I recently wrote about the Puklavec Sauvignon Blanc from Slovenia available in Waitrose. I’m a huge fan of the folks at Puklavec having met them at the International Wine Festival last year. It’s such a shame that the likes of Waitrose have only picked up one bottle from their impressive range. I tried out the Puklavec & Friends Sauvignon Blanc & Furmint and it really is a notable wine.
With the sauvignon comes all those renowned citrus fruit aromas and notes. However, the furmint’s mineral and aciditiy characteristics gives the wine a more mellow and crispy note. Think the aroma of lime and the taste of elderberry. This pale and delicate wine is a great wine for summer. Team with a salad or fish, or just enjoy as an aperitif.
When The Global Vegetarian Kitchen recipe book by Troth Wells landed on my doormat I was rather eager to see what East European inspired dishes would be included. While Eastern Europe is not renowned for its tolerance of vegetarianism there are plenty of renowned vegetarian dishes from the region. I was rather pleased to see that of more than 100 recipes, Wells has included some East European delights in this latest book promoting vegetarianism.
The first recipe to grab my attention was the Turkish Thick Lentil Soup on page 58. With onion, garlic, red lentils, cumin and chilli, this is a version of lentil soup which I particularly enjoyed at breakfast while in Istanbul. This is my ideal of heaven on cold, winter days.
Rather more excitingly was the Turkish Moussaka recipe on page 108. I would personally normally associate Moussaka with Greece but apparently this version is spelt musakka in Turkish which derives from the Arabic for chilled.
Yet another one of my favourites can be found on page 110: Mushroom Stroganoff. The beef is substituted with chestnut mushrooms.
The ‘Swooning Imam’ or aubergine bake on page 138 particularly caught my eye. Using onion, peppers, cumin, coriander, tomatoes and parsley, these stuffed aubergines look fantastic. It’s no wonder the Imam fainted at the taste!
For those with a sweet tooth the Russian Gramma cake featured on page 228 looks to be particularly pleasing and is complete with old family recipe (is there anything better than that?).
Of course the book also contains fabulous recipes from all over the world: America, India, The Orient etc. This is quite possibly my favourite cookery book to hit the shelves this year.
The Global Vegetarian Kitchen
Published by New Internationalist
Author: Troth Wells
Publication date: October 2010
Available from www.tr.im/nishop and all good bookshops
Skadarska is considered the bohemian quarter of Belgrade. Beware the cobbled street, it is certainly not the easiest to walk along, but this small part of Belgrade is THE place to spend your evenings. There is a variety of restaurants in Skadarska with everything from pizza and pasta, to more traditional dishes. There was something about Zlatan Bokal, perhaps it was the ornate wrought iron, the draping canopies not out of place at an Ancient Roman feast, or indeed the large tree which protruded both through the floor and roof which the waiters effortlessly worked around, but it caught my eye and I knew that was where I had to enjoy my final meal in Belgrade.
This is not the sort of restaurant which is particularly geared up for tourists, although it does have a menu in English for those who do not speak fluent Serbian. My advice would be to share a few starters such as gibanica – filo pastry stuffed with salty cheese – and fried kashkaval cheese – better than any mozzarella – both of which really tickle the taste buds.
Then it’s on to the main course… The traditional Vojvodina speciality is not to be missed. Love meat, love bacon, love cheese? Choose this tender, juicy dish and eat with a side portion of the world’s best chips (French fries). Alternatively, for utter showmanship then opt for the ražnjići. When the waiter arrives holding the plate of pork skewers and proceeds to not place it in front of you, I’ll be honest, it does leave one utterly puzzled! However, he then places a plate on top, and quite dramatically, removes the meat from the skewer in one swoop. Impressive to say the least! Enjoy with the grilled peppers (served with lashing of garlic) for a positively divine meal. Wash down your meal with the red wine of the house in abundance! I can promise on leaving Zlatan Bokal, you’ll leave feeling, full, content and satisfied.
Zlatan Bokal, Skadarska 26, Beograd, Srbija
Tel: 011 3234 834
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.
