“Rodnoi otets nadoyest, a shchi—nikogda! One may become fed up with one’s own father, but never with shchi!” Traditional Russian saying
I don’t know if you have been watching the Winter Olympics but the hubby and I sure have. Watching them has been a tradition long upheld in my family. Not only am I constantly astonished by the talent and tenacity of all the athletes but also fascinated by the country that hosts it. This year the host country Russia, is particularly interesting.
I grew up in the “Cold War” era and Russia has always been this mysterious and dangerous country steeped in tradition and pride. Everything about the place is dramatic and edgy; their weather, politics, history, music and even their alphabet seems a bit menacing somehow. As I ponder all these things, the inevitable question comes up for me, what do these people eat?
If you think about it, there is not a lot of Russian food to be had in our neck of the woods. In fact I think the only thing close I have had was the very interesting and delicious food at the Bosnian restaurant “Drina Daisy” in Astoria. (A must try if you haven’t eaten there yet) My curiosity aroused, I dove down the rabbit hole of Russian cuisine.
Russia is the largest country in the world and its cuisine reflects its diverse and vast cultural span but there are definitely some foods that they all seem to love and eat often. The Russian menu, not surprisingly, is made up of hearty simple foods that sticks to your ribs and keeps you warm. Foods like stewed and smoked meats, potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, onions, fish, honey and whole grain breads to name a few. They also really love pickled foods.
In a land of harsh winters, it’s no surprise that soul-warming soups are a mainstay. They have over 7 different categories of soups but the oldest and most venerable is the Shchi, (pronounced “sch-ee”) a cabbage based peasant soup. This soup is recorded in the written word as far back as the 9th century when cabbage was introduced to Eastern Europe. Shchi is considered the national Russian dish and it is generously woven in their history.
Generally speaking, shchi is a cabbage soup with meat broth base. The peasants had to stretch every morsel of meat they had and this soup was the way to do it. There are many recipes for it as there are soup pots in Russia but the two common variations use either raw or sauerkraut. Undoubtedly the most recognizable shchi to Westerners is borscht, a hearty, colorful, beet soup. It actually came from the Ukraine but was quickly adopted throughout all of Russia and Eastern Europe.
The base of borscht is either beef or pork broth then it is filled with beets and other hearty root veggies that can last through the long white winters of Russia. After a lot of research I liked this recipe the best. The traditional recipes do not call for the beet greens but I could not help myself, I had to put them in. You know how I feel about those nutritious greens! Enjoy this earthy soup with a fat dollop of another Russian fav, sour cream. Naslazhdat’sya! (Enjoy!)
I made my pork stock from a juicy ham bone left over from Christmas. I do not peel my beets or potatoes and they are wonderful that way (and saves time!) Serves a Russian army or 8 people.
3-4 quarts of beef or pork stock
Meat picked off the bones from making the beef or pork stock
4 medium potatoes, cubed into large pieces
8 medium beets diced
1 15 oz can of low salt diced tomatoes
OR 2 large tomatoes, diced
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 tablespoons of olive or coconut oil
1 large onion, diced
2 fat carrots, grated
1 green pepper, cored and seeded then diced
1/2 head of a big green cabbage, thinly sliced
1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon of honey
1 tablespoon of dried dill
OR 2 tablespoons of fresh dill
Salt and pepper to taste
Beet greens from beets, chopped into bite size chunks
Sour cream to serve with it (Try cultured sour cream)
Make your stock the night before by plopping a ham or beef bone with meat on it in a gallon of water and simmering for hours. Chill in the fridge overnight and the next morning skim the fat off the broth, bring to slightly warm on the stove and then pick the meat off the bones. (By bringing the broth up to warm it saves your hands!) Put the meat back in the soup and discard the bones. (You can skip this step and use store bought beef broth with water and add some chopped beef of some sort and simmer till tender but I’m warning ya, it won’t be as good.)
