Tuesday, February 26, 2008


I'm making good on my New Year's resolution to experiment with pickling vegetables in 2008. Above is pickled mixed vegetable salad from Anya von Bremzen's Please to the Table: shredded cabbage, onions, carrots and red peppers in a marinade made with water, vinegar, salt, sugar and sunflower oil. I'll post a recipe if this is any good.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Product Review: Lutenitsa

Here’s the second installment of my occasional series on worthwhile items you can buy at Russian/Eastern European grocery stores. (In the first write-up, we sampled baked milk.) I highly recommend lutenitsa. Depending on the brand, this is a sauce or a spread made with red peppers, tomatoes, onions, sunflower oil and usually something spicy, like a little hot pepper. Lutenitsa is Bulgarian, not Russian, but I hear it was a very popular imported product in Russia during the Soviet times. I like adding lutenitsa to tomato-based soups and stews, especially borsch, or eating it as an appetizer with cheese on crackers. It's also good eaten right out of the jar. Just sayin'.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Roasted Tomatoes

When life gave me five pounds of crappy supermarket tomatoes last week, I considered tossing them. But, as often happens, my thrifty Soviet housewife side came through. What do you mean toss them, I thought. My grandmother almost starved to death during World War II—I can’t waste food. Growing up, I often heard the saying “a Soviet housewife can make candy out of s#*t,” meaning, of course, that Russian women developed a knack for making good food using inferior ingredients. These days it’s all about the fresh, local and organic, but resourceful cooks will find a home for those squishy or wilted vegetables. Waste is for amateurs.
Here’s an example: It often surprises me how much the most underripe, out-of-season supermarket tomatoes benefit from roasting. I’ve blogged about successfully roasting cherry tomatoes, but even the usually useless Roma and beefsteak tomatoes are pretty good after some time in the oven. All you do is slice them up and put them in a foil-lined pan with a couple of teaspoons of salt, a teaspoon of sugar, and a good splash each of red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Add some red pepper flakes and ground pepper, too, if you like. I usually toss in a handful of peeled garlic cloves. Roast at 400 for an hour, an hour and a half. The tomatoes will release a lot of juice; they’re done when the liquid evaporates and the tomatoes are shrunken and blistery. Let cool; they taste best at room temperature.

I often add these to salads, but they’re limitless in their use. This time I roasted some red and orange peppers alongside and made pepper and tomato salad the next day. And here's another recipe that promises to transform winter tomatoes into something edible.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

End of the Week Notes

*Mark Bittman is blogging in the New York Times dining section. I think of Bittman as the Dr. Spock of home cooking: he’s so calm, so reassuring. Sure, you can make a meal in 10 minutes or whip up one of these 101 appetizers for your next shindig. Don’t worry. You know what to do. I’m rarely inspired by his recipes, but I’m glad he’s around.

*I like it when people resurrect their abandoned blogs. Welcome back, Seasonal Cook.

*The Amateur Gourmet blogs in two modes: zany, off-kilter foodie and earnest gee-whiz newbie. Which do you prefer: his review of Per Se (former mode) or a write up of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore's Dilemma (latter mode)?

*I made baba ghanouj last weekend and had a revelation (cooking is full of revelations): a little sugar makes this eggplant dip taste so much better. Leave out the eggplant, if you like, just don’t forget the sugar--seriously. Without sugar, baba ghanouj is harsh and acidic. With sugar, it’s smooth and rich. Thanks to Is That My Bureka for this tip.

*If you live in Milwaukee and are looking for cheap groceries, especially produce, consider Lena's. Lena’s attracts six types of shoppers: 1) poor black people, 2) poor Russian retirees, 3) poor Chinese immigrants, 4) poor Indian immigrants, 5) poor college students, and 6) me. Last Sunday, though, I spotted crunchy, organic co-op types picking up their fruits and vegetables at the Capitol Dr. location. A sign of the recession?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Two Mushroom Recipes

When people find out I was born in Russia, they’re all, “Is it really cold there?” I just shrug. I guess we had cold winters when I was growing up, but that’s not what I remember. You know what I do remember? Going mushroom picking. I’ve waxed Proustian about gathering mushrooms in the forest, and that’s what I think about whenever I cook with ‘shrooms. Granted, these days I usually use plain old white button mushrooms, not the fancy, rare varieties we picked down on the dacha, but making mushroom stuff still fills me with the warmest, fuzziest feelings on this side of my mom’s borsch.

