Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cooking Day

I don't do this so much anymore. Maybe I have too much time to sit and think and I don't have to be on my feet running around after a small child bent on mischief. Maybe it's just that others have taken over the kitchen. Or maybe I'm just old(er).

Or maybe I just lost the habit of long, complex dinner in the years I worked a full-time, 8-5 job with a long commute.

Anyway, yesterday, I went all out on traditional Russian cooking. Of course, it was at the request of my kids, and they did promise to help.

Well, help is as help does, but I must admit that they did a lot. Because making pirozhki ([pee-rohzh-KEE], singular pirozhok [pee-roh-ZHOHK]) one by one by hand (take small amount of yeast dough, add spoonfull of meat filling, wrap and seal) is time consuming. But they did it. While I did the other stuff.

So we had pel'meni last night (pehl-MEH-nee, the Russian answer to ravioli: meat-filled pasta served with sour cream and a vinaigrette dressing) which we ate with a side of cucumber-and-sour cream salad.

One thing you have to understand about Russian cooking: it comes with sour cream. Everything is better with sour cream. Sour cream gets added pretty much to everything, and then served on the side.

As salad dressing, with salt. As flavoring in pastries, cookies, and bread. In your soup. On the side with almost every dish. As a dip. On bread (why not? on a nice, thick slice of rich, dark bread -- and it's a spoonful of thick, creamy sour cream, not the runny "light" stuff -- you have to eat right!). A little sour cream in your shortbread heightens the flavor. You say buttermilk pancakes, I say sour cream olad'i (oh-LAH-d'yi).

And today? Today we will have BORSHCH.

Not Borsht. Not the dark pink canned beet product you find in stores. Nope. That's not the traditional Russian dish. No more than sweet-and-sour chicken is a traditional Chinese delicacy.

No. Borschch. Don't-call-it-soup Borshch. It's LIKE soup, but not soup. It's LIKE stew, but not stew. It's Borshch, and that's what Russians call it.

It's cabbage-based, with other root vegetables, including beets, carrots, turnips, leeks, and/or onions, potatoes and/or beans. It can be beef-stock based and contain beef chunks, or it can be a Lenten dish and be strictly vegetarian. It's tasty, filling, versatile, it has a million variants, and even though I use my mother's recipe, mine does not taste like hers. Close, very close, but not quite. Anyone would recognize the flavor and aroma of Borshch but each cook, each household has its own variant.

The magic of true Russian Borshch.

That's what we're having tonight. And while the kids don't particularly like soup, they've been asking for Borshch. Because, and it bears repeating, Borshch is not soup. It's just Borshch.

It can be served with thick slices of hearty bread slathered with butter, or, like we're going to do tonight, with pirozhki.

Because we were in a cooking frenzy, we only have meat pastries (meat-filled pirozhki), but you could have some cabbage filling, some mushroom filling, even sweet fillings like farmer's cheese or sour cherries.

And because we're only having an ordinary family night, we're just having borshch and pirozhki. If, however, I was serving up a proper feast, borshch would be a first course, followed by some kind of roast (meat or fish), with a vegetable, and a salad. Followed by a dessert.

Okay. That's enough. I'm hungry now.
But you know what? Ethnic cooking is pretty healthy. Look at all the good ingredients that go into borshch. And just ask the kids (and all the students of Russian who tried it over the years): it's tasty. Especially with pirozhki.


Mary Ricksen said...

My Polish relatives cooking so reminds me of your Russian recipes. They are pretty close.
My Polish grandmother made Borscht and my favorite is the stuffed cabbage rolls. I don't know how to spell it but Gwumkies is how she pronounced it. And her Babka. Oh man I miss those days. I was too young to learn to cook from her she died in her fifties. She was my favorite person in my whole life. Ah the memories...

Chicken Little said...


I'm so hungry now.

As for sour cream, I'm with your culture---it can only HELP most dishes. As someone who cooks out of necessity to save money AND for enjoyment, I think you stir more than pots when you cook, for you invoke memories and links from past to present. Think of how much we learned from those while sitting in the kitchen.