Bring the broth up to a simmer on medium heat then add the potatoes, beets, canned tomatoes and tomato paste. While that is simmering, heat up the oil in a large skillet over med-high heat, then sauté the onions and carrots till fragrant (about 4-5 minutes) Add the cabbage and sauté till the leaves begin to wilt then add the bell pepper, cooking for another minute or so. Turn off the stove and let that sit till the beets are tender in the soup stock, then add the veggies to that and simmer for another 5-10 minutes.
Time to season this jewel bright soup with the lemon juice, honey, dill and salt and pepper till it tastes just right. Add the beet greens and cook about another 5-10 minutes till they are wilted then serve in big bowls with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of dill alongside a crusty rye bread and salad. Priyatnogo appetite!
There are many amazing things about this beautiful place that we live in. The majestic trees, clean water, vibrant wildlife, (including the elk that eat my garden) and the mighty pacific ocean roaring in the background make up just a few of the truly amazing features. But of all our natural resources, the one that foodies lust after is the delicious wild mushrooms that abound on our forest floor.
Even though wild mushrooms grow all year long, it is in the fall that they are in their true glory. During this time, mushroom hunters flood into the woods searching for these delicacies, such as the lovely and tasty chanterelle, which can be sold for up to $20 a pound. Yup, crazy huh? But ya see, these mushrooms are called “wild” because they are. They cannot be grown in captivity.
Due to this fact, and how highly they are prized in the culinary world, we literally have gold growing in our woods. This causes an interesting phenomenon where everyone from the humble home cook to slick professional outfits are combing our woods for the wild mushroom. Recently, caveman hubby, out hunting deer, ran into a “team” of mushroom gathers with specialized backpacks that had been sent into the woods with GPS devices to gather the bounty after a team of “hunters” had come through and GPS mapped the crops of mushrooms.
It is no wonder, there is all this woo haa over these little jewels as they are incredibly tasty and chocked full of nutritional benefits. There is no better food for us than wild foods. Wild foods are packed with phytonutrients, which are essential to good health for more reasons than I have room to write about. Our well behaved and domesticated produce doesn’t hold a 10th of these nutrients that wild foods do.
There are over 20 types of wild mushrooms growing around us. The most favorite of these are the king bolete AKA porcini mushrooms, morels and the above mentioned chanterelles. But there are also the lobster, chicken of the woods, fairy rings, and the prince, to mention a few. It is a veritable smorgasbord of mushrooms out there to try!
But please don’t run out there and start tasting mushrooms. If you are interested in mushroom hunting, first take a class or at the very least go out with someone who knows what they are doing, armed with a good book on mushroom identification. As we all know, there are also poisonous mushrooms out there that will drop you in your tracks. It is a blast (and way cheaper) to go hunting for them, just make sure and do it right.
I recommend buying them to start with. Look for mushrooms that are dense and fragrant. Do not buy specimens that are slimy or with decay spots on them. Also light feeling ones have been picked for a while and are dehydrated. Store your treasures in the fridge in a dry paper bag and use within one week.
Make sure and clean them well, right before using. The chanterelles sometimes require breaking them apart to clean all the grooves and folds where pine needles hide. Do not soak them and dry them well with a clean kitchen towel after cleaning because if they soak up too much water the flavor is compromised.
The best way to get the flavor of a wild mushroom is to slice them and sauté them in butter and garlic. Plain, simple honest. Mushrooms in general, love butter and you will love them in butter. Spoon this on anything from toast, mashed potatoes, chicken or eat out of the pan. I personally love mushroom soup. Love. Here is my long standing favorite mushroom soup from the venerable “Moosewood cookbook” by my hero Mollie Katzen. Take advantage of this particularly bumper crop mushroom season to cook this up.
Hungarian wild mushroom soup
This tasty soup can be a meatless main course good for two people or a starter for 4. Takes about an hour to prepare. I used chanterelles and highly recommend them here. This is excellent poured over chicken breasts and baked or as a gravy.