Last weekend I marinated some mushrooms using a recipe from Anya von Bremzen’s Please to the Table. It needed quite a bit of tweaking--thanks to the Seasonal Cook for sharing her tips--and next time I may use another recipe altogether. Still, for a first attempt, these are pretty good and a no-brainer to prepare.

You clean a pound and a half of mushrooms (I used white button mushrooms, but you can use fancier ones if you have them), cover them with 2 cups of cold water and bring it to a boil. Then you add 1 tsp. kosher salt, and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon and strain out a cup of the mushroom liquid. In a small saucepan, add 1 cup of tarragon vinegar to the liquid, along with some peppercorns, bay leaves, and 1 tsp. sugar (I’d use 2 tsp. next time). Bring the liquid to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes. Cool. Put the mushrooms in a clean jar with layers of peeled garlic cloves and dill sprigs. Add the marinade and top with a tablespoon of sunflower or olive oil. Refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours, preferably a couple of days.

The mushroom soup I made to chase down my pickled fungi (mmm…) is not at all Russian, but I wanted something different from my previous soups. I soaked and cleaned some dried porcini mushrooms as described here. For the soup, I sautéed some chopped onions, carrots and celery in olive oil and butter in a heavy pot; added a sprinkle of sage and thyme; deglazed with white wine; and poured in 4 cups chicken stock, the dried mushroom soaking liquid, a splash of the mushroom cooking liquid left over from making pickled mushrooms, and maybe an ounce of goat cheese.

All this simmered for a little while; then I pureed it in a blender. I added the soup back to the pot, brought it to a simmer, and tossed in 1 peeled, chopped potato. In the meantime, I sautéed about ½ pound of sliced white button mushrooms in olive oil with a bit of bacon (maybe two slices) and some minced garlic. When the potatoes were done, in about 10-15 minutes, I added the mushroom chunks to the soup, stirred, and served the soup with tons of chopped dill and dollops of sour cream.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mushroom Madness

It's been all about mushrooms this past weekend. Pickling them with garlic, dill and tarragon vinegar.
Waiting the recommended 4-6 hours until they are ready.
Eating them as a prelude to this creamy mushroom soup made with dried and fresh mushrooms, chicken stock, goat cheese, potatoes and just a hint of bacon for that smoky flavor.
Recipes later this week. For now, just stock up on mushrooms and dill.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Korean Carrot Salad

Here’s a salad and a history lesson for you. This spicy dish is known as “Korean carrots” throughout Russia and the former Soviet republics. How did that name come about? “Korean carrot salad, morkovcha koreyska, is a legacy of Stalin's mass deportations of ethnic Koreans from the far eastern Soviet Union to its western frontiers," explains the New York Times in this excellent article.
This salad is often served as part of a zakuski (appetizer) spread for holiday meals and special occasions. I’ve had a couple of different versions of these carrots—recipes vary by household—and came up with the version below.


Make this salad a day before you plan to eat it. It needs to marinade overnight.

You will need about 1 pound of carrots, cleaned and peeled, the longer the better. Use a mandoline to slice them into thin, spaghetti-like strands. Place in a large bowl. Mince 2 garlic cloves; add to the carrots.

Sauté a small, diced onion in about ¼ cup of sunflower oil until the onion is soft and translucent. Add 2 tbs. of whole coriander seeds and cayenne pepper to taste (I used about ¼ tsp.) toward the end of the cooking time. When the onion is done, immediately add it and any leftover oil to the carrots; toss.

In a bowl, mix 3 tbs. of white vinegar, 2 tsp. of sugar, and 1 tsp. of salt. Add dressing to the salad, and mix well. You can also another handful of whole coriander seeds. Refrigerate 4-5 hours; preferably overnight.
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