksgiving for the last three years. I also tend to make in in the colder fall and winter months. It’s intensely flavored, fragrant and filling soup. People have been known to get seconds and some – thirds. When I was a little girl, it was one of the few things I would always have the appetite to eat. My mother served it to me with a thick slice of black, Russian bread with butter.

This is an old family recipe. I’ve elaborated on it by substituting some shallots for some of the onions. I think it deepens and complements the flavor of the mushrooms and gives the soup a deeper, more complex flavor. My mother, ever so reluctant to have the family recipe altered, agreed with me after tasting my version.

I insist on using only porcini mushrooms for this soup, otherwise the flavor is just not the same. You can find dried porcini mushrooms in specialty stores, or order them online – their dry state does not weaken their flavor. I’ve not encountered fresh ones in the United States, however, back in Russia where I grew up, we feasted on the fresh ones in the summer and fall.

Porcini mushrooms are distinctly flavored with a deep earthy, nutty, almost meaty flavor. It is my absolute favorite mushroom (other than a chanterelle, which gets second place in my book) and can be used to create an absolutely incredible sauce to mashed potatoes. Barley and potatoes add texture to the soup, so don’t skip them. You want stuff in your soup – stuff is very important, and fewer things make a meal more comforting than potatoes.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

boiled crawfish, russian style

As if it had read my mind, the New York Times’ Dining & Wine section prominently features an article on the langoustine. I’ve been meaning to write on them – I’ve had a craving as of late. However, the intrepid food writers at the NYT beat me to the punch. Figures. They, unlike ahem, say, me, get paid to write about food. I just have stolen moments.

Looking like little lobsters, langoustines have a pristeen and delicate taste, far superior to the flavor of their larger cousin. The meat is more delicate, balanced. Though hardly of noble existence, langoustines, as well as lobsters, and other who’s who on the fruits de mer platter, scavengers that they are, langoustines are a delicacy, appearing at high-end restaurants for a memorable price.

Its delicate flavor yielding itself to many a dish, I agree with Mr. Apple in that the flavors of langoustines are best displayed in their most simple preparations. But while Mr. Apple suggests that you add some hot sauce or mayonnaise to a heaping pot of freshly-boiled langoustines, I raise his suggestion and give you an even simpler one.

  • Boil langoustines in a pot of salted water – make sure you can taste the saltiness, as this isn’t just to raise the boiling point. Cook your langoustines much in the same way you would boil a lobster. Their bodies will turn delicately pink, indicating to you their doneness.
  • Drain the pot, sprinkle with coarse salt. I like Maldon Sea Salt for these endeavours.
  • Eat.
  • A few pointers, I think that oil or butter messes with the fine tasting notes of langoustines. Which is why I don’t recommend a condiment. You wouldn’t ruin a good oyster with any mignonette, why would you mess with the most naturally delicious meat?

    While most people will give you wine pairings, I’ll suggest that you forgo wine here altogether. In fact, to better taste the sweetness of langoustines, you should pair it with a light beer. A Sapporo goes perfectly with the flavors.

    If, however, you find yourself somewhere in France, say, La Rochelle, for example, be sure to order yourself the biggest platter of fruits de mer the menu offers – and taste the freshest, most delicious seafood ever.

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