I made creamy aubergine and mushrooms to accompany the cooked Hungarian ham I served on Easter Monday. I always feel I should like aubergine but somehow, no matter how many times I try them, or how they have been cooked, I find them unpleasant. This is the first time I have found them edible. Instead of the normal slime you would be served, they remain crunchy, and are particularly tasty.
Ingredients for 4-6 servings:
115g unsalted butter
225g mushrooms, sliced
120ml beef stock
250ml double cream
4 tbsp fresh parsley
salt and freshly ground white pepper
Peel the aubergines and slice.
Put the aubergine on a dish towel (or kitchen paper) and sprinkle liberally with salt.
Fold over the dish cloth to cover the aubergine and leave for 30 minutes.
Use the cloth to squeeze out the moisture from aubergine.
Heat the butter in a large frying pan.
Cook the aubergines and mushrooms for 10 minutes.
Pour in the beef stock and simmer for a further 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
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.
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:
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!
Five years ago, when I first moved to London, I was rather fortunate to move Bayswater, which, although traditionally famed for boasting fantastic Middle Eastern shops and restaurants, is also home to a small Russian shop, located just ten minutes from my front door.
This was before the days when, as a result of a dramatic increase in migration to the UK from the countries accepted into the EU in 2004, Tesco stocked a vast variety of Polish food and various East European shops had sprung up across the country.
Kalinka Shop (Калинка магазин) can be found at 35, Queensway, London, W2. It is open from 11 AM to 8 PM Monday to Saturday and 12 to 6 PM on Sunday. The shop stocks everything you could ever imagine of Russian (and some other East European countries) origin.
When I first came to London, I happened across the shop because I used to walk to and from Queensway Tube Station every day. My interest in Russian history was growing and I entered out of curiosity. On entering I was faced with products from floor to ceiling labelled in Russian. This is partly why I love London, particularly Bayswater. For me, when you are here, it never really feels like you are in the UK, it always feels like you are on holiday, exploring some foreign land and their produce.
Since 2007 London restauranteurs have suffered devastating losses and been forced to terminate service. However, those left standing with a reliable clientele have been fortunate and wise to undergo significant, and much needed facelifts, dragging them kicking and screaming into the 21st Century. However, the change at Bar Polski can be described as subtle at most. Formerly known as Na Zdrowie, the management have finally realised that the majority of its clientele are incompetent! Incapable of pronouncing the Polish word for ‘cheers’, many opted simply to refer to it as, The Polish Bar. As a compromise, the management have renamed the bar-restaurant, Bar Polski. The name change appears to be where any difference ends and Bar Polski continues to effectively cater for Eastern European enthusiasts and less knowledgeable Londoners alike.
With its only remotely close landmark being a Pret à Manger, Bar Polski is hidden down a backstreet in Holborn and unless actively seeking it out, one is highly unlikely to find it. However, it is definitely worth taking some friends on an adventure in order to discover it. Chic sparse décor, black leather seating and basic grey tables are juxtaposed with colourful traditional folk motifs and cockerels painted on the walls. The latter of which provides a great deal of amusement to those with little knowledge of wycinianki style and Polish traditions.
If you want to sample some traditional Polish food it is best to visit Bar Polski during the week from 8 P.M. onwards, when the post-work drinkers are leaving, and you are able to acquire a table. In a similar way to Spanish tapas or Greek meze, the food at Bar Polski is served in a way that is perfect for sharing among a large, ravenous group of people.
For a relatively small bar-restaurant, Bar Polski offers quite an extensive range of Polish food. The mixed fried pierogi (dumplings) stuffed with meat, cabbage and cheese are served on large white plates with three dips, one of which is indistinguishable. The pierogi stuffed with meat and pierogi stuffed with cabbage are delicious. Unfortunately the pierogi filled with cheese curd is somewhat disappointing. If unfamiliar with Polish food it is very important to remember when ordering pierogi to ask for the fried version because the boiled version may well put you off Polish food for life. This is not the fault of the chef at Bar Polski, simply a problem that arises from the method of cooking; boiling any food turns it into a slime-like substance.
Nonetheless, the vast majority of the menu will certainly not let you down.One plate not to be missed is the Bigos, a stew of sauerkraut, fresh cabbage, mixed meats and seasonings, served with rye bread.