2 tablespoons of butter (yup!)
2 cups of chopped sweet onions
1.5 to 2 pounds of wild mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon of kosher or flaked salt
2-3 teaspoons of dried dill
Or 2-3 tablespoons of fresh dill, minced
1-2 teaspoons of sweet paprika
1 tablespoon of fresh squeeze lemon juice
3 tablespoons of flour
OR 2 tablespoons of arrowroot powder for gluten free
2 cups of a mild stock or water
1 cup of milk
Black pepper to taste and a sprinkle of crushed red pepper (red pepper optional)
1/2 cup of sour cream
Finely minced fresh parsley for the top
Click up your heels! You are about to make history! Melt the butter in a large dutch oven or soup pot. Add the onions and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes till fragrant and seductive. Reverently add the mushrooms, salt, dill and paprika. Sauté for a minute, the cover and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring now and then. Then stir in the lemon juice.
While still cooking sprinkle in the flour while stirring constantly. (If you are using the arrow root power, mix it into a 1/2 cup of the stock and add it at that time and skip the flour.) Reduce the heat to medium low and cook and stir for another 5 minutes or so. Add the water/stock and cook for 10 more minutes while stirring and drooling. (Try not to get it in the pot) Stir in the milk, black pepper and crushed red pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings. When it is perfect, work in the sour cream and heat gently, no boiling at this point, till it gets hot but not boiling. Serve topped with the freshly mince parsley. Enjoy this golden delicious NW wonder!
What happened?? I was extolling the praises of the particularly fine summer we had and the red ripe tomatoes just in the last issue. Then BAM! No more summer, no more farmer’s market and tomatoes are getting hard to find. As I write, a big, soggy, windy storm is beating my garden down to the ground. This kind of weather makes me want to cook and make confessions.
I have a confession to make, I have affairs….with cookbooks.
Yes, it’s the dirty truth. It goes like this; My new cookbook arrives in the mail, I’m so excited as I tear the package open and lovingly thumb through the pages, drooling, running my hand over the pictures, thinking of all the great things we could do together, then I close it. It sits on the table for a few weeks where I look at it less and less and then it goes to the GIANT cookbook self, never to be loved again.
Affair over…….. then I order another cookbook.
Seriously I have an addiction. This became very clear to me when I ordered a rare and highly acclaimed cookbook for my birthday, to the tune of $70! What am I doing? I’ve decided that I must stop this vicious cycle. I am putting myself on a cookbook fast. No more cookbooks till I start loving the ones I have. (Clears throat)After the one I just ordered comes in the mail.
I, proclaim, right here in front of you all, that I will cook a recipe out of one of my cookbooks every week. Once a month, I will review one of these many fabulous cookbooks I have on my blog, plus share a recipe from it. I will go through my cookbook bookshelf and get rid of the ones I will never ever use. Then in about 100 years I might be able to order another one….maybe.
So on that note, there is no time like the present to start on reforming myself. Let’s start with the first cookbook in the pile up.
This is a BEAUTIFUL cookbook! (It is also beautifully priced at almost $27 on amazon, $40 everywhere else.) It actually was on the table more like a month as my love affair with this book was hot and heavy. It’s probably the pictures. I love the pictures. Let’s face it, we all love pictures. Every recipe has a lovely picture of it displayed on a generous page, which is something wonderful.
The other thing I love about this book is the way they have it arranged, by the seasons, where they have menus, shopping tips and more pictures. I have a particular bent for cookbooks arranged this way as it is the way food arrives to us, in seasons. (That is if we are in tune with them) That is also a time saving element for me as I don’t have to go through the whole book to find what is in my fridge.
While thumbing through this lovely book I was blinded with the novel concept, what if one could throw an event that is totally gluten and grain free? This book makes it completely conceivable. I always had this fixed idea that a big dinner party could not be completely gluten free, just not possible. But I am a converted believer. If you love to entertain and are gluten and grain free, this is the book for you.
