As previously promised, I’m following up on my discussion of a menu for an event requiring 1905 western Russian vegetarian rural food (this focus turned out to be less narrow than I feared) with recipes.
If you want recipes for straight up Eastern European comfort food (it’s a bleak November, folks, you do want Eastern European comfort food) check out my earlier post on Slovakian food – the run down that follows here is a little trickier because we’re getting historical and a tad labor intensive. But it’s interesting.
A quick recap of what made up this menu:
- Western Russia in 1905 = Eastern Europe now, with some Russia as well.
- There are typical ingredients: buckwheat, mushrooms, sour cream, pickles. Lots of pickles. And sour flavors. These are ingredients with equivalents easily found here in Vermont, if you want to read about interesting delicacies peculiar to Russia / Eastern Europe check out the ingredients found on the Slow Food Ark of Taste, which catalogues endangered traditional foods from around the world.
- There are typical dishes. On this menu: vegetarian caviar (“caviar” does mean fish eggs, but vegetarian spreads called caviar have been around a very long time), soup, dumplings / pierogis, and country style bread (dark and rough – not light and refined).
- There is the larger philosophy of using up everything. Pierogis are a good example of this, dough wrapped around a filling made up of little scraps of things. . . and in the case of this menu the pierogi dough scraps turn around and themselves become noodles. You’ll see how it works in the narrative below.
And now for the recipes:
- Russian Mushroom Caviar (linked). I added Austrian Pumpkin Seed Oil, because I find that it makes most things better. There is a version for sale at the fancy oil & vinegar shop in Montpelier.
- Ajvar – Ajvar is also sometimes known as “Serbian Caviar”. It’s very popular. If you go to the European store in Burlington there’s a whole section dedicated to ajvar variations. The basic foundation is roasted red bell pepper puree. If you want a very tasty yet labor intensive version, here’s one from Serious Eats. In the spirit of not wasting any food, I roast red peppers and peel them (here’s how) and choose what’s onhand to make a spread. Lots of parsley, artichoke hearts, sour cream and lemon was what I used for this menu.
- I prefer the recipe from Flavor Flours. Here is one online post with a similar cracker recipe (I can’t find the exact one I used published online, but I’m happy to lend anyone the book. . .). If you’re interested in buckwheat flour as an ingredient, Flavor Flours should be the first place to look – as the title suggests, it’s a cookbook of recipes designed to highlight the flavor of different flours. This book has brought me around to buckwheat, which I used to think tasted like chewing on early summer grass – actually, I still think it tastes like that, but maybe it’s in a good way, not a bad way.
Red Cabbage Soup
- This is the world’s simplest soup and delicious, from SlovakCooking.com – the classic borshch taste profile of sweet & sour, very thick, and the red is from tomato paste, not red cabbage (which is purple anyway). You’ll never go back to Campbell’s. Try out this recipe.
Note – if you had this soup at the Nov. 12th event, I made it much thicker than this recipe calls for, because it was a sampling menu and it felt more right to have less broth. I don’t recommend futzing with the recipe that way at home because you then have to adjust the strength of everything else, but as an FYI if it turns out thinner than you expect, that is the reason. When I make this soup at home, I serve it over bread dumplings.
Rye Bread & Butter
- Continuing on the topic of using up all the food in our cupboards, here’s the bread recipe I use when I’ve got little bits of specialty flours sitting around that aren’t enough to add into a recipe on their own. It’s a slow rise bread, you let it work overnight, then form loaves and let it rise a second time in the morning. Don’t forget that “overnight” really means 8 – 12 hours. I recommend cooking it in loaf pans, not on a baking sheet, for structural integrity reasons.
- A dense, dark rye bread loaf. I opened a bottle of hard cider and meant to use it as instructed in this recipe, I really did, but the thing is, I’ve invented this new cocktail that’s a glass of dry hard cider, topped off with Meyer lemon limoncello, vodka, and a touch of fresh lemon juice + peel . . . and you can probably guess what I did with the cider instead of adding it to the bread. It just seemed like such a shame not to. Instead I went to my favorite beer to use when you want a dark, broody flavor – Guinness Extra Stout. Taken on its own, it’s putting a bit too much hair on the chest for my taste, but I always have it onhand for cooking.
