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!

 

 

 

 

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A Passion for Pkhali

20 April 2017

This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’re returning to Georgia for some culinary inspiration in the form of pkhali, a type of starter made from walnuts, herbs, spices and whatever vegetable happens to be in season, such as spinach, beetroot, aubergine, cabbage or carrot.

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Walnuts are widely used in Georgian cooking – besides pkhali, they can be turned into  satsivi, a thick paste similar to hummus, and  bazha, a sauce made with the holy trinity of Georgian herbs – blue fenugreek, ground coriander (cilantro) and crushed marigold flowers. These combos can be mixed with fresh cucumbers and tomatoes as a salad dressing or stuffed into tongues of fried aubergine (eggplant).

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Staying on the walnut theme, on a recent visit to the former home of famous Kazakh writer Mukhtar Auezov in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the guide gave me a handful of walnuts from the gnarled old tree in the garden of the writer’s house. These nuts were used in the making  of today’s pkhali recipe.

Auezov was famous in Soviet times for writing The Path of Abai, an epic historical novel based on the life and teachings of Kazakhstan’s most famous poet and composer Abai Qunanbayuli, who had been a neighbour and friend of Auezov’s grandfather.

It was said in the Soviet era that all were equal, but some were more equal than others – and this was certainly the case for Auezov after he won the Lenin Prize in 1959 for his four-volume epic novel about Abai.

The prize came with a sackful of roubles which he invested in a two-storey house, which is now a museum dedicated to his life and work. The house was lavish by the standards of the time and was designed by the architect who designed Almaty’s Abai Opera Theatre.

Ingredients (Makes around four generous servings of each pkhali – see photo above)

For the beetroot pkhali

300 g cooked beetroot

100 g walnuts

One garlic clove

5 g fresh parsley

5 g fresh coriander

One teaspoon blue fenugreek powder

One teaspoon black pepper

20 ml wine vinegar

A scattering of pomegranate seeds and walnuts

 

For the spinach pkhali

250 g fresh spinach

100 g walnuts

One small onion (around 75 g)

One garlic clove

5 g fresh parsley

5 g fresh coriander

One teaspoon blue fenugreek powder

One teaspoon black pepper

20 ml wine vinegar

A scattering of pomegranate seeds and walnuts

 

Method

For the beetroot pkhali:

Boil the beetroot for 30 minutes or so until you can pierce it with a knife easily.

Leave to cool and then peel and chop into small chunks.

Toast the walnuts over a low heat for 5-10 minutes and then add to the garlic and herbs and spices in a bowl. Add the vinegar and use a blender to make a smooth paste. Add the beetroot chunks and keep blending until you have a gloopy mixture.

Leave overnight in the fridge and then serve with a scattering of pomegranate seeds and walnuts.

Method

For the spinach pkhali:

Cook the spinach in boiling water for 5 minutes until it begins to wilt. Remove and place in cold water and then drain.

Finely chop the onion and put it in a mixing bowl with the garlic, herbs and spices. Toast the walnuts over a low heat for 5-10 minutes and then add to the bowl. Add the vinegar and use a blender to make a smooth paste. Add the spinach and keep blending until you have a gloopy mixture.

Leave overnight in the fridge and then serve with a scattering of pomegranate seeds and walnuts.