And now that I am a converted cookbook hoarder I will plan one of these events and do it. But meanwhile I’ll leave you with the recipe that I made out of stuff on hand, meatballs. Oh yeah. They were very good but I had to change them a bit. (that is also an addiction.) Feel free to make them with bison or free-range grass finished beef, as venison doesn’t hang out in everyone’s freezer but thanks to my caveman hubby, it’s in ours.
Sweet and Tangy Venison Meatballs
These need to be started the night before, so plan that into the recipe.
2 pounds of grass feed beef or venison
2 shallots, minced
2-5 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons of high quality Balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons of coconut aminos
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons of bacon fat or coconut oil
1 tablespoon of bacon fat or coconut oil
½ large onion, diced
8 once of crushed pineapple in the juice
15 ounce of (no salt added) tomato sauce
2 tablespoons of high quality balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
In a mediumish bowl, mix all the meatball ingredients except the bacon fat, and squish it all together with your hands. (If you have a better way, let me know) Tuck it in the fridge, overnight for the flavors to marry. The next day, Preheat your oven to 350 degrees then squish the bacon fat into the meatballs, then form into 1 inch balls and place them onto a lightly oiled baking sheet. (You can use parchment paper to line the baking dish but have you read the ingredients on that paper? The clean-up was easy without the paper) Pop them into the oven to bake for 20-25 minutes, till they are done. (You test this by eating one! He he)
While those nuggets are baking make the sauce. In a medium saucepan, heat up your bacon fat on medium heat and then sauté the onions until they are fragrant and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir till well blended and simmer at just barely bubbling for 20 minutes, stirring often. The sauce will thicken and coat the back of spoon. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Then add the cooked meatballs to the sauce and serve with love. Can be an appetizer, which you can keep warm in a crock pot or a main dish served over rice with a salad.
I had the most delicious experience last week. My vegetarian daughter was in town and we checked off an item on our bucket list and dinned at the very veggie centered restaurant, “Natural Selection” in Portland. This restaurant has been on our list for a while since it received many awards shortly after its opening in March of 2011. Now many of you might know that drawing attention in the abundant Portland culinary scene is impressive, but to get this highest praise and be a vegetarian restaurant…. Astounding.
The distinguishing feature about Natural Selection is that the dishes are all vegetable based, which is different than vegetarian, but kinda the same. Let me explain… the dishes are comprised solely of veggies, not tofu, tempeh, grains or any manner of vegetarian “protein”. They are made completely of local veggies in colorful and delicious combinations. You can tell the chef Aaron Woo has fun developing these playful dishes and it is paying off, the place is wildly popular.
This is an indication of an undercurrent that has been surging forward in the culinary scene for a while. Chefs are getting into playing with veggies and not just treating them as a “side” dish. Now I’m not talking about whipping up a salad or steaming some groovy haricort verts with goat cheese to be on the side, nay, we are talking vegetables as a main dish, presented in the same glory and love as a hunk of prime rib.
Some of the veggie centered dishes I have had the pleasure of enjoying lately are eggplant fritters with zucchini “noodles” in an orange heirloom tomato sauce, grilled cauliflower steaks with olive and tomato relish or how about the cucumber avocado salad with edamame, togarashi and nori, then the astounding nettle and chestnut croquettes. Humm, I’m drooling. Who says eating veggies has to be boring??
This time of year it is easy to get creative with all the abundance of veggies dancing around us. This has been a fine year for tomatoes (finally!) and boy oh boy have I been having fun with all the delicious heirloom tomatoes that are glutting the farmer’s market. They have been a part of almost every meal served in our house for the last two weeks. Ah, why oh why is it such a short season?? Every time I eat one of these colorful and tasty delights, I morn just a bit at how it won’t be much longer.
