Talk to most people about Russian cuisine and the likelihood is they’ll say, “Don’t they just eat meat and potatoes; or eat caviar and drink vodka?” I’m hoping to try and change people’s attitudes as there is so much more to this nation’s cuisine. One of my favourite Russian zakuski dishes (though I realise they are not to everyone’s taste) are marinated sardines. They are served cold so they are an ideal starter for a dinner party as they can be prepared in advance.
Here’s my recipe…
Sardines, gutted and cleaned
2 white onions, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 parsnip, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
500ml fish stock
1 bay leaf
4 tbsp cider vinegar
50g plain flour
Toss the sardines in flour and fry in oil until browned
Remove sardines from pan and allow to cool
Meanwhile, fry the vegetables in oil
Pour over the stock and add the bay leaf
Cover and simmer for 20 minutes
Add vinegar to taste and leave to cool
Pour the marinade over the sardines and allow to marinade for up to three hours
To serve, place on a platter and drizzle over the marinade
When I first visited Slovenia the Detela family took me out to a restaurant one day for lunch. This was the dish I ordered and I love it! It’s fresh, tasty and as I found when I tried to make it recently, not actually that difficult.
Check out my recipe below…
1 trout per person gutted, cleaned and patted dry
4 slices of proscuitto ham per fish
1 clove of garlic per fish, crushed
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley per fish
250ml white wine
Generously butter a roasting dish large enough to fit the fish laying flat
Place the garlic and parsley into the fish
Wrap the prosciutto ham around each fish to seal it, season with salt and pepper
Place fish into roasting tin
Pour wine over fish
Place in oven on 180°C and roast for 30 minutes
Remove the fish from the oven and keep warm
Simmer the juices until slightly thickened
Serve the fish with the sauce poured over it and a generous wedge of lemon
I love this mackerel dish, it is really easy to make and you can serve it in individual dishes which makes it ideal for dinner parties. Ensure the fillets have some bones in them otherwise the fish may fall apart.
4 mackerel fillets, with tails and butterflied
50ml olive oil
1 white onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 can chopped tomatoes
250ml dry white wine
Lemon slices and parsley to garnish
Preheat the oven to 180ºC
Dry the fillets with kitchen paper
Heat oil and gently fry onions until soft
Stir in the garlic
Spoon in the tomatoes and season
Add fillets of mackerel (it is best to do this one or two at a time to avoid overcrowding the pan)
Cook for 5 minutes on one side, remove and keep warm
When all the fillets are cooked, place them into individual dishes
Russians are renowned for their world-class crab meat charka. The high quality really does justify the price. However, when times were/are tough, half the crab meat can be substituted with fresh white cabbage, shredded, gently blanched for 2 minutes and dried before stirring into the crab mix. This is a quick dish, ideal to add another plate to the zakuski table.
Cold Cod Salad was created during the Soviet era when the Russians regularly suffered severe food shortages. Thankfully, due to the presence of carrots in this dish, it provided necessary colour to the zakuski table. It is best to chill the salad overnight so the sour cream top hardens slightly.
Some days, some weeks, can be tough. I’m spending nearly every minute of every day, bar the six hours (if I’m lucky) sleep I may or may not get each night, working, writing or studying. However, while my days may be busy, they can still be satisfying. This evening I returned home to find 12 random bottles of wine which I have delivered from Laithwaites every four months or so. I love the fact that in most of these boxes, Laithwaites will usually include at least one bottle of wine of Central or East European authority and this month was no exception.
At this time, Pinot Grigio is the world’s most popular white grape. Its most sought-after wines are those from northern Italy, which while are available come at a price. However, go a little further east and one finds the historic vineyards of Hungary are also producing some excellent value, appetising Pinot Grigios like the elegant Baron Lazare.
This crisp white comes from a cellar in the Pazmand region of Etyek founded in 1949, and thoroughly modernised since the fall of communism. This cellar is well-equipped with cool fermentation equipment essential for producing fresh, modern whites, and has won many awards for its efforts. Gabor Laczko is the dynamic young winemaker.
Baron Lazare de Schwendi brought back from Hungary young vines after besieging the town of Tokaj in 1565. He cultivated them on his own land in Kientzheim, near Colmar, where his castle still stands. Baron Lazare de Schwendi is made by veteran winemaker of 40 years, Bardos Benjamin, from the finest Pinot Grigio grapes carefully selected from vineyards surrounding the Nagyrede winery.
The wine itself is medium-bodied, with an attractive, aromatic, floral nose. Well balanced, with lemon notes, Baron Lazare de Schwendi is an ideal aperitif and the perfect accompaniment for poultry or fish. I enjoyed a few glasses with a gorgeous prawn, smoked haddock and salmon fish pie – yum!
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.
This recipe is perfect for a quick but super healthy meal and requires just seven ingredients (and that’s counting salt and pepper as two!) If you don’t want to use salmon, trout is a reasonable alternative, or mackerel could be used but I would imagine that could produce quite a different taste.
Angling is a particularly popular pastime in Russia and as a result, fish is used in many Russian recipes. This is a great, easy, one-pot, dish, perfect for Friday night dinner after a long week at work.
600g fish fillets (pike, catfish, perch, or sea fish such as cod or bass)
Juice of 1-2 lemons
500g mushrooms, preferably wild
30g all-purpose flour
1/2 bunch parsley, dill and scallions (spring onions)
Marinate the fish in lemon juice for 30 minutes.
Boil the potatoes until just soft.
Clean the mushrooms, slice finely, and saute in small knob of butter.
Cut the fish diagonally.
Coat fish in flour.
Shallow fry fish in oil until golden brown on both sides (skin side down first).
Place fried fish fillets in a greased baking dish.
Slice the potatoes.
Place slices over the fish.
Sprinkle the mushrooms on the top of the potatoes.
Beat the eggs, season with salt and pepper, and pour over the fish and vegetable mixture.
Bake in preheated oven at 200ºC until the egg is firm.
Sprinkle with herbs and scallions and serve.
If you want to make sure you get a good, brown, crispy topping you can add a few small knobs of butter to the topping before putting in the oven.
This traditional Russian dish is quite dry and may please Western palettes more if a little cream or sour cream is drizzled over the fish and potatoes to create a sauce.
The first time I encountered polenta was, when at the age of 13, I spent a few weeks of my summer holiday in Slovenia with our family friends. Although they live in Ljubljana, the capital city, we stayed at their weekend house, in what I regard as being the most picturesque village in the whole world, Kranjska Gora.
Slovenia shares borders with Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. The fluctuating borders and unbelievable social mobility during times of peace and war throughout 2000 years, have meant the areas, particularly nearer its borders, take a great deal of influence from its neighbours. No better example of this is food.
While staying in Kranjska Gora, it is possible to cycle, ski or drive to Italy in order to buy some pasta and bring it back for lunch. Although, at the time, in 1999, the border guard was somewhat suspicious of two British sisters, travelling with a Slovene family. However, in 2004, Slovenia entered the EU and since then, it is no longer necessary to declare either your British friends, or your tortellini!
The Detela family would serve up polenta as a side dish to accompany many dishes. One great Croatia dish for which polenta is the perfect accompaniment, is brodet, a fish stew popular on the Dalmatian coast (I will post a recipe for that soon!)
For now, here is my recipe for the perfect polenta.
4 tbsp poltena per serving
250ml boiling water
pinch of salt
drizzle of olive oil
Put the polenta into a saucepan (4 tbsp per serving)
Add the 250ml of boiling water.
Heat on a medium heat.
Constantly stir with a wooden spoon.
After five or so minutes, when the mixture has thickened, remove the pan from the heat.
When the polenta is ready to take off the heat, pour the polenta into a foil dish.
Let the mix settle evenly.
When it has cooled slightly, drizzle olive oil over the top.
Let it cool and place in the refrigerator until the mix has formed a perfect solid.
Place the foil dish under your grill and gently grill the polenta until slightly crispy on top.
Turn out polenta and grill the other side.
Either serve whole or cut into slice.
Done! A different accompaniment to potatoes or rice, super cheap and really delicious! Plus, when you have a small kitchen as I do, it is great to be able to prepare side dishes in advance, whether eating on your own or feeding your ravenous friends, thankfully, for that polenta is perfect. Get it all ready and just grill, just prior to serving up your main course.
Of course, if you would rather it less solid, heat the polenta in the saucepan with the boiling water and pinch of salt, stir until thick and serve! It truly is as simple as that!