- I completely and entirely forgot my plan to save the heels of this bread to make Russian Bread Kvass – a fermented, lightly alcoholic beverage. Argh! The next time I have stale bread, though, I swear. . .
- Still on the ‘using all the food’ theme, here’s another option – mince whatever bits of things you have on hand and fashion them into a pierogi filling. Originally scraps of meat or tough meat ended up here. For this menu I pulled the tops trimmings from red peppers (ajvar), added extra cabbage (soup) that I marinated in the carrot vinaigrette (coming up later), and added them to mashed potatoes. I used the King Arthur Flour pierogi recipe for the dough.
- Guess what theme we’re still on? Yes, using up all the food scraps. So the scraps of pierogi dough became noodles (for future reference, these scraps are great in chicken noodle soup). Supplemented by egg noodles from the store. The sauce was mixed variety mushrooms (cremini, portobello, oyster) and garlic cooked very very slowly with olive oil and a splash of sherry, then mushroom stock (made from dried porcini mushrooms – after rehydrating the mushrooms themselves also joined the pot), and finished with cream, sour cream, paprika and smoked paprika.
- I’ll admit it, I’m of the opinion that kasha (toasted buckwheat groats) should be reserved for varnishkes and used sparingly otherwise. But that is not the spirit of 1905 Russia! The croquettes I made were based on a recipe that is not available online (from a vegetarian cookbook of several generations ago), but the basic idea is cooked kasha + wholewheat bread crumbs + a little parsnip puree to hold things together + pecans with black pepper sour cream to put on top. To make up for this lack of recipe, here are some other recipes using buckwheat groats that I pledge to explore in my intent to feel more kindly towards them: Buckwheat Granola, Chinese Varnishkes, Indian Spiced Buckwheat Stir Fry, Buckwheat Ice Cream.
Beet & Pickle Salad
- The name sort of says it all. This is a variation on a salad in the cookbook Mamushka, changed to reflect the lack of some fresh vegetables at this time of year in Vermont and the fact that I didn’t make any pickles during cucumber season. I made refrigerator pickles, then roasted beets (and rubbed off the skins under running cold water when they were done). I large diced the beets, then tossed the beets & pickles with small diced celery, fresh dill, and vinaigrette made from the pickling liquid.
- I garnished this with a plate of Claussen Pickles from the grocery store. It’s my favorite not-fancy brand.
Pickled Carrot Stuffed Eggplants
- This dish was a cheater’s version of the sour eggplant recipe in the Mamushka cookbook. In the original recipe, you leave the eggplants on the counter to get sour, but I don’t know how the VT Department of Health feels about that. I suspect they aren’t fans. Wimps. The basic strategy is you boil then weight eggplants to get the water out of them, then stuff with carrots, then leave out in a warm place for 3 days, the full recipe is here. I did the eggplant as instructed up until the carrot stuffing. Then I used these Moroccan Pickled Carrots that I love (the leftover vinegar from this is good to use in making sour soups – such as the previously linked cabbage soup). Note that you have to make the carrots the day before. I pulsed the carrots in a food processor until they were close to a paste, and stuffed them in the eggplants, weighted, and placed in a fridge instead of a countertop.
- I’ve been defeated looking for an online version of this recipe – the one I chose was as old school as I could find (keeping with the 1905 theme) and while the Internet is rife with poppyseed roll recipes, none of them match the ingredients or techniques mine used, and they all appear to produce a much sweeter roll with a softer crumb. Of course when I say “my” recipe, what I really mean is the recipe in Mamushka . . . if it were my recipe I would just type it up online, but I won’t do that to cookbook authors without their permission. Maybe you should buy the book? The dessert chapter is riveting – the Nutty Noodle Meringues and Apple Sponge recipes are online and give a sense of the options.
- Still on the food saving theme – if you make the poppyseed roll, you will soak the seeds in warm milk then strain them. I simmered the leftover milk with half a vanilla pod, raisins, and egg yolks (whisked in) to make a custard, which I used as a filling in another roll.
- All the egg whites accumulated over the course of this menu can be used to make meringues.