Then I read an article in “Fine Cooking” on how to save the season with slow roasting tomatoes in a bit of olive oil and garlic. I decided to give it a try and was more than pleasantly surprised! The tomatoes are deep and richly flavored with an intense “tomatoey” taste that might rival a fresh tomato. They are easy to chop and add to anything that you want to add a flavor kick to like salads, pizza, polenta, eggs, in sandwiches and on your ice cream. (Well maybe not the ice cream)
Making these flavor nuggets is easy but takes about 4 hours of slow roasting, so take that into account, but they are worth it! This Friday is the last farmer’s market, so get down there, stock up on sun filled tomatoes and make some tomato conversa to play with and save some summer in the freezer.
These rock. You can use them up on anything you like. I like them chopped and added to salads or on steamed veggies.
4 pounds of juicy red tomatoes like beefsteak
2 medium garlic cloves, sliced into thin pieces
1/3 cup of high quality olive oil
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
First off, buy your organic tomatoes at the farmer’s market and revel in their beauty. When you are ready, position the racks in the oven to the top of the oven. Turn on the oven and heat it up to 350 degrees. Slice the tomatoes into 1/4 inch thick rounds and place in a single layer on two rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle the oil over the red ripe beauties so they are all oiled, place a slice of garlic on some of the tomatoes then sprinkle with salt and pepper and pop in the oven.
Lower the heat to 225 degrees and slowly roast 4-5 hours, only peeking in on them a few times to rotate the pans. The tomatoes will start to look wrinkly and like juicy sun dried tomatoes. Watch them closely towards the end as they can burn easily at that point. Let them cool for 10 minutes before using. Eat slowly and with relish. Will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week and frozen for up to a couple months. Longer if vacuum sealed.
Heirloom tomatoes with tomato conserva salad dressing
The dressing is amazing and can be used on any salad. I really like to use the marinated fresh mozzarella bite sized balls in this salad. You can get them most anywhere. Fine cooking suggested burrata, which is a fresh mozzarella with soft creamy insides, but I haven’t found that in our small town anywhere.
1/4 cup of tomato conserva, chopped
1/4 cup of Extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of salt and pepper
1-2 pounds of heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
8 oz of fresh mozzarella or burrata
10 or so basil leaves, chiffonade
Flaky sea salt such as Maldon’s for serving
Put all the ingredients for the dressing in a small jar with a tight lid and shake it up. Shake it good!
Layer the tomato slices on four salad plates and then add 2 oz of the cheese to each plate, sprinkle with the basil and sea salt, drizzle with the dressing and serve. Voila! Fun with veggie
My CSA (community supported agriculture) box is brimming with eggplants this year. When I unpack it, there are all shapes and colors of eggplant that dance out onto the counter, like a cartoon, and taunt me. You see, I don’t know how to cook eggplant. I know, I know, it seems strange coming from a food crazed person such as myself, but honestly I have two recipes for them, baba ganoush and …well….baba ganoush. I guess I have one. Sigh. That won’t do at all for the bounty of eggplants dancing on my counter. I’ve got to get more creative.
Eggplants got their name from the early eggplants which were small white, egg shaped globes. (easy enough) Botanists give Mother India credit for being the birthplace of this noble veggie but Asia also has dibs on the dubious distinction with their long skinny eggplant that is prevalent in many dishes. The Middle Eastern people embraced the eggplant like no other culture and it was considered important for all brides to know how to cook an eggplant 100 ways before getting married. (No wonder the only eggplant dish I know is Middle Eastern!)
Unlike the Middle Eastern people, eggplant didn’t make quite the splash in Europe where it was well understood that if you eat it, you will go insane. When the eggplant did make it to American, brought here by the adventuresome botanist, Thomas Jefferson, it was used as a lovely table ornament until 50 years later when someone truly adventuresome actually cooked it.
