The modern side of Russian cuisine

in Food and Drink · 27-09-2019 01:00:00 · 0 Comments

Two years ago, Russian-born, Siberian-raised cook, Alissa Timoshkina, realised there weren't any really good contemporary Russian cookbooks to be found. Anywhere.

"Anything you do find is really old and dated, and the aesthetics, it's just so kitsch," she says of the raggedy recipe collections you might unearth in charity shops. Her photographer on Salt & Time recently dug one out, the cover emblazoned with pictures of a Russian woman in a crown, a samovar and a bear. "Could this be any more cliche?" Timoshkina asks with a laugh. "It's just so boring."

And boring Russia is not - especially when it comes to culture, cuisine and politics. "Obviously in the news, politically, you hear about Russia quite a lot - not in the best light," Timoshkina muses archly. "But still, everyone knows Russia and is fascinated by Russia, yet the food is such a huge part of any culture, and it's such a great way of learning about a culture. So I thought, 'What's going on?'"

Salt & Time: Recipes From A Russian Kitchen fills this gap. In it, Timoshkina features the food she creates at home and revisits the food of her childhood, the fare her mum and grannies cooked, and the traditional Russian dishes that are dinner staples for many who grew up in the (former) Soviet Union - although she does put quite a spin on them.

Timoshkina grew up in Siberia and lived in Israel for a bit ("I'm happy I tried my first hummus in Israel"), before moving to England in 1999, aged 15.

She began cooking seriously as a way to escape the intense study of her PhD in Soviet Holocaust and Film History. Then, once she was done with academia, she threw herself into running monthly supper club and film event company, KinoVino.

The process gave her the confidence to cook herself, she says. However, the kitchen has always been a huge part of her world. As a child, it was the main communal space, particularly in small soviet apartments at a time when you didn't eat out except for pickles from the market, or patties from the store. It's where the grown-ups would be smoking, chatting "and drinking vodka", and her great-granny could be found making pastries and proving dough in huge enamel casseroles.

Her great-granny's celebratory Napoleon cake - a colossal mille-feuille of pastry and creme patisserie, a Soviet dessert invented in 1912 to celebrate the centenary of Russia's victory over French invasion - is in the book.

Timoshkina offers a window on a time and a place, without being saccharine or wistful about it. She talks of eating fiddlehead ferns from the far east of Russia where her father was born, to foraging out of necessity, because in the soviet days "you had so little in the shops".

"Mushroom foraging was a completely standard thing to do," she recalls. "We would always go with my grandpa, we'd put all the mushrooms in the bathtub and clean them with toothbrushes.

"It was an amazing sight and suddenly the bathroom smells like the forest."


BEETROOT PATTIES WITH HORSERADISH CREAM

Ingredients:

(Serves 4-6)

For the patties:

2 large raw red beetroots, peeled and grated

4tbsp fine semolina, plus a few extra for coating

2 garlic cloves, grated

2 handfuls of walnuts, roughly chopped

2 handfuls of dill, finely chopped

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 generous pinches of salt, or to taste

Pinch of toasted and freshly ground black peppercorns, or to taste

Sunflower oil, for shallow frying

For the horseradish cream:

1-2tbsp peeled and grated fresh horseradish root

6 heaped tbsp creme fraiche

2tsp white wine vinegar

Finely grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

1. Mix together all the ingredients for the patties (except the oil for frying) in a large bowl, and season with salt and pepper as I have suggested, or to your own taste.

2. Feel free to decide on the size of your patties: Traditionally, these are made in the size of a medium burger patty, but I prefer to make them smaller and serve on a platter at a finger-food buffet or as part of a sharing zakuski-style (mezze-like) dinner. For the smaller version, take a heaped tablespoon of the mixture for each, roll it in your hands into a ball and then flatten it slightly. Sprinkle each side with some semolina.

3. To shallow-fry the patties, you will need four to six tablespoons of oil, but the exact amount, of course, will depend on the size of your frying pan. Before adding the patties, make sure the oil is hot enough. You can always do a test by lowering a teaspoon of the mixture into the oil - you will know it's ready to go when the mixture starts sizzling straight away. Cook for three to five minutes on each side until lightly browned, then lay out on kitchen paper to absorb the

excess oil and cool down to room temperature.

