Russian Zakuski / закуски Recipe: Tomatoes Stuffed with Mushrooms

Russian Zakuski / закуски mushroom stuffed tomatoes

There are many Russian zakuski dishes (small, introductory dishes usually part of a welcome board serves to guests on arrival) that also double as impressive, party-piece starters.  These tomatoes are no exception.  The large tomatoes are stuffed with a mushroom and sour cream sauce which can all be prepared before baking for just 30 minutes before serving.  Ideal!  Should you have any mixture leftover it can be frozen for up to one month and used as a pasta sauce or sauce for a grilled chicken breast.

Russian Zakuski / закуски mushroom stuffed tomatoes

Here’s my recipe…


500g mushrooms, chopped (I use a mixture, wild are best but shitake and chestnut will do if availability is limited)

125ml sour cream

25g butter

1 white onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp parsley, chopped

4 large beef tomatoes

100g grated Gouda cheese


Gently fry the onion, when softened add in the mushrooms

Russian Zakuski / закуски mushroom stuffed tomatoes

When sauteed add in the sour cream and parsley

Allow the mixture to cool

Cut the lids off the large tomatoes and hollow out the middle

When the mixture is cool, fill the tomatoes

Russian Zakuski / закуски mushroom stuffed tomatoes

Sprinkle the tomatoes with cheese and bake in an oven at 180°C for 20 minutes or until golden brown on top

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Hearty Hungarian Mushroom Soup Recipe

Hungarians are as passionate about mushrooms as Italians.  As the autumn draws in I think about all those hearty winter dishes that will see me through the cold months.  There is nothing more warming or tasty than Hungarian mushroom soup.  Here’s my quick and easy recipe.


50g butter or margarine

8 shallots cut into quarters

3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

500g assorted wild mushrooms

(I like to use a mixture depending on what is in season.  Often I use chestnut, enoki and shitake with some dried wild mushrooms that I’ve soaked in warm water for 20 minutes and drained.  I reserve some of the liquid to add flavour to the stock)

800ml chicken or vegetable stock (depending on whether you or your guests eat meat)

1 tbsp cornflour dissolved in 2 tbsp cold water

Handful of finely chopped chives


Melt the butter in a large pan and gently fry the shallots until soft (but not brown)

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

Add the garlic and stir

Add the mushrooms and cook out for five minutes

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

Add the stock (and a few tablespoons of the liquid from the dried mushrooms) and leave to simmer for five minutes

Then add the dissolved cornflour and allow to cook out for five minutes

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

Allow to cool, then blend

If you prefer a thin soup pass the liquid through a sieve but personally I like it thick

Reheat when required

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

Season with salt and pepper to taste

To serve sprinkle chives on the top and enjoy with plenty of crusty bread

Hungarian Mushroom SoupEasy, tasty, cheap – everything y0u want from perfect winter-warming food!

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Spa & Shroom? A Unique Holiday Package at Latvia’s Amber Spa

I recently wrote about the use of amber in both Lithuania and Latvia, so I was excited to hear the latest news from Latvia’s Amber Spa in Riga…  Spa and shroom? An unlikely combination unless you are a guest at this Amber Spa Boutique Hotel!  Mushroom picking is a favourite Latvian pastime so the boutique hotel has organised a special spa and shroom package for the autumnal mushroom season, making use of the gorgeous pine woods surrounding the spa in Jurmala.

Amber Spa Latvia

The special two night package for £395 per person includes two nights accommodation in a double room with breakfast, dinner in the hotel’s My Life restaurant, which serves a selection of traditional and homemade dishes alongside contemporary international cuisine, a mushroom picking tour and a traditional Russian Banya experience.

Take in the natural beauty Jurmala has to offer, with a guided mushroom picking tour through the local forests. Then, indulge yourself in one of Latvia’s other favourite pastimes with a traditional Russian Banya experience in Amber Spa’s deluxe Russian Banya. You will also be treated to a Banya besom massage ritual and Banya Detox De-Stress Treatment.

Amber Spa Latvia

When not alternating between the sauna and plunge pool in the Banya, enjoy the fruits (or rather fungi) of your labour with a specially prepared meal that will include your hand picked mushrooms to be served in the Banya. No need to dress up for dinner, your bathrobe will be just fine!  This really is my kind of place!