And it's not just from mothers! My grandfather who was Pennsylvania Dutch and came from German immigrants, made the best molasses cookies I've ever tasted. They were the size of small saucers with the moist middles that told you THIS IS A COOKIE. I have the feeling they contained lard (isn't that a four-letter word under the new health bill?) and the sort of molasses that poured so slowly you could stand waiting for what seemed like years.

My mother handed down a recipe she gained from a next door neighbor when she lived in NY City for Armenian string beans. I continue to make these--especially in the summer as you can eat them hot or cold.

IMO Cooking is a way of sharing--our burdens, dreams, skills, and pantry. It's also a nice way to return to 'normalcy' when faced with the stress of modern life.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Masha,
However you spell it, borcht is great stuff. My mother's version was mostly cabbage and beets, while my mother-in-law used to put all kinds of vegetables fresh from her garden into her borcht. The sour cream is always a necessity. I love the way it turns the red soup to a creamy pink.

Do you make perogies? They are a Ukrainian dish. You make a soft dough, cut it in circles, fill with a mixture of potatoes and cheese (or other things, like sauerkraut) fold over the dough and pinch the edges. Then you throw them in boiling water and cook until they start to float. And you serve them with -- you guessed it -- sour cream!

You're making me hungry Masha!


Carol Kilgore said...

I've never eaten Russian food, but I love to cook and I love to eat. Your pirozhki and pel'meni sound good. But I'm not sure if I'd like your borshch since I don't like beets or turnips. I wonder if pirozhki go with Texas chili?

Skhye said...

Hellloooooooooooooooooooooo, Masha! Does Borscht have any sour cream in it? Sorry, bad joke. I'd have to cook cabbage tonight now that I've stopped by here, but we're headed out for seafood. Shoot me. Maybe cabbage tomorrow... But no sour cream. ;)

SFWriterMasha said...

Mary, we had a Polish neighbor once upon a time, and she was our favorite substitute grandmother. She even started teaching me Polish! Unfortunately I was about 8 or 9 at the time and I didn't retain much, but food? Oh yeah, it's yummy and close!

Chicken Little, part of the reason our cooking day turned out so good is that all the girls (that's me and my daughters) bonded in the kitchen. Cooking is certainly for sharing.

SFWriterMasha said...

Jana, pierogies seem to be (depending on the recipe) either a Western Ukrainian or a Polish recipe. We do have similar dishes and they involve dough and fillings, and either boiling or baking, or even frying. And even something called a "lazy" variant with all the ingredients mixed together and thrown in the water!

SFWriterMasha said...

Carol, pirozhki go with everything, and since I make Texas chili too (heh, I even host a Superbowl party for nerdy academics), I can tell you that they would go great together.

I think I'd convince you to try my borshch because it doesn't taste either like cabbage OR like beets. It just tastes like... borshch. You'd smell it once, and you'd be hooked. Promise.

SFWriterMasha said...

Ha ha, Skhye. I haven't even started on all the fish dishes. Russian cuisine has an incredible variety of fish (mostly freshwater) recipes because there are so many non-meat days in the traditional Eastern Orthodox calendar. Besides, it used to be so much easier to catch something from the river (they're everywhere in Russia) than to slaughter precious livestock or go hunt down some game.

Fish is good. With sour cream, of course. And dill. Did I mention dill weed??

P.L. Parker said...

I love sour cream. Nothing like a dollop of sour cream on a slice of quiche.

My ancestry has a lot of Danish (not the pastry). Lots of good food, simple but tasty. My grandmother and great-aunts could put on an unbelievable spread. My grandmother was also a pastry cook at a local restaurant and her homemade lemon meringue pies were to die for.

Geez, I'm starving.

L M Gonzalez said...

Sounds delicious, Masha. Pirozhki, dough and fillings, sounds like tamales - spread the corn meal dough on leaves then fill with meat, beans, chicken.

Not my favorite, but some people eat them like chips. LOL

Thanks for the interesting info, Masha.

Cooking? Yes, I don't do it as much as I used to, either.