Friday, January 27, 2012

New Year's Recipes

In a previous post, Barb Wieser shared the preparations for a New Year's Eve dinner in Crimea.  Her friend Lenura is a marvelous cook, who is so instinctive that she usually works without recipes.  But Barb took careful notes on the feast's preparation,  so we're happy to share the delicious recipes with our readers.  Thanks again, Barb and Lenura, for all your efforts!

New Year’s Dinner Menu
Stuffed Fish
Dolmades (stuffed peppers)
Oven baked beef the “French way”
Olivie Salad
Shuba Salad
Pomegranate Bracelet Salad
Side plates: Sliced bread with butter and red caviar; black olives; orange and kiwi slices
Stuffed Fish:
1. Gut a large fish and peel off the skin, leaving it intact. Cut off head and save.
2. Chop up the fish meat and add a few chunks of beef and salo. Run through a grinder along with two heads of garlic cloves.
3. Mix the ground meat and garlic with 2 eggs, mayonnaise, flour, salt and pepper.
4. Stuff mixture into the fish skin and sew up. Arrange fish on a cooking platter with head.
5. Bake for about one hour at medium heat. Slice and serve.
Dolmades (stuffed peppers):
1.     Grind up 1 kg. of meat (mutton or beef) to make farsh (ground meat). Mix with ½ kg. chopped onions and 1 cup rice, rinsed.
2.     When tomatoes are in season, chop up tomatoes and add to mixture.
3.     Stuff mixture into peppers which have been deseeded and tops cut off. We used peppers Lenura had frozen from earlier in the year. Worked well except our fingers froze stuffing the peppers.
4.     Pack tightly upright in a large soup pot. Cover with salted water and cook until done. Serve with sour cream.
Oven baked beef the “French way”
1.     Thinly slice beef, salt and put in covered bowl in refrigerator for several hours.
2.     Slice 4 large onions and layer on large baking pan.
3.     Layer meat on top on the onions. Sprinkle with a package of spices for meat (not sure what they were, but you could use anything that works for beef).
4.     Peel and thinly slice two potatoes and layer on top of the meat.
5.     Layer 400 g. mushrooms on top—use very small mushrooms so they can be left whole, or slice if needed.
6.     Add a layer of cheese and bake until done.
Olivie Salad
Chop finely cooked carrots and potatoes. Mix with chopped hard boiled eggs, some kind of meat—usually ham or sausage, but we used chicken--, chopped pickles, a can of peas, and mayonnaise and salt and pepper.
 Shuba Salad: (also called Fish under a Fur coat)
1.     Boil 2 beets, 2 potatoes, 1 carrot; cool and peel.
2.     Gut and chop up one salted raw fish (herring)
3.     Layer to make salad—Grated potatoes, mayonnaise, fish, mayonnaise, grated carrots, mayonnaise, grated beets, and top with layer of mayonnaise. Decorate with mustard.
Pomegranate Bracelet Salad:
1.     Finely chop up 2 onions and ½ kg. mushrooms. Saute in butter.
2.     Boil 2 skinless chicken breasts and cool and shred meat.
3.     Grate and peel 4-6 beets. Mix with 6 minced garlic cloves, a handful of finely chopped black prunes, mayonnaise.
4.     To make the salad, put an overturned glass into the center of a large plate to create the ring. Layer shredded chicken, mushrooms and onion mixture, mayonnaise, the beet mixture.
5.     Cover the ring with 2 cups finely chopped walnuts and pomegranate seeds (one whole pomegranate).

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Yogurt Vessels of Yore

I have been waiting to see the Antiquities from Ukraine: Golden Treasures and Lost Civilizations exhibit at the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis since it arrived in October. The exhibit features loaned objects that are a part of the larger, privately owned collection known as PLATAR, assembled by a pair of Ukrainian industrialists, Serhiy Platonov and Serhiy Taruta. I only thought to snap one photo with my phone but wanted to share a few thoughts about the exhibit nonetheless.

The exhibit features objects from ancient cultures that lived in and around the Black Sea region. These include the Tripilians, the Scythians, the Cimmerians and, finally, Kyivan Rus.
The pieces presented in the exhibit are truly interesting and provide an account of the region over time, as well as its importance as a center of trade and hub in the ancient Silk Road. In addition to being beautiful, many of the artifacts also offer glimpses into the food practices of these early cultures, which are among the oldest known civilizations.

The Trypilian artifacts, dating back 5 to 7 thousand years, were characterized by pottery with swirling designs and interesting forms, including giant bulbous pots, mysterious binocular-shaped vessels and even toys. According to our guide, the Tripilians were a matriarchal culture, where women served as the central figures in society. They were an agrarian people that kept livestock and grew crops including lentils and peas.

There was an interesting scale model of an earthen Tripilian home on stubby stilts. This, we were told, was an architectural form much like the much more recent barn homes of central Europe, where the animals live below and their heat rises to warm the people in the story above.
One of my favorite pieces was the bovine-shaped vessel above. Although it looks more ornamental than practical to me, the plaque suggested, it was used by the ancient Trypilians for storing milk, yogurts and fresh cheeses.

Moving onto the Bronze Age, the exhibit features glimmering tokens of war and prestige. In addition to some weaponry and lavish jewelry, from the nomadic Scythians, there were golden bowls and vessels. There was a stunning drinking horn shaped like a ram. I would totally quaff from it, if given the opportunity. As I perused the Kyivan Rus section, I noticed a dazzling set of golden calf earrings, eluding to the importance of livestock in these societies. Many of the artifacts here reflect the influence of Greek travelers in this part of the Black Sea region, something we have also found in contemporary foodways and local cultures of the Crimea, as well as the Dombass and Mariupol regions.