If you can tear yourself away from the spa (I’m not convinced you’ll be able to!) you can also enjoy the delights of the capital with a day trip to Riga. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage listed Old Town, home to one of the world’s largest and best preserved assemblages of Art Nouveau buildings. Then spend some time indulging in cafes, shops and markets and get the latest European fashions at Berga Bazars, built at the turn of the century.

The Spa and Mushroom Picking Package includes:

2 Nights in a Studio Suite Room (inc. breakfast)
Dinner in My Life Restaurant (ex. drinks)
Mushroom picking
Banya Detox De-Stress Treatment
Banya besom massage ritual
Dinner in banya (ex. alcohol)
Swimming pool and Gym facilities
Aqua aerobic, personal training studio, group class studio
10% discount in “Amber SPA & Beauty”
(Package valid until 12 September 2010)

To book contact Amber Spa on email:
For further information about Amber SPA Boutique Hotel and special packages visit

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Chicken in Badacsonyi Wine

This Hungarian recipe is traditionally made with a Balatan wine called Badacsonyi Kekryalii (Blue Handled) which had a full body and distinctive taste.  Unfortunately, it’s a bit tough to get hold of Hungarian wine in the UK and I decided to substitute the wine with a dry white and thankfully, due to the wonders of Waitrose, I did managed to get hold of a Hungarian bottle, albeit not Badacsonyi Kekryalii.  To find out more about the wine go to Eva’s Wine.

Chicken in Badacsonyi Wine
Chicken in Badacsonyi Wine

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Central European Chicken with Wild Mushrooms & Garlic

Chicken with Wild Mushrooms & Garlic
Chicken with Wild Mushrooms & Garlic

While a great British roast on a Sunday is all very well and good, sometimes my family and I crave something a little different.  This roasted chicken dish with aromatic herbs proved a great alternative.  With wild mushrooms, celery, white wine and chicken stock, the wonderful sauce is then combined with that traditional Russian flavour of sour cream.

This is perfect for the ultimate feast and great served either with fresh steamed green beans alone, or with an extra side of boiled new potatoes (my preference being the crumbly the better!)

Ingredients (serves 4)

45ml olive or vegetable oil

1.5kg/3lb whole chicken (you could use chicken pieces, just make sure it’s thighs etc. on the bone)

3 celery sticks (peeled so it is not stringy)

1 garlic cloves, crushed

275g wild mushrooms (personally, I wouldn’t bother slicing, even if large but is up to personal tastes)

1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

250ml chicken stock

250ml dry white wine

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (I tend to prefer flat leaf)

120ml sour cream

Salt and ground black pepper

Flat leaf parsley to garnish

Fresh green beans to serve


Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius,  375 degrees Fahrenheit, Gas Mark 5

Heat the oil in a roasting tin and brown the chicken all over


Remove the chicken temporarily

Fry the onions for about 2 minutes in the roasting tin

Add the celery, garlic, wild mushrooms and thyme and cook for 3 minutes


Pour in the chicken stock, wine and lemon juice into the roasting tin (or foil dish as in my case)


Sit the chicken on the top of the stock etc.


Sprinkle over half the parsley

Season well

Place the chicken in the oven for 1 1/2 – 1 3/4 hours or until tender

Baste occasionally to prevent drying out

Remove the chicken from the roasting tin and keep warm

Put the roasting tin on the hob and stir in the sour cream over a gentle heat until you make a thick pouring sauce

Arrange the chicken on a plate, surrounded by the cream and mushroom sauce

Garnish with parsley sprigs

Serve with grean beans and/or potatoes
Serve the chicken with the sauce and fresh green beans

Varna Chicken

This is a really tasty and healthy dish originating from Bulgaria.  It’s super quick and requires few dishes so the washing up is limited!  The chicken is smothered in a rich, herby sauce.  Serve the chicken with rice to mop up all the wonderful juices.

Varna Chicken
Varna Chicken

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Buckwheat Kasha

Kasha is a Russian porridge made with a variety of grains such as barley, wheat, millets and oats.  The most popular is buckwheat, which has a distinctive nutty flavour.  This version is particularly good served with a fried mushroom and also makes a delicious stuffing for roast chicken.  If you buy the buckwheat already roasted, there is no need to dry fry it before adding the stock.

