Monday, May 9, 2011

Excursion to Russia, 3: Russki a la frangourou!

Traditional Russian dishes are great, and I've had a go at making lots of them--but I've also created my own new dishes, inspired by that distinctive flavour and style. The other day, I made a meal that was entirely Russian in inspiration, but not all the dishes in it were classic Russian--rather they were 'russki a la frangourou'. I used ingredients that are easy to obtain and economical as well. All the vegetables for it came out of our garden but of course can be got in the shops(with the exception of sorrel, which might not be easy to find--but you can substitute a little chopped rocket with the addition ofa little lemon juice, to approximate it.)

Incidentally, before the meal we had a small aperitif--a shot of vodka accompanied by a small dish of olives and gherkins--a very minimalistic zakuska. You can also add chopped rollmop herrings, smoked salmon, etc etc if you want to go more elaborate for that part of the meal. The vodka we usually buy is 'Russian Standard', (standard meaning 'top quality' here), from St Petersburg--it's made on a base of pure cold water from the vast sea-like Lake Ladoga, near 'Peters'. It's an excellent vodka with a good clean flavour--we first tried it in Russia but you can easily get it anywhere now. But there are other good Russian vodkas easily available, like the famous Moscovite vodka Stolichnaya, as well as Polish and Swedish ones which aren't bad(though this is considered heresy in Russia!) There are even vodkas made in France these days! If you want real Russian--which I recommend--check the back of the bottle for provenance.

Here's the meal:

Entree: Green 'shchee' soup made with sorrel and spinach

Main course: Chicken breast fillet in a vodka and cranberry sauce

Vegetables: Roast beetroot with garlic and sour cream

Carrots in milk sauce


Dessert: (not illustrated): Meringues with coffee cream.

For the entree:

This is a traditional Russian dish--'shchee' soup could almost be the national dish--it is basically a hearty vegetable soup, most often on a base of cabbage. But green 'shchee' is a spring dish made when the cabbages etc have finally run out and you get the first of the spring vegies popping up, ie sorrel and spinach. It is very simply made. Take a medium potato, cut into small dice. Chop an onion. Crush a clove garlic. Take a handful spinach, about eight leaves sorrel, and some dill. Fry the onion in some butter, add the potato, then the garlic. Stir till beginning to go golden. Add the spinach and sorrel, chopped. Add salt and pepper and some dill, stir well till softening. I then add a small splash of white wine or vodka(this is not traditional but tastes good!)and then some good stock--chicken or vegetable stock. Let it simmer till potato is soft, then either process or mash and sieve. Take a little milk--about 100 ml, mix in two egg yolks, beat. Stir through soup, and warm but do not boil. Serve soup with a dab of sour cream, and some chopped dill or chives.

Main course: This dish is my own invention but based on traditional Russian elements. Cranberries are frequently encountered in meat dishes. Fry the chicken breasts in a mixture of butter and olive oil till beginning to colour. Add a good splash of vodka to the pan, then some cranberry juice and dried cranberries. Salt, pepper to taste, also I add a little chopped tarragon. Cook gently in the sauce till the meat is cooked through. Add a little more vodka or juice as needed. (Sauce should be thick and glaze the meat nicely--you can also remove the fillets when they are cooked and reduce the sauce till thick then pour it over the chicken.)

Vegetables: Beets are often served with sour cream and garlic. This is my version: Parboil some small beetroot for about ten minutes, cut into pieces, sprinkle with olive oil and some garlic--either crushed or a couple of whole cloves can be nice. Roast for about 20-25 mins or until the beet is nicely glazed and the garlic is soft. Serve with a dab of sour cream and chopped herbs like chives. You can also use preserved beet for this if you like but it will have a different, more acid taste.

Carrots: this is a very traditional, and delicious, way to eat carrots. Cut some carrots either into sticks or rings, as you prefer. Cook them in a little butter till softening, then cover them with stock, either chicken or vegetable. Let them cook till completely tender, then drain off the liquid, add a nub of butter, a little flour, to make a roux. Stir around then slowly add a little milk till the sauce thickens up nicely around the carrots. It should coat them but not drown them.

You can also have boiled potatoes, if you wish, and/or rye or pumpernickel-style bread to sop up the vodka and cranberry sauce!

Salad: Whatever you normally have--we usually do lettuce and other salad greens plus tomatoes, with vinaigrette.

Meringues: This is a simple gesture towards a spectacular special-occasion meringue cake known as 'The swallow's nest.' The meringues can be home made or shop-bought. The coffee cream is made from whipping cream up with a little coffee powder, a little softened unsalted butter, and some sugar to sweeten it but not excessively(as the meringues are plenty sweet enough).

White wine goes well with this dinner. A good tea, like Russian caravan tea, can add an extra touch at the end, with caramelised (Vienna-style!) almonds and perhaps a nip of cherry brandy or similar, if you want to!

Prijatnovo appetita! (Bon appetit!)

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