All of this can be washed down with any of the beers on the menu or if you are feeling a little more adventurous sample some of the vodkas which are categorised into ‘dry and interesting’ and ‘nice and sweet’.For the hardy among you a shot of any vodka on the menu will compliment the food.However, if you would rather drink vodka ask any of the helpful Polish staff which mixer they think goes best with each one.They will always endeavour to help you.
Bar Polski is at 11 Little Turnstile, Holborn, WC1V 7DX (tel: 020 7831 9679).
Drinks, lunch or dinner. Food served until 10 P.M. No bookings accepted.
Takeaway service available.
Who to know: John, the owner. He has been known to wrestle with pickpockets to prevent inebriated customers are not mugged.
What to know: If you come to a SSEES event at Bar Polski you will enjoy plenty of free food.
What to eat: Pierogi, Bigos.
What to drink: Beers including: Zywiec, Lech and Tyskie; around fifty types of vodka.
Spotted: Current and former SSEES students and staff!
The Gay Hussar stands just off Soho Square, in a beautiful Georgian townhouse, and has been serving Hungarian specialities and fine wines to Eastern European enthusiasts for over fifty years. It is worth visiting The Gay Hussar simply for the exterior and interior décor. Inside the ivy-covered chocolate box shop exterior awaits a small room of tightly packed wooden tables (albeit with decadent tableware!) and low lighting, making you feel like one has simply stepped in from a backstreet off Váci Utca itself.
Having been feeding journalists, politicians, artists and historians for so many years, the walls boast the restaurant’s trademark caricatures, not to mention an extensive selection of books, including Norman Davies’ Europe: A History. Among the tableware can be found a delicious and complimentary selection of bread, including walnut, which must not be missed!
The mixed Hungarian Salami, £4.95, is delicious for those who revel in spicy meat and the smoked Hungarian sausage, £4.15, is enhanced by the presence of a very fresh horseradish condiment. Without doubt the best starter on the modest menu is the beef goulash soup, £4.50: peppers, potatoes and beef. This will certainly warm you up on a cold day! Wonderful Hungarian starters are unfortunately where the love and enjoyment of your experience will end.
The galuska (the Hungarian version of gnocchi) accompanying both the borjú pörkölt (veal goulash stew), £15.25, and the csirke paprikás (chicken in a creamy paprika sauce), £12.95, is most disappointing with an odd taste and unpleasant texture. Vegetarians will fare no better being presented with a pepper stuffed with yet more pepper, £9.50. While the décor and to an extent, the starters, will remind a Hungarian of pleasant times in their homeland, the main courses will only serve to shatter any joyous illusions.
Thankfully, the wine list will help you forget, or at least wash down, the unfortunate main courses. The Jozsef Bock Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, £31.50, will enhance any dish on the menu. The rich, dark and deep oak flavour that the Bock family have been creating so well since the 1800s will send you home with a smile on your face. Unfortunately, the combination of the spicy food, red wine, and sheer heat of the restaurant means you will also go home hotter than hell itself. Layers are therefore imperative if one plans to visit The Gay Hussar!
The Gay Hussar is at 2 Greek Street, Soho, London, W1D 4NB (tel: 020 7831 9679) www.gayhussar.co.uk
Lunch and dinner available.
To know: Take a woman, or better still, women make sure you leave your men at home. Being female in this establishment means plenty of attention and a possible discount on the bill!
To eat: Beef goulash soup
To drink:Jozsef Bock Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 £31.50
Spotted: Lord Hestletine, Boris Johnson, Jon Snow.
I was born in Surrey, raised in Hampshire, but now reside in Bayswater, in London. My interest in history and passion for Eastern Europe developed when, at the age of nine, I read Judith Kerr’s novel ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’. After spending many summer holidays in Slovenia, I studied much Russian history at A Level, and then went on to attain an Upper Second Class Honours Degree in East European History from UCL’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies. During my vacation periods I enjoyed travelling throughout this incredible region and to date have visited: Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Croatia, Bosnia, Hungary, Slovenia and Germany. I am currently learning to speak Russian and will study my Masters in East European History on a part-time basis from autumn 2009.
I love food and all things cultural, particularly East European. I write feature articles for Anglomania, a sport, culture, fashion magazine and work as an editorial assistant for Glam Media UK. I have previously worked for TopTips.com, Emap, Conde Nast, The Telegraph and The Sun.
In this blog I am indulging my love of Eastern Europe, and utilising the web I shall tell tales of my travels, and impart my knowledge of the region’s culture, history and food.