An eggplant is in its glory in late summer, August and September. This is the best time to experiment with this interesting veggie as it is less prone to be bitter like the eggplants you will find in the grocery section in winter and spring. The larger the eggplant the more bitter it can taste from the seeds. Choose smaller eggplants, fresh and plump, for your cooking.
If you do have a larger eggplant, cut it up like the recipe requires, then salt it, let it drain in a colander for around an hour, rinse it and pat it dry. This process will draw all the bitter out of even a giant eggplant. (Can I salt my brother-in-law?) Another interesting tidbit, do not store your eggplants in the fridge. It makes them bitter too. Keep them on the counter with your tomatoes for delicious sweet flavor.
There are many different types of eggplant, like the ones dancing on my counter. The large purple ones that we are all familiar with are called “American” or “Globe” eggplants. “Italian” eggplants look like the globe eggplants but smaller. Then the long skinny ones are called either “Chinese” or “Japanese” eggplant. These are super easy to use and are hardly ever bitter due to their small girth. White eggplants are just called “white”. (Wow someone was super creative on that one.) I have also gotten this lovely large eggplant in my box that was deep purple and looked like a velvet purse with deep gathers in it, called “Violet Beauty.” That one was fun to make lasagna with using it in the place of noodles.
Some great recipes ideas for eggplant that I got while researching this article are;
-Make mini pizzas by slicing eggplant into rounds, brush with olive oil, then roast for 25 minutes then topping with pizza topping and cheese, bake till cheese is melted.
-Slice into lengthwise slices, about a 1/2 inch thick, brush both side with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper then grill on medium high heat for 3-5 minutes on each side. You can also make the pizzas this way or sprinkle with feta cheese chopped tomatoes and slivered basil
-Cube and add to your soups, stews, or tomatoes sauces for extra depth
-Slice eggplant in half, bake skin side up for 1/2 hour, scoop out some of the meat and mix with some tomato sauce and veggies, stuff the eggplant, top with cheese and bake till bubbly and cheese is golden.
I had my way with those dancing eggplants on my counter and made this magnificent dish. It is so versatile and delicious. I tossed in some other things I had in the fridge like mushrooms, Italian sausage and zucchini. It was amazing and great for the family or for company. Despite myself, I think I have learned more than one way to cook eggplant. (But not a hundred!)
Eggplant and caramelized onion gratin
This dish is a great meatless main dish or you can layer in ground meat of your choice to make it meatier. Any fresh herb can be substituted instead of the basil, like rosemary or thyme. You can also substitute other summer veggies in this like zucchini, just don’t roast them first.
3 pounds of eggplant
3/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup of olive oil
2 large onions, sliced
4 farm fresh eggs
1 cup of milk or half and half
1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon of good balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons of herbs, like rosemary or basil minced
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and lightly oil a 11 x 7 glass baking dish, (Or there abouts) Cut the eggplants into rounds about a 1/2 inch thick. Salt them if you think they need it, and set them aside while the moisture and bitterness draw out, about 1/2 hour or so.
While the eggplants are doing their thing heat up one to two tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onions. Cook nice and slow, while stirring occasionally, till soft and gold, about 12-15 minutes. Scrape the onions into a bowl to await their moment. When the onions are cooking, beat the eggs in a nice fat bowl with the milk, stir in the cheese, vinegar, 1 teaspoon of salt and fresh ground pepper.
Back to the eggplant; if you salted them, wash them off with water then wick off the water with a paper towel. Brush the eggplant with olive oil, then flip then over and brush the other side till coated in a thin film of oil. Tuck them in the over on a top rack to roast for 25 minutes till golden. Take out of the oven and lower the heat to 350 degrees. Layer the eggplant into your glass baking dish. Next, layer in the onions and basil and pour the egg custard over the top of it all. Bake until firm, golden and puffed, about 30 – 40 minutes. Allow this masterpiece to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Cut up some cherry tomatoes and toss in balsamic vinegar and chopped herbs to serve on top for a smashing garnish. Bon appetite!