Christmas Redux – the Party Continues…

4 January 2018

Happy 2018 to all our readers! Just when you thought the festive season was over, here’s a quick reminder that in some parts of the world Christmas is still to come. In Russia and parts of eastern Europe, the Orthodox church uses the Julian calendar, leaving a 13-day lag between the two Christmases.

To mark the big day we’re making our version of borsch – a dish that varies considerably across eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The spelling also varies with both borshch and borscht in use.

In Ukraine, borsch forms an integral part of the Christmas Eve table, and it’s often veggie-friendly as this day is also the end of a period of fasting – meat and dairy products are not consumed in the run up to Christmas.

We’ve added some dried mushrooms to the beetrooty mix to give the stock more depth and put a bread topping over the pot to have something handy to tear up and dip into the borsch.

Ingredients (makes 3-4 servings)

500 g beetroot

1 medium- sized onion

1 garlic clove

200 g potato

200 g carrot

250 g red or white cabbage

50 ml olive oil

50 ml tomato puree

5 dried mushrooms

1 litre vegetable stock

2 bay leaves

Juice of one lemon

1 teaspoon red chilli flakes

50 g fresh parsley

For the bread top:

150 g flour

100 ml warm water

15 ml olive oil

Pinch of salt

Method

Clean the beetroot, wrap in tin foil and bake in an oven pre-heated to 180 c for one hour. Pour boiling water over the mushrooms and allow to stand for 30 minutes.

While the beetroot is cooking, heat the olive oil in a heavy-based pan and fry the chopped onion and garlic on a medium heat for ten minutes. Add the bay leaves and chilli flakes and then add the sliced mushrooms. Cook for five more minutes then add the tomato puree and the vegetable stock.

Bring to the boil and then add the diced potato and carrot and cook for 15 – 20 minutes over a low heat. After the beetroot has cooled, peel it and then dice it and add to the soup. Add the finely sliced cabbage, chopped parsley and lemon juice and cook for another 15 minutes.

Prepare the bread topping by combining the flour, water and oil and knead until you have an elastic mixture. Cover with cling film and leave to stand for 30 minutes.

Pour the borsch into individual serving bowls, place a disc of rolled out bread over the top of the bowl and cook in an oven pre-heated to 200 c until the bread is cooked and starting to go brown on top.

For non-vegans, add a dollop of sour cream after breaking through the bread cover. Use the bread to mop up the borsch.

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Let them Eat Cabbage!

9 November 2017

This week saw the 100th anniversary of Russia’s October Revolution, which led to the creation of the Soviet Union. To mark this momentous occasion in world history, Knidos Cookery Club has turned to a soup made from the close relative of a vegetable that was at the heart of Soviet cuisine – the humble cabbage.

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KCC’s cabbage soup with brown bread

The cabbage, and soups such as shchi that were made from it, was a mainstay of the Soviet diet. I remember hearing jokes about it when I was a lad such as this gem:

Q. What’s three miles long and eats cabbage?

A. A Soviet meat queue.

We’ve used Chinese cabbage as a twist on the traditional recipe that uses the more familiar member of the Brassica family and spiced up the mix with a few Shiitake mushrooms and some chilli powder.

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It makes a great accompaniment, along with a few shots of vodka, to October: Ten Days that Shook the World, the classic 1928 Soviet silent classic directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein and Grigori Aleksandrov (which is available on BBC iPlayer until the end of this November).

The film was based on John Reed’s book of the same name, which told the story of the revolution from the abdication of the last Czar to the Bolshevik seizure of power. Another good read on the same topic follows Lenin on the Train, an account by Catherine Merridale of Lenin’s trip back to Petrograd on the eve of the revolution.

Ingredients (serves 4)

300 g shredded Chinese cabbage

2 medium onions

1 green pepper

4 dried mushrooms (rehydrated)

2 garlic cloves

2 medium tomatoes

25 ml cooking oil (sunflower or another neutral, refined oil)

1 litre vegetable stock

1 bayleaf

Pinch of black pepper

One teaspoon red chilli flakes

Dash of soy sauce

Rye bread (or a similar hearty brown bread)

Method

You’ll need a good hearty stock for this soup, so prepare some in advance or use stock cubes. Heat the oil in a heavy-based pan and then add the chopped onions and garlic. Cook for 10 minutes or so over a medium heat – while it’s cooking chop up the mushrooms and green pepper and then add to the mix,

Stir and cook for five more minutes then add the chopped tomatoes, black pepper, chilli flakes and bayleaf and cook until the tomatoes start to collapse. Then add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil.

Next add the shredded cabbage and cook for ten minutes or so until the cabbage is tender. Add soy sauce, remove the bay leaf and serve with brown or black bread and a shot of vodka!

Viva la Revolution, comrades!

 

 

 

 

Operation Lentil

23 February 2017

It was on this day back in 1944  that the Chechen and Ingush  people of the North Caucusus had one of the darkest moments in their troubled history. Accused by the Soviets of siding with the Nazi forces, the entire population was herded onto cattle trucks and deported by force to Central Asia.

The mission was codenamed ‘Operation Lentil’ – after chechevitsa, the Russian word for lentil, which shares its first two syllables with Chechen. By way of commemoration of this tragedy that befell the Chechen and Ingush communities, who refer to the deportations as Aardakh, the exodus, this time around we’ll be sharing a recipe for the Turkish dish mercimek köftesi – a versatile red lentil patty.

lentil-patties
Mercimek köftesi – red lentil patties, served with green salad and cole slaw

These spicy, lentil patties are easy to prepare and are delicious when rolled up in flatbread, like lavash, with fresh cole slaw and a green salad. We used ajika sauce from Georgia on the other side of the Caucasus mountains, a fiery blend of red chili peppers and tomatoes, to flavour the patties – but if you can’t find this locally, then a mix of tomato paste with chili flakes will do nicely.

Ingredients (Makes around 20-24 lentil patties)

100 g red lentils (one cup)

150 g fine bulgur wheat (1.5 cups)

500 ml water

6-8 teaspoons of ajika sauce (see above)

5 spring (green) onions – chopped

A handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

One teaspoon of cumin seeds

One teaspoon red chili flakes

Black pepper

25 ml olive oil

Juice of one lemon

Method

Wash the lentils until the water goes clear and then place in a pan with the water. Bring to the boil and simmer over a low heat for 20 minutes or so. The lentils should be going mushy and there should be about 1 cm of water covering the lentils – add more water if necessary.

Add the washed bulgur wheat to the cooked lentils and the ajika sauce and blend well. Allow to stand for 30 minutes or so and then add the olive oil, lemon juice, spring onions, parsley, cumin, red chili flakes and black pepper and mix well.

Allow to stand for a few hours to let the flavours combine and then mould a walnut-sized piece of the mix in the palm of your hand and use your fingers to form a  sausage-shape (see picture above).

Serve rolled in flatbread or stuffed into a pita with a cole slaw made from shredded cabbage, grated carrot, pomegranate seeds, spring onion and capers and  a salad of lettuce, sun dried tomatoes, pear and spring onion.