Notes from the Russian Kitchen

I mentioned yesterday that culinary-related activities have been a feature of my latest resurgence of interest in things Russian.  I wasn’t solely alluding to the kvass that I brewed a week or two back.

I recently decided to add a Russian cookery book to my library and, after browsing the available options at my local online book emporium, decided to get the aptly named Russian Cookbook by Kira Petrovskaya (or possibly Kyra – both spellings of her first name appear on the back cover and inside the book; I guess in Cyrillic it would be Кира – nicely unambiguous), published by Dover (1992; ISBN: 978-0-486-27329-7).

This turns out to be a relatively slender volume, with just over 200 pages in A5 format, but it is stuffed full of exciting (and, apparently, authentic) recipes and a certain amount of discussion about Russian food.  It is sadly lacking any pictures or Cyrillic script versions of recipe names (or even transliterated Russian names for quite a few, which are only given English names) but nonetheless it promises to be a handy book.

So far I have only tried cooking three things from the book but they have all worked quite well and I look forward to trying more soon.

On Monday night, I made “Baked Ground Beef and Potatoes”, aka “Zapekanka with Meat”.  In a way, this is a bit like an inverted shepherd’s (or rather cottage, since it uses beef rather than lamb) pie, as it starts with a layer of potatoes (sliced and lightly fried, rather than mashed), on top of which is placed minced (or ground) beef cooked up with onion and seasonings.  A mixture of eggs and milk is poured over the top of the whole thing and it is then baked in the oven for a while.  The book doesn’t say anything about what Zapekanka (or Запеканка in the Cyrillic script) is, but a brief bit of research with Google (as Wikipedia, my usual first stop for random knowledge, doesn’t have a lot to say on this subject) indicates that it is a kind of cheesecake.  Apparently there are lots of Zapekanka recipes, some sweet and others (such as this one) savoury.

This evening, I made a fresh mushroom soup and new potatoes in sour cream (no Russian name given for either).  This was a bit of a menu-planning fail as I hadn’t realised the extent to which potatoes and sour cream are both key ingredients of the soup (which actually contains more potato than mushroom, even though I used more mushrooms than the recipe called for) and so I was slightly potatoed-out by the end of the meal.  Still, both dishes were very tasty and either would work very well alongside something slightly less similar.

In addition to these bits of cookery, I have recently had a go at preparing a traditional Russian drink called Перцовка (Pertsovka).  This is simply pepper-infused vodka.  It’s not mentioned in my new cookery book but I’ve come across references to it in several other places.  There are apparently some commercially-produced versions available (though possibly not easily in this country) but it’s pretty easy to prepare for yourself as there’s nothing more to it than sticking some pepper in vodka for a bit.  Several recipes I looked at called for peppercorns (i.e. black pepper, aka piper nigrum) and others for chilli peppers (various species in the genus capsicum).  I suspect that both may be authentic, but I decided for my first experiments to try chilli peppers (mainly because I’d bought some for the purpose before I discovered alternative recipes using peppercorns).  These particular chillies were not especially hot ones, and I just put one whole red chilli (minus the stalk) in a smallish beaker and covered it with vodka overnight before decanting the vodka into a bottle (and using the chilli in a pasta sauce I was cooking up – the vodka was not noticeable in the end result).  The pepper-infused vodka has quite a pleasant taste and is supposed to be a good remedy for colds and other ailments (though I suspect that’s probably just the Russian equivalent to the Scottish use of whisky as a panacea).

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