Burek is a popular treat in Bosnia. Originating from the Ottoman Empire a thin filo-like pastry is filled with spinach and salty cheese, though sometimes meat and other fillings. On wandering the aisles of Waitrose a few weeks ago I came across small packets of round bourekia, ideal to use as canapes for a small gathering of friends.
The small green packets contain eight bourekia, filled with spinach, feta and plenty of mint making the taste a real mouth-watering explosion. They can be served hot or cold (personally I feel hot is best but if you are going to head out and enjoy a springtime picnic then cold will suffice).
Bourekia, part of the Waitrose Delicatezze range and found in the chilled aisle, £3.69
When one thinks about Russia, be it the feasts of Ivan the Terrible, the European-style banquets of Peter the Great or even the large socio-political functions of Stalin, one conjures the images of excess, indulgence and merriment, all at the expense of the poverty-stricken masses. But the truth is, even with little money, the Russians know how to put on a good spread for their guests. Even those with little will open their door and greet their guests with the offering of a zakuski (закуски in Cyrillic).
Zakuski can be anything from a simple appetiser to a laden table. The tradition began in the decadent Russian manor houses of the 18th Century when the tradition of opening a meal with vodka, bread and cold soups, gave way to open sandwiches, meat and fish. Although the style of food changed, the diet remained relatively the same as before, with the exception of the introduction of cheese.
The Zakuski table would be ready to welcome guests inside from the harsh climate. A bottle of vodka, or more popular among the elite, European Champagne or wines, took pride of place, as did the samovar full with hot tea. Guests were invited to help themselves, mirroring the hospitality the Russians are famed for.
Among the delicacies, guests enjoyed salted cucumbers, sour cream (smetana), pickles, black bread and a simple meat or fish dishes. The zakuski was designed to be quite different to the main meal, so if the main course was to be fish, meat appetisers were provided and vice versa. Ensuring the table was an array of vibrant colours was important so the choice of ingredients was key: carrots, beetroot, cucumbers etc.
Blinis are an ideal component of the zakuski table.
Mottra caviar is new to the UK and is the world’s only truly sustainable caviar. This is bang on trend with us being encouraged to choose more ethical and sustainable options, and since the release of film The End of the Line (The Inconvenient Truth of the fish world), our focus has been firmly on the oceans.
Last year, Mottra ‘sturgeon-friendly caviar’ was awarded the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) certification. Priding itself on its eco-credentials Mottra is both ecologically and gastronomically gratifying.
Even in today’s economic climate, people want to enjoy such delicacies as caviar, but maybe now more than ever, they want to know that the process used is sustainable and that the sturgeon are being looked after. Mottra is your eco-luxury ‘caviar with a conscience’.
Discerning caviar lovers will always have suffered from the knowledge that wild breeding sturgeon were killed to provide this world renowned delicacy. Mottra has solved this dilemma with the use of modern technology and special techniques that encourage caviar production, while putting the sturgeon’s welfare first. Once the sturgeon is about five years of age the caviar gets gently massaged out of the fish – a process also known as ‘stripping’. The fish is then put back into the perfect conditions of the Mottra pools, where it continues to grow and starts the next year’s process of caviar production.
When I made blinis lavished with smoked salmon and prawns, I also made some Hungarian stuffed mushrooms (Sonkával töltött gomba). The woods of the Bakony Mountains in the Transdanubia region, boast an incredible selection of wild mushrooms. It is estimated that Hungary is home to between 20 and 30 varieties of wild mushrooms and these are regularly used in Hungarian cooking. However, bizarrely, it is the button mushroom which finds itself most frequently on the menu.
100g cooked ham
200 ml milk
4 tbsp flour
2 egg yolks
1 tsp paprika
100g parmesan (or other hard, grated cheese)
Wipe the mushrooms.
Cut off the stalks.
Grease flameproof dish.
Place mushroom caps in the dish.
Season with salt and pepper.
Chop up cooked ham.
Heat the milk.
Melt 40g butter in saucepan.
Stir in the flour (do not let it brown).
Gradually pour in the hot milk.
Stir continuously and simmer until the mixture thickens.
When mixture leaves the sides of the pan, add ham.
Add egg yolks and paprika.
Fill mushroom caps.
Sprinkle with cheese.
Drizzle with melted butter.
Bake in preheated oven at 200ºC for about 15 minutes.
If you have any stuffing mixture left over (as I did), let it cool, put it in the refrigerator and when you fancy a snack, smother on some toasted, grainy, bread, top with grated cheese and grill!
After visiting M&S and discovering their Russian blini offer for the Easter weekend, I was inspired to turn my hand to making my own. Although I would normally scoff at the use of packet pancake mix, I thought, in the name of research I should try one of the box of blini mix sold at Kalinka on Queensway (www.kalinkafood.co.uk).
“Round is the blin, yellow gold and hot like the sun, the symbol of sublime days, rich harvests, harmonious marriages and healthy children,” is how the Russian poet, Alexander Kuprin (1870-1983) described the light pancakes.
In pre-Christian Rus’ blini were eaten on feast days in honour of Wolos, patron saint of fertility, cattle and the arts. The original form of the word blin was mlin, deriving from the Russian word for milling and referring to the dish made from the ground grains.
Blini continue to be one of the favourite foods in Russia today and are sold on every corner in Moscow and elsewhere. However, true Muscovites get together with friends for a blini feast. Traditional blinis are wafer thin and made on a cast-iron skillet. The original recipe for blinis is two-thirds buckwheat flour and one-third wheat flour. This is refined with rich cream and frothy beaten egg whites. Sour cream can be used as a substitute for the cream and creates a heartier blini. Blinis made from buckwheat flour alone are called red blini due to their dark colour.
Soft, porous and with transparent bubbles, means the blinis soak up melted butter and cream wonderfully. The cooked pancakes are best eaten hot with butter, cream, honey, cranberry jelly, pickled herring, smoked salmon or caviar. On feast days they can also be served with offal or beef. The pancakes are served in every home during Butter Week, during which Christians prepare themselves for Lent (although it is originally a Slavic pagan feast which ushered out the winter and welcomed the spring).
I chose to use the blinis as part of a selection of canapes. Unfortunately, due to my meagre salary, I did not invest in a small jar of caviar and instead opted to team the blinis with Alaskan smoked salmon and prawns. I served these with Hungarian stuffed mushrooms, the recipe of which will be in The Perfect Canapes: Part 2.
The 300g box contains a small packet of dried yeast and a baking mix containing wheat flour, dry vegetable cream, sugar and salt and costs just £1.80 but will provide you with about 28 blinis.
Pour the packet of baking mix into a large bowl.
Pour in the packet of dry yeast.
Make a well in the middle.
Pour in 250 ml of warm water or milk
(I used milk which meant the blinis were quite dense, for a thinner mix, use water)
Stir until the mix becomes a dough.
Cover with either a clean tea towel or cling film.
Leave to prove somewhere warm for 30 minutes.
Heat a frying or griddle pan over a medium heat.
Use a spoon to put a little of the mixture in the pan.
A good tip is to have a cup of cold water to put the spoon in. The mixture is very sticky and the water on the spoon will help the mixture to fall off.
When some bubbles appear on the surface of the uncooked side, and it goes a little shiny, turn with a palette knife.
Leave to cool.
Add a teaspoon of creme fraiche to each blini.
Add some smoked salmon or prawns to each blini.
Season with black pepper.
Squeeze over lemon juice (lemon rind can also be sprinkled over for a decorative effect, or if you want a traditional Russian taste, some dill).
Serve canapes with chilled cava
If you would rather make the blinis from scratch you will need: