As May Day nears, explore Russian foods

Hearty foods with diverse origins help define this tasty cuisine as more than just borscht and vodka

With May Day coming up next week and the continuing clamor about potential Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election capturing the attention of many people in the United States, we turn out eye toward Russian cuisine.     

The cuisine is diverse, with influences that range from Eastern European and Asian cultures, and has its foundation in the peasant food of the rural population in an often harsh climate.     

Traditional Russian cuisine uses a combination of fish, pork, poultry, caviar, mushrooms, berries, and honey with crops of rye, wheat, barley and millet providing the ingredients for various breads, pancakes, pies and cereals.     

Considering temperatures can drop to sub-zero, it’s not surprising that Russian foods are typically hearty, often featuring potatoes, breads, sour cream and pastry. Soups and stews are centered on seasonal or storable produce, fish and meats.     

Some of the most well-known foods include borscht, a beet soup, and shchi, a cabbage soup, as well as beef stroganoff, shashlyk, or marinated meat on a skewer, and  pelmeni, a filled dumpling.     

Russian mini pies, or pirozhki, use fillings and herbs similar to those used in dumplings, but they are encased in pastry and either pan-fried or oven-baked.     

Blini, tula gingerbread and honeycake, or medovik, are among the most popular desserts,     

Following are Russian recipes from www.russianbites.com.

Hazelnut Tahini Lemon Dip (Fundukli Tahin)

■ 1 cup hazelnuts

■ 3/4 cup tahini

■ 2 garlic cloves

■ Juice of 2 large lemons

■ 1/2 cup water

■ Salt

■ Pepper

Directions:    

Roast hazelnuts in a 350-degree oven for about 7 minutes, until fragrant, taking care not to burn them.     

Rub the hazelnuts with a clean kitchen towel to remove the skins. They may not completely come off. Don’t worry if some skin remains intact.     

Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor. Add tahini, garlic cloves, lemon juice and water, then process for another 30 seconds or so, adding more water if needed.     

Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Fried Potatoes With Wild Mushrooms (Kartoshka s Gribami)

■ 4 to 6 medium potatoe

 ■ 1/2 pound chanterelle or other wild mushrooms

■ 1/2 pound baby bella mushrooms

■ 2 tablespoons butter

■ 2 to 3 tablespoons canola oil

■ 3 tablespoons sour cream

Directions     

Peel potatoes, then cut them into matchsticks.     

Melt butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat.

Add mushrooms and saute about 15 minutes, until all the water released by the mushrooms evaporates.     

Remove mushrooms, then increase heat to high and add oil and potatoes. After five minutes, decrease heat to medium-high and fry for another 15 minutes, cooking part-way with the cover on to steam the potatoes.     

Return mushrooms to the pan and reheat for a few minutes. Add sour cream and heat for a few minutes before serving.     

Makes six servings.

Pelmeni  (Russian Meat-Filled Dumplings)

For dough:

■ 4 cups flour

■ 1 egg

■ 1/3 cup butter

■ 1 cup ice water

■ Pinch of salt

For filling:

■ 1 pound ground pork

■ 1 pound ground beef

■ 1 small onion, pureed in food processor

■ Salt

■ Pepper

For topping:

■ Tomato paste

■ Sour cream

■ Sirachi

Directions     

Combine flour and 1 egg in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Cut butter into small pieces and add to flour mixture along with salt. Add some of the water.     

Mix, adding additional water if needed. Cover dough and let rest for 30 minutes.         

Combine meats and onions with your hands. Add salt and pepper to taste.     

Flour work surface, and cut the dough into about eight pieces. Take one piece of dough and cover the rest so they won’t dry out. Roll the dough out, working from the middle out, as thinly as possible.     

Cut 4-inch circles from the dough. Place filling in the center, then pinch the two sides together and connect the two bottom corners to create a triangle.     

Boil water, then add some pelmeni and boil for seven minutes, taking care not overcrowd the pot. Once the first serving is done, let the water come to a boil again before boiling additional pelmeni.     

Serve with choice of topping, be it tomato paste, sour cream or sirachi.     

Pelmeni freeze well.

Place them on a cookie sheet or a plate and freeze overnight, then transfer to a freezer bag.

They cook in eight minutes when frozen.     

Makes about 100 pelmeni

Russian Chocolate Covered Cheesecake Pops (Sirki v Glazure) Petite Quiches

■ 12 ounces farmer’s cheese

■ 4 ounces cream cheese

■ 1/2 cup sugar

■ 2 egg yolks

■ Zest of 2 lemons

■ Juice of 1/2 lemon

■ 12 ounces chocolate, chopped

■ 3 tablespoons solid vegetable shortening

Directions     

In a food processor, combine farmer’s cheese, cream cheese, sugar, egg yolks and lemon juice. Mix in lemon zest.     

Place cheese mixture in a colander lined with two layers of cheesecloth. Fold cheesecloth over the cheese mixture, cover with a plate and a few heavy cans. Place colander over a medium bowl and refrigerate overnight.     

The next day, remove the cheese mixture from the cheesecloth. It should be slightly hardened. Form into small balls.     

Freeze for 30 minutes.     

In a double boiler or medium bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt chopped chocolate and shortening. Let cool for a few minutes.     

If using lollipop sticks, insert sticks into the cheesecake balls and dip in chocolate. Place on a large cookie sheet or serving tray and refrigerate until the chocolate is set. If you don’t have lollipop sticks, use a toothpick for dipping, then dollop some chocolate over the toothpick hole.     

Makes about 20 pops.

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