The exhibit visited museums in Omaha and Houston before coming to Minneapolis, the last stop in its US tour. The exhibit is a bit controversial because the origins of the artifacts are largely unknown. The objects were obtained “on the open market” and do raise questions about acquisitions. Ukraine's archaeological heritage has often fallen victim to looters and remains a source of concern for many n the archaeological community.

Antiquities from Ukraine: Golden Treasures and Lost Civilizations will be at the Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis until February 14, 2012. Be sure to check out the Museum's website to view a slideshow of selected artifacts.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A New Year's Feast from Crimea

Barb Wieser,  our favorite Crimean correspondent, shares a great New Year's meal that exemplifies the diversity of foodways in Ukraine where home cooks mix and mingle influences from around the world to create delicious meals.  Thanks Barb and Lenura (above), a fabulous cook!  Look for recipes and more photos in a following post.

Take the Christmas tree, presents, lights and all the general hoopla of American Christmas and combine them with the fireworks and partying of New Year’s and what do you have? New Year’s Eve in Ukraine. For the seventy years of the Soviet Union, religious holidays were banned. Not to be deterred from celebrating, the Soviet people took those Christmas traditions and morphed them into one big celebration on New Year’s Eve. In present day Ukraine, Christmas is once again celebrated (Eastern Orthodox Christmas is on January 7), but it is a fairly low key affair and focused around the church. New Year’s Eve continues to be the big holiday of the season, and much of it is focused on food.
The food preparation for the New Year’s Eve family dinner typically begins with a trip a week earlier to the local bazaar to stock up on all the products necessary for the New Year’s cooking and celebrations. In my Crimean Tatar family, this consisted of large bags of onions, carrots, potatoes, beets; the fruits of the season--oranges, apples, pomegranates, kiwis, mandarins; various candies; sausages and cheeses; sacks of walnuts; champagne, vodka, sodas and fruit juices, and of course, a very large quantity of mayonnaise. Closer to the 31st the meats were purchased—salted herring, a large whole freshwater fish commonly found around here, chicken, and beef to be baked whole and also ground into farsh. We checked to make sure the staples were stocked up—flour, sugar, eggs, rice, salt and pepper—and the preparations were ready to get underway.
All of December, the mother of the Crimean Tatar family I live with, Lenura, mused about what to make for New Year’s, soliciting opinions from the family. She slowly put together a menu, making adjustments even on the last day (like deciding what kind of cake to make). Unlike our American Thanksgiving, there are not many “traditional” New Year’s foods in Ukraine, and menus seem to vary with the whims of who is doing the cooking and different cultural traditions, though all the menus lean heavily to some kind of meat and mayonnaise based salads. But there are two traditional salads that are found on all New Year’s menus across Ukraine and Russia—Olivie Salad and Shuba or “Fish under a Fur Coat.” 
Olivie Salad is a mixture of finely chopped carrots, hardboiled eggs, pickles, sausage (or ham or chicken), combined with canned peas and lots of mayonnaise. According to internet sources (and affirmed by the people I asked), Olivie Salad was named after a French chef who first created it in a restaurant in Moscow in the 1860’s. Shuba is a layer of chopped herring, covered by the “fur coat”--layers of grated potatoes, carrots, and beets, interspersed with layers of mayonnaise.
We also prepared a salad called Pomegranate Bracelet which involved a ring salad (created by placing an overturned glass in the middle of a plate) and consisted of a layer of chicken and mushrooms covered with shredded beets mixed with, you guessed it, mayonnaise, and topped with walnuts and pomegranate seeds.
Every dish we cooked included some quantity of mayonnaise. Ukrainians consume large amounts of mayonnaise on every possible food, even pizza!  I have asked several friends why mayonnaise is so popular and this is the typical answer: “During the Soviet period it was impossible to purchase mayonnaise and it only became available near the end of the Soviet era. Once mayonnaise started appearing in stores, it was rapidly snatched up and became an ingredient in many dishes, especially salads.” However, the Crimean Tatars (the Muslim ethnic people in Ukraine that I live and work with) have their own distinct ethnic foods and rarely use mayonnaise and talk with disdain about the Ukrainian food and “all that mayonnaise.” However, we mostly we did not make Crimean Tatar dishes for New Year’s Eve,  but the one we dish we did make—peppers stuffed with rice and ground meat called Dolmades—sure enough, did not have any mayonnaise. But this was the New Year’s Eve dinner, after all, and somehow it had to include large quantities of mayonnaise—so much so that we twice ran out and had to send one of the kids to the neighborhood store for more.
Besides all those mayonnaise salads, the dinner menu also included a stuffed fish, a meat/potatoes/mushroom/cheese dish (which Lenura called beef baked “the French Way”), the meat and rice stuffed peppers, and a delicious lemon cake with Lenura seemed to just create out of whatever she had on hand.
Though everything was very tasty (especially when washed down with the continual New Year’s toasts), I thought the real masterpiece of the dinner was the stuffed fish. I had been served it once before at a New Year’s dinner at their house, but it definitely is not a traditional New Year’s dish at anyone else’s house. I asked Lenura if she had learned it from her mother, but she said, “No, it is just something I made up.” Basically the dish consists of first gutting a fish and peeling off its skin intact. The fish meat is then run through a grinder along with junks of beef and salo (the Ukrainian national food of cured slabs of pork fat) and a lot of garlic. The ground meat is then mixed with eggs, a little flour, and yes, a little mayonnaise, and stuffed back into the fish, and baked. Served on a bed of lettuce with a hardboiled egg “flower hat”, it was an elegant centerpiece of our Ukrainian/Crimean Tatar New Year’s Dinner. С Новым Годом!