Angus Bell is a Scot, who while living in Canada, stumbled upon a medium who told him his Great Uncle Ivor (who had died as a child) was inspiring his ideas, that he would travel and write about it. While working in a methadone clinic Bell planned a cricket tour around Eastern Europe. Starting in the Baltics with playing cricket on ice and encountering a streaker, Bell picks up many a hitchhiker along the way and makes his way through the Balkans, Bulgaria, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic and finally finishes his tour in Poland where his final match is cancelled.
My sister lent me this book and instructed me that despite my general dislike of travel writing and my limited knowledge of cricket, it would indulge my love of Eastern Europe. However, whether you are a lover of travel writing, cricket, Eastern Europe, or would like to find out about an interesting, albeit odd, adventure.
While Bell’s knowledge of East European history is not always necessarily spot on (though I do understand it is difficult to convey complicated historical concepts, thoughts, ideas and facts in a limited number of words) I did find his investigation of academics’ work amusing simply because there were many thesis written in utter jest. I had never before come across academic work written as a hoax and I do wonder where academics get the time considering supposedly how hard they work and how much research they do! (Note, I realise many historians actually do work incredibly hard!) What I found most intriguing was the brief mention of Lapta, a Russian game which began in the medieval period and is a Russian game similar to cricket.
I am always wary of anything that has become a hit, all too often they are quite incredibly over-rated.I am even more wary of novels based around historical events, particularly recent ones, because they can give a false portrayal.For an historian this is incredibly frustrating.However, Galloway, writes convincingly and, as his afterword explains, did a great deal of research in able to publish this novel.Although I would not call it enjoyable as such, I would describe it as a must-read.
The novel is based around three characters whose lives intertwine, albeit loosely, because of the Cellist of Sarajevo whose character is based upon Vedran Smailovic.Vedran Smailovic became renowned for playing Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor at the site where many were killed when a mortar attack hit while they queued for bread.
The three key characters typify sections of Sarajevo’s society during the siege. There is Arrow, who has sacrificed her identity but attempts to maintain her moral stance despite acting as a sniper for the resistance. She is desperate to not become as evil as those ruining one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world. However, as events progress, her choices lead her down a path she would have rather avoided. Her struggle to remember her past being intensifies and final re-acceptance of her true self ends the novel dramatically.
Dragan, is an example of many men in Bosnia who helped their wives and children get out before the siege became too bad but believing it would not last long or intensify. However, he is left, lonely and scared and attempts to shy away from the familiar.
Yet, in contrast to Arrow and Dragan who try to forget the past in order to reconcile and learn to live with the current situation, Kenan and his wife cling to any familiarity possible, even if it is just a minute of electricity, a small amount of clean water or a shared joke. Dragan awaits the day he is killed or drafted into the army but tries to hide his fears from his family and maintain a strong fatherly figure.
Each, for a different reason, are drawn to the cellist and his daily, outdoor, risky concert, who and which become a symbol, for some of hope, for some of compassion, for some of the past.
The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996:
The siege was the longest siege in the history of modern warfare, stretched from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996. The UN estimates that approximately ten thousand people were killed and fifty-six thousand wounded. On 22nd July 1993 an incredible 3777 shells hit the city.Last year, news of Bosnian Serb Army leader, Karadzic’s arrest and trial hit the headlines but unfortunately, General Mladic remains at large, despite attending football matched regularly and publishing a book of poetry.
Sarajevo is a beautiful city, surrounded by the hills in which Tito hid many of his weaponry.Slovenia and Croatia having already sought emancipation from the United Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Hercegovina attempted to gain independence.However, the fear of a an independent, strong and armed Bosnia led the Serbs to attain the weaponry and position themselves in ideal locations to shell key cities such as Sarajevo and Mostar.Although a great deal of reconstruction has taken place, in both Sarajevo and Mostar much destruction can still be seen, no more poignant than the ruined Sarajevo Library.
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway is available nationwide priced at £7.99
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.