The Food & Cooking of Russia by Elena Makhonko is an exploration of the distinctive tastes and history of Russian cuisine with 60 authentic recipes. Makhonko was born in Leningrad (St Petersburg) and learned to prepare Rusian food from her grandmother who read cookbooks to her, and from her mother who is skilled cook. Elena moved to Sweden in the 1980s and for her first ten years there worked in the fashion industry before beginning a new career in food.
Although the book begins by trying to dispel the preconceptions of a, “…tureen of ruby-red borscht, warm blinis… exclusive caviar…” being all there is to Russian food, those wanting to discover those traditions will not actually be disappointed by this book. Makhonko has pandered to the whims of our stereotypical view of Russian food, however, she has also included recipes from former Soviet republics, or those which have influenced Russian food, expanding one’s knowledge considerably in just 128 pages.
The introduction gives a brief description of how the climate, geography and traditions have all shaped the way in which Russians’ eat. Mokhonko has also pandered to the amateur historian, providing a brief history of Russian food, 21st-century changes, tea and coffee houses, restaurants, the evolution of fast food, shopping and cooking, in addition to an outline of a day’s typical eating habits.
A small section of the book is devoted to traditional dishes: pelmeni, blinis, soups etc. all of which provide one with fond memories or romantic thoughts of Russia and thus desire to read about in more detail. Festivals in Russia are always great food occasions and Mokhonko gives brief outlines of New Year’s Eve, Christmas and Epiphany etc. All of the images, provided by Jon Whitaker, transport you into the coffee houses, the unusual regions the less savvy tourist would venture.
The recipe section of the book is split into six sections: Soups, Appetizers, Meat, Poultry and Game, Vegetarian and Side Dishes, Desserts, Baking and Drinks. The recipes are a mixture of typical Russian fare but others include Georgian influences.
The most exciting part of the book has to be the Useful Addresses section at the back of the book which provides one with the details of food shops and restaurants in the local area. Unfortunately, there are not many included for London but there is a reasonable UK section. Also mentioned are Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA. This book does not exhaust Russian cuisine but if you feel you may be interested in Russian food but do not want something large or expensive cluttering up your bookshelves, this is a great starter book. It may well inspire you to take a trip somewhere you had not anticipated or give you a taste of just how exciting Russian cuisine can be.
The Food & Cooking of Russia