Russian Zakuski Part IV: Vodka

Russian Standard Vodka & Shot Glasses
Russian Standard Vodka & Shot Glasses

In the 10th Century Prince Vladimir the Great of Kievan Rus’ wanted to abandon paganism in favour of a more modern religion.  In the Primary Chronicle it is said Vladimir sent emissaries out to investigate alternatives.  When the emissaries returned and relayed what they had found out about Judaism, Christianity and Islam it is believed Vladimir rejected the option of Islam saying, ‘Rus’ loves to drink, we cannot be without it.’

Mead, kvas and beer met the imbibing demands of the Kievan Rus’ until the late 14h Century when spirits became available, probably via the Baltic.  However, there is some confusion over what exactly was available, vino being used to describe sprits distilled only once (unlike vodka) and also wine.  According to one Soviet historian, there seemed a complete absence of information on drinks like present-day vodka and if one is to believe written sources, only spread to Russia in the 16th Century.

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Enjoy Georgian Wine this Christmas

Georgian Wine SocietyThis week I came across a very exciting website, The Georgian Wine Society, which helps supply British consumers with the best Georgian wines.

It is widely believed that it was Georgia in which wine production first began, over 7000 years ago, with archaeological remains suggesting that grape juice was placed underground in clay jars to ferment during winter as early as 4000 BC.

Georgia is a land famed for its natural bounty. These days there are over 500 species of grape in Georgia, a greater diversity than anywhere else in the world, with around 40 of these grape varieties being used in commercial wine production. Conditions are well suited for viticulture: summers are rarely excessively hot, winters are mild and frost-free. In addition, the mountains around the vineyards are full of natural springs, and rivers drain mineral-rich waters into the valleys. All this means that Georgian wines have a reputation for being exceptionally pure.

Around 150 million litres of wine are produced each year in Georgia, with around 45 000 hectares of vineyards under cultivation. There are 18 Specific Viticulture Areas (a local analogy of the Controlled Appellations of Origin) where the grape variety, planting density and yield per hectare is controlled by Ministry of Agriculture, and where the grape yield per hectare is limited to 8 tons.

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Harcho – Georgian Lamb Soup Recipe

This is a great hearty dish, perfect for a big party of people and ideal served with chunky fresh bread.  The best bit about the dish is it is easily adaptable to cooking in a slow cooker so when you come home from work, your home smells great and you can sit down to a home-cooked meal even when you’ve had a hard day at work!

Ingredients

600g lamb chunks

1.5l lamb stock

3 large white onions chopped finely

5 garlic cloves crushed

3 tomatoes cut into quarters

5 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 tbsp tomato puree

5 tbsp long grain rice

5 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

3 tbsp coriander for garnish

Instructions

Heat the oil in a pan and seal the lamb chunks

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Place the lamb chunks into a slow cooker with the stock and garlic

Fry the onion in the rest of the oil for 5 minutes

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Add the puree and tomatoes for 1 minute

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Stir and add to the lamb and stock

Add the chili and parsley and cook for 4 to 5 hours

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The rice can be added initially to the slow cooker, but if you are at home add 30 minutes before you want to serve

To serve, distribute the lamb between dishes (serves 4) and add equal quantities of liquid and rice mixture to each one

Garnish with chopped coriander and serve with chunky bread

Harcho - Georgian Lamb Soup

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Eat of the Week: Mimino Georgian Restaurant in London

MiminoGeorgian food is a real favourite in Russia and across Eastern Europe in a similar way that the British are fond of a good Indian curry.  In much the same way, Georgian cuisine provides some vital flavours and spice sometimes missing from East European cuisine.  So, when I noticed a Georgian restaurant in Kensington, just minutes from where I live I knew I had to visit it.  My meal at Ket (also a Georgian restaurnt) in St Petersburg was by far one of my favourites during my stay there, and if I was to eat a meal half as good in Mimino as served in Ket, I would be a happy customer indeed.

Located on High Street Kensington, with its entrance lying on Allen Street the restaurant has a relatively basic facade.  However, a staircase leads diners down into a basement which is anything but basic.  On arrival the staff are helpful and friendly (and not simply because I somehow managed to slip off the final step and literally fall into the arms of a waiter).  The atmosphere is, as to be expected, lively, with many Russians and other East European ethnicities enjoying a good night out.  While the decor is dramatic and visitors cannot fail to be shocked by the large round table  with giant, wooden, carved chairs fit for a feast in a forest.

The menu is not vast but contains every traditional Georgian favourite and is sure to keep every diner going long into the night, if not the next day!  The starters are simply incredible and lead diners on a veritable culinary adventure.  Warm Lobio (red beans with walnuts and spices), Sulguni cheese (served with spring onions, radish and herbs) and Imeruli Khachapuri (flat bread stuffed with special cheese) provide the ideal way to begin a dining expedition.  As these dishes are so tasty, not to mention particularly generous in size and rich in flavour, diners must be careful to leave room for their main course!  It is not easy, trust me!

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