Buckwheat Kasha
Buckwheat Kasha

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Slovenia: The Jewel in the New Europe

just-slovenia-logoWhether it’s mushroom picking, leaf peeping, the annual Cow Ball, helping with the grape harvest or staying on a working farm, there is a plethora of reasons to visit Slovenia this autumn.

The Cow’s Ball, Bohinj – The Kravji Bal or Cow’s Ball takes place between 18 and 20 September at picturesque Lake Bohinj in the heart of the Julian Alps and Triglav National Park, and celebrates the return of the cattle to the valley after a long summer pasture. Cows are decorated with wreaths and bells and paraded through the now dry Govic waterfall accompanied by herdsmen, dairy maids and cheese-makers; stalls sell wicker work, wooden products and herdsmen’s cheese. Plus there’s traditional entertainment with folk music, dancing, sling shooting, horse-shoe casting and log sawing. A three-night trip including flights from Stansted, car hire, accommodation and breakfast at the Pr’Gorjup organic farm, starts from £349 per person.

Stay at the Pr'Gorjup Farm for the Cow Ball
Stay at the Pr’Gorjup Farm for the Cow Ball

Mushroom Picking – join Joze and Damjana and their family at Mulej Farm (pronounced ‘moo-lay’), north-west of Ljubljana, approximately ten minutes’ drive from Lake Bled. They know the best times and places to find wild mushrooms in the area and will happily take their guests on a foraging expedition to discover them. Later guests may join their hosts in the farm kitchen to prepare soup or other dishes using the mushrooms they have collected. A seven-night stay at Mulej including return flights from Stansted, car hire and a week’s accommodation, starts from £448 per person based on two people travelling in October. This is also the perfect time to go ‘leaf peeping’ and to enjoy the glorious autumn colours.

Mulej Farm
Mulej Farm

Grape Harvesting – Stay in a Vineyard Cottage, traditionally used as a weekend home for families tending their vines, and help to bring in Slovenia’s grape harvest this autumn. At Rataj Cottage near Novo Mesto, close to the Croatian border, guests have wonderful panoramic views across the vineyards, the Krka River Valley and the surrounding countryside. Comfortably furnished accommodation provides an an ideal hideaway for two people, with plenty of outdoor space plus a balcony upstairs and an outside seating area with BBQ. Prices start from £423 per person based on two sharing and include flights from Stansted, car hire and seven nights’ self-catering accommodation.

Vinska Kraljica
Vinska Kraljica

Farm Stays – More than 200 farms across Slovenia open their doors to visitors each year, giving them an authentic taste of rural life in this fascinating central-European country. Visitors are welcome to muck in with the chores or to help out in the kitchen, while children are encouraged to feed the animals. Meals are generally produced using organic food grown on the farms themselves, and are often based on recipes handed down through the generations. Prices for a four-night break with Just Slovenia – leading UK tour operator for farmhouse stays in Slovenia – start from £358 per person for b&b and £388 for half board, based on two people sharing, including flights from Stansted and car hire.

For further details about travel to Slovenia, telephone 01373 814230 or visit

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Central European Stuffed Mushrooms with Spinach

This makes an ideal starter because you can easily prepare the mushrooms and just finish off under the grill to serve to your guests.  Alternatively, they make a great lunchtime or supper snack for the peckish among you.  Also, this dish makes a great vegetarian dish if you omit the bacon and perhaps include some chopped chestnuts or meat substitute if you so desire.

Stuffed Mushrooms
Stuffed Mushrooms

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Hungarian Easter Meal: Part 2: Creamy Aubergine & Mushrooms

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:

2 aubergines

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.

Sliced aubergine

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.

Aubergine covered

Use the cloth to squeeze out the moisture from aubergine.

Heat the butter in a large frying pan.

Butter in pan

Cook the aubergines and mushrooms for 10 minutes.

Mushrooms & Aubergine

Pour in the beef stock and simmer for a further 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Season to taste before stirring in the cream.

Mushrooms, Aubergine & Cream

Reheat but do not allow to boil.

Add 3 tbsp of chopped parsley.

Mushrooms, Aubergine, Cream, Parsley

Spoon into warm serving dish and garnish.



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