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.
Pilaff is a classic dish for entertaining and can be varied to personal tastes easily. Traditionally, everyone digs in from a big communal dish which makes it great for this time of year when you have visitors for dinner and want to do something a little different.
600g lean boneless lamb stewing steak
5 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 tsp smoked salt
2 carrots, chopped finely
2 white onions, chopped finely
400g long grain rice
1 whole garlic, outer paper removed but left intact/whole
5 sprigs fresh parsley to garnish
Healt the oil in a flameproof casserole dish
Add the lamb and fry, stirring frequently for 10 minutes until brown on all sides
Add the water
Bring to the boil
Reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes until meat is tender
Meanwhile, heat more oil in separate pan
Add the carrots and onions and stir-fry for 5 minutes until softened
Add the rice and stir-fry for 1 minute until translucent
Transfer rice mixture to the lamb and add the garlic
Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes until rice is tender and has absorbed most of the liquid
Serve the pilaff heaped onto a warmed dish, garnished with parsley
Re-balance, hydrate and repair this summer with the introduction of three limited edition retail facial oils from Molton Brown. As used in the professional spas, these oils are now available in emporia and will offer a nourishing treatment for dry, tired or combination skin. Housed in glass bottles, the three additions will be an indulgent accompaniment to any skincare regime.
The exclusive in-emporia range will also be used in the in-emporia facials. Combining globally inspired oils, which contain active ingredients from Tunisia, Somalia and Hungary – each will promise a unique sensory experience.
Hungarian Wild Carrot Repairing Facial Oil, £39
Repair and revitalise tired skin when you have enjoyed a little too much tokaj or are exhausted from stirring a vat of goulash!This oil is a deeply vitalising and hydrating treatment for tired or stressed-looking skin.Essential oils of wild carrot, bergamot and cedarwood help to combat visible signs of ageing, leaving skin feeling firmer and energised.Active ingredients include Israeli peach kernel and Somalian frankincense.
For best results, use the facial oils at night after cleansing.Warm a few drops between palms, inhale the aroma and gently sweep across the face, neck and décolletage in an upward motion, avoiding the eye area.
I love food. I love eating. However, I am also prone toward being rather lazy, and as a poor graduate have to make the most from the little I can afford. As a result, I am all for one pot dishes and am particularly fond of my slow cooker. However, if you do not have a slow cooker, this recipe is still for you as it can be cooked either on the hob or in the oven, which ever you desire!
Goulash is by one of the more familiar dishes from Eastern Europe. Made with sweet paprika, it is typical of many traditional Hungarian dishes. It would normally be cooked in an iron cast pot on top of a fire, but living in a studio flat in London makes this is somewhat impossible. Instead, I opt for cooking either in my casserole dish for at least three hours at 150 °C, or alternatively, in my slow cooker for between four and five hours on high. However, as I said, you could cook this on the hob, but with three jobs, I prefer to not have to keep too much of an eye on things!
You can just chuck everything into the pot and go but I try to make it a little more authentic. Onion, for example, is one ingredient which never quite has the same effect having been put in raw to the slow cooker.
First, prepare the ingredients which can be placed into either the casserole dish or slow cooker. Peel a carrot and parsnip and place into the dish. Leave them whole as they are just for flavour, not for eating. Peel and cut a large white potato into cubes and place this in the dish too. Add a bay leaf (two if they are small) and some parsley tied together so it can be easily removed (if you do not have string, use some foil).
Dice a large white onion and cook in a small amount of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Traditionally, goose fat should be used, but I find this can make the sauce too greasy. Cook the onion until it is translucent (not brown!), add in the chopped garlic for one minute, and then add half the paprika. Pour the onion, garlic and paprika into the pot with the carrot etc.
Sprinkle the stewing beef chunks with a little corn flour (though plain flour can also be used) and place into a frying pan over a medium heat. Do not brown this too much, just a little, to seal in the juices. Sprinkle on the rest of the paprika and cook for a further minute and then add this into the pot.
Add two teaspoons of caraway seeds into the frying pan and heat gently for two minutes. Put these into the pot and then rinse out the frying pan with a little of the beef stock. I add this and the remaining stock into the pot.
Cut two medium sized tomatoes and two sweet peppers into chunks and place these into the pot with two or three teaspoons of tomato puree.
Cover and heat either in the oven, in your slow cooker, or on top of a hob.
The stock may need topping up if a lot evapourates/is absorbed.
I serve this with gnocchi and a sprinkle of parsley in a nice large bowl.
Ingredients to feed 2 very hungry people:
500g stewing beef chunks
500 ml beef stock
1 bay leaf
1 large white onion
1 large white potato
2 cloves of garlic
2 medium sized tomatoes
2 sweet red peppers
2-3 tsp tomato puree
4 tsp sweet paprika
2tsp caraway seeds
2 handfuls of parsley
Gnocchi to serve
3 hours on low heat on hob
4 hours 150 °C oven (although, the longer the better!)
4-6 hours on high in slow cooker (again, the longer the better!)
Hard work? Well, I will not lie, any form of cooking requires effort and drive but here is the washing up I was left with – hardly a mountain!
And to prove you do not need a mansion in order to cook for yourself, this is my small kitchen in my studio flat. If I can do it, so can you!