4. To make the horseradish cream, choose the amount of horseradish according to your personal pleasure-pain threshold and mix the with creme fraiche, vinegar and lemon zest and juice, then season to taste. A pinch of salt and pepper will do, I believe.

5. Serve the patties on a platter with a small bowl of horseradish cream placed

in the middle, or individually plated with some bread and a simple green salad.

CARROT AND CARAWAY CAKE WITH SMETANA

Ingredients:

(Makes 1 cake)

100g good-quality unrefined sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing

225g plain flour

125g golden caster sugar

135g dark brown soft sugar

1tsp baking powder

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

1/2tsp ground allspice

2tsp toasted caraway seeds

1/2tsp sea salt flakes

90g toasted walnuts, roughly chopped

200g peeled carrot, grated

Finely grated zest of 1 orange

3 eggs

To serve (optional):

Soured cream

Clear honey or sugar

Finely grated orange zest

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C fan/Gas Mark 4. Oil a medium-sized (24cm) loose-bottomed cake tin and line the base with baking parchment.

2. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, carrot, orange zest and eggs. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir well to combine.

3. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about 40 minutes until dark brown on top.

4. Let the cake cool slightly before serving. Enjoy with a big dollop of soured cream! I prefer mine plain, but you can always add some sugar, honey or orange zest to yours if you like.

'HERRING IN FURS'

Ingredients:

(Serves 4)

1 raw red beetroot, washed

Mild vegetable oil, for rubbing and dressing the beetroot

8-10 baby potatoes, scrubbed

8-10 baby carrots, scrubbed

2 eggs

About 4tsp beetroot juice

250g creme fraiche

1 small garlic clove, grated

2 pinches of sea salt flakes, plus more to taste

4 salted herring fillets in oil

Small bunch of dill

Good-quality unrefined sunflower oil, for drizzling

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C fan/Gas Mark 6. Rub the beetroot with a little oil and sprinkle with salt, then wrap in foil and roast for 30 minutes or until cooked but retaining a bit of crunch - pierce to the middle with a knife to check. Let the beetroot cool down, then peel and cut into eight wedges. Dress with a bit of oil and salt and set aside.

2. Cook the baby potatoes and carrots in separate saucepans of salted boiling water for 10 minutes or until ready tender. Drain and cut the potatoes in halves or quarters depending on their size, and the carrots in half lengthways.

3. Cook the eggs in boiling water for eight minutes. I know I am stating the obvious here, but make sure to add the eggs only once the water is boiling and then drain and run them under cold water afterwards to ensure they peel easily.

4. While the vegetables and eggs are cooking, make the dressing. To obtain a small shot of beetroot juice, you can either use a juicer, or finely grate a small raw beetroot and strain the pulp through a fine sieve. Stir it into the creme fraiche in a small bowl. The amount of juice you add to the creme fraiche is really up to you, depending on the colour you prefer, but about four teaspoons will turn it the most delightful light pink colour. Add the garlic and season with salt and pepper to taste - I usually add two pinches of sea salt flakes, which is less salty and iodine-tasting than standard table salt.

5. Once the vegetables and the eggs are boiled, assemble the salad. Place two dollops of the creme fraiche dressing on the plate and spread it over evenly. Serve the rest in a bowl on the side. Cut the herring fillets into bite-sized chunks and scatter around. Add the beetroot, potatoes and carrots, making sure you are not overcrowding the plate, so I will leave the exact amount of each vegetable to your judgement and the size of the plate or platter on which the salad will be served. Shell the eggs and cut into wedges, then place them on the plate, adding more texture and colour to the composition.

6. The final touches to this dish are a light flourish of dill. Give it another grind of salt and pepper and a little drizzle of unrefined sunflower oil before serving.

Salt & Time: Recipes From A Russian Kitchen by Alissa Timoshkina, photography by Lizzie Mayson, is available now.



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