Entree: Russian dinner in America
Cooking has long been established as an art form which takes practice, dedication and a bit of creativity. With every culture and ethnicity having their own unique approach to food, exploration can sometimes be the window to a new favorite.
Now Russian cuisine is definitely not one that you see frequently around town. As Russia is the largest country in the world by area, the cuisine is representative of that and is incredibly diverse in their choices of protein and vegetables. From beef to fish and even a little vodka spritzed in here and there, Russian cuisine may look intimidating but when prepared right, can really showcase great flavor to one’s palate.
Starting off a meal the right way is with bread. It’s light and fluffy and relatively easy to make. One of the better-known Russian breads is called Black Bread and although it looks like pumpernickel, this bread has a bit of a sweet tang to it for an unexpected start to any meal.
- 4 cups rye flour
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 cups 100% all-bran cereal
- 2 tablespoons caraway seeds, crushed
- 2 teaspoons instant coffee powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1⁄2 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed
- 2 (1/4 ounce) packages active dry yeast
- 2 1⁄2 cups water
- 1⁄4 cup vinegar
- 1⁄4 cup dark molasses
- 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
- 1⁄4 cup butter or 1⁄4 cup margarine
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1⁄2 cup cold water
Combine flours. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix 2 1/3 cups flour mixture, sugar, salt, cereal, caraway seed, coffee powder, onion powder, fennel seed and undissolved yeast.
In a sauce pan combine 2 1/2 cups water, vinegar, molasses, chocolate and butter.
Heat liquid mixture over low heat until liquids are very warm (120°-130°F), butter and chocolate do not have to be melted.
Gradually add heated liquid mixture to dry ingredients and beat (with electric mixer) for 2 minutes at medium speed, scraping bowl occasionally. Add 1/2 cup flour mixture. Beat at high speed for 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Stir in enough additional flour mixture to make a soft dough. Turn dough on to a lightly floured board. Cover dough and let rest for 15 minutes.
Knead dough until smooth and elastic (about 10-15 minutes), dough may be sticky. Place dough in a greased bowl, turning dough to grease the top. Cover bowl and place in a warm, draft free place to rise until doubled in bulk (about 1 hour).
Punch dough down; turn out onto a lightly floured board. Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a ball, about 5 inches in diameter. Place each ball into the center of a greased 8-inch round cake pan. Cover; let rise in a warm, draft free place until doubled in bulk (about 1 hour). Bake at 350°F for 40-45 minutes, or until done.
Meanwhile, combine cornstarch and cold water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture starts to boil; continue cooking mixture for 1 minute stirring constantly.
As soon as bread is baked, brush cornstarch mixture over top of loaves. Return bread to oven and bake 2-3 minutes longer, or until glaze is set. Remove loaves from pans and cool on wire racks.
Going into the salad course, we have beet salad. Now beets are known as a root vegetable with a very earthy flavor and have a texture like a potato, so to counterbalance this you have the salty, vinegary flavor of pickled cucumbers and garlic mixed into the salad to mask some of the overwhelming beet flavor for non-frequent eaters.
- 2 pounds beets, trimmed
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 small shallot, finely chopped
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
- 2 tablespoons fresh dill fronds
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Wrap the beets in bundles of 2 to 3 with 1/2 teaspoon salt, with aluminum foil and roast in the oven until they are easily pierced with a paring knife, 1 to 1.25 hours.
Unwrap the beets and let them cool until warm. Peel and discard the skins from the beets and cut into 1-inch slices. Place the beets in a serving bowl and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the beets, then scatter the walnuts and dill over the salad. Serve.
In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar, shallot, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and let stand 5 minutes. Whisk in the mayonnaise.
Soup is a very important part of any meal because it gives you the ability to switch up the texture profiles. This soup is best served cold and made prior to the meal for optimal taste.
- 1 medium white cabbage, shredded
- 2 medium beets, straw-like sliced
- 2 medium carrots, straw-like sliced
- 4-6 young white potatoes, diced
- 1 cup of dried beans (any kind)
- 4-5 dried mushrooms
- 1 large white onion, chopped
- 2 tbl spoons of white wine vinegar
- 3 tbl spoons of any vegetable oil (sunflower oil is the best, corn oil is okay)
- 3/4 cup of tomato paste
- Dill, or parsley, or any favorite herbs to garnish
Soak dried mushrooms in hot water, then chop them. Put beans and mushrooms in a large pot (dutch oven kind), fill the pot with water to 1/2. Add 1 tbl spoon of salt. Cook beans till just tender (it takes time, but you can soak beans in water overnight before cooking, then it will be much faster). When beans are tender and sink to the bottom, add beets, carrots and potatoes. Cook for about 15 minutes, then add the cabbage and slow cook for another 15 minutes. Heat the oil in a frying pan, and cook onions till golden. Remove the pot from the heat, stir in tomato paste. Add the onions and oil from the pan. Taste - if it seems blank, add the vinegar.
Moving into the main entree we have Svitanak, a traditional Russian chicken dish. With all the vegetables and the cold soup, this dish will give your guests a nice crunch in their meal.
- 1 lb chicken fillet
- 3 oz cheese
- 2 tbsp mayonnaise
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 egg
- 3 oz dried and finely ground bread-crumbs
- 4 tbsp butter
Filling: ground cheese, add finely chopped garlic and stir in mayonnaise. Divide fillet into small and large pieces, salt them. Spread the filling on a large piece, put a small fillet piece in the center and fold into half-moons with a little piece inside. Soak in the beaten egg and roll in dried and finely ground bread-crumbs. Fry on the pan, until light brown. Then cook until soft and tender in a well heated oven.
Following this theme of crunchy, we have the Babka potato pie, which can highlight the chicken nicely with some starchy and meaty undertones moving towards the end of the meal.
- 7 ea potatoes
- 7 oz meat chopped
- 1 large onion
- 1 egg
- 2 cups milk
- salt to taste
- vegetable oil
Chop meat finely and fry in the pan until half-cooked, then add chopped onion and salt. Fry until light brown. Grate potatoes, drain potato juice off and add milk, egg and salt to taste. Prepare heat-proof dish by rubbing bottom and sides with vegetable oil. Put meat pieces with onion on the bottom and the pour potato mixture. Bake in a preheated oven until the top has a nice light brown color. Babka is served with sour cream or milk.
Finally, we finish with dessert, while the meal has been a little bit on the richer side, this dessert will put your guests over the edge and leave a satisfying finish to a great Russian meal.
- 2 c milk
- 4 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 c shelled walnuts, cut in half
- 8 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
In an enameled saucepan, combine 1 1/2 c milk with sugar and, stirring constantly, cook over moderate heat until the sugar is dissolves. Stir the cornstarch into the remaining milk, then pour into the milk-sugar mixture. Bring to a boil and cook until the mixture thickens to a custard-like consistency. Set aside off the heat. Preheat the oven to 200 C. Combine the walnuts with the melted butter in a mixing bowl, and toss them with a wooden spoon until they are completely coated. Then spread them out in a shallow, heavy pan. Toast them in the oven for about 20 minutes turning them frequently with a large spoon until they are deep brown. Pour the custard evenly over the nuts, cover the pan with foil, and bake for 15 or 20 minutes, until the custard is thick and syrupy. Serve at once.