Category Archives: appetizer

Hummus with Grilled Eggplant

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Hummus with Roasted Eggplant
When my life is super busy I like to keep tasty and nutritious snacks in the fridge that help me recharge during the day and hummus is one of those things. I usually make my own as I find the pre-made varieties are often overpriced and lacking in the taste department. I also love to mess with different flavour combinations which is exactly what happened last night. Our friends were coming over for a game night and hummus is a pretty safe snacky thing to server to a crowd.  So I opened a can of chickpeas and threw them in the food processor only to find out a minute later there was really nothing else to add to that!  I guess have been working a little be too hard on emptying the fridge before our holiday. I loving putting fresh herbs in my hummus like cilantro or dill but this time I had to go without and had to improvise…fast. After the second and more thorough look in the fridge I discovered a forgotten and pushed to the back jar of grilled eggplant packed in oil. I remember buying it for a pizza topping but not using it. I love eggplant as I am sure you’ve noticed by the frequency of eggplant posts in this blog. It must be a Russian thing.

So I threw the eggplant slices in there, squeezed some lemon juice, garlic, salt and gave it a whirl. Not bad, not bad at all.  I always put tahini paste in my hummus but this time I wanted it to have a distinct eggplant taste so I held it back.

Note: The jarred eggplant I am using is this recipe is similar to a jar of artichokes and usually would be found in the deli section next to sundried tomatoes or olives.

Ingredients:

  • Chick Peas- 1 can
  • Lemon juice- from one lemon
  • Garlic- 2-3 cloves
  • Grilled Eggplant slices preserved in oil (from a jar)-1 cup
  • Oil from eggplant/olive oil- 1/4 cup
  • Salt to taste

Method:

Combine all ingredients except for oil in the food processor and pulse until smooth, with the motor still running pour in the oil in slow and steady stream, blend for a few seconds longer, then stop the food processor, taste your hummus and adjust seasoning if needed.

Everyone absolutely loved that new concoction which tasted like a cross between a regular hummus and a baba ganoush that I briefly considered calling it Baba Hummoush but in the end decided to stick with a boring “Hummus with Grilled Eggplant”. If you can think of a more clever name could you please let me know?!!

Hummus with Roasted Eggplant

Cilantro Pesto Bean Salad with Goat’s Cheese

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Cilantro Pesto Bean Salad with Goat's Cheese I love beans and am always on the lookout for the new ways to eat them. They are filling, low in fat and high in nutrition. What’s not to like! Well, if I am really honest, the taste can be sometimes quite bland. The beans are like that boring guy who has a great substance and character but lacks the charisma and needs a wing man to show him off.
That is when our flavour buddies come in- Cilantro, Garlic and Chilli! They are all about spunk and excitement but also need to attach themselves to something hefty to carry them. This Cilantro Pesto Bean Salad recipe is a match made in heaven as it does exactly that. It brings things together that desperately need each other!

Cilantro Pesto Bean Salad with Goat's cheese
Ingredients:

  • Butter Beans- 1 can
  • Red Kidney Beans- 1 can
  • Red Chilli (finely minced)- 1
  • Goat’s Cheese or Feta (crumbled)- 1-2 tbsp.

Ingredients for pesto:

  • Spinach-200gr
  • Walnut pieces- 3/4 cup
  • Garlic cloves- 3
  • Red wine vinegar-3 tbsp.
  • Flat leaf parsley- 1/4 cup
  • Cilantro-1/4 cup
  • Lemon juice- 1/2 lemon
  • Olive oil-1/3 cup
  • Salt and pepper- a pinch of both

Method:

Combine all the pesto ingredients but olive oil in a food processor and blend until smooth.  With the motor of the food processor still running slowly pour in the olive oil in a thin steady stream until the mixture is well combined.

{The recipe given here will make about 1.5 cups of pesto. Use 1/4-1/3 cup for the bean salad and refrigerate the rest in an air-tight container. It will keep for two weeks in your fridge or a month in a freezer.}

Combine the beans and dress them with 1/4 cup of pesto, sprinkle with finely minced red chilli and crumbled goat’s cheese. If you love the flavour of this pesto go ahead and check out my Potato Salad.

Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes allowing the flavours to blend. This salad is absolutely gorgeous with any type of barbecued meat!
Cilantro Pesto Bean Salad with Goat's CheeseCilantro Pesto Bean Salad with Goat Cheese

Feta and Zucchini Fritters with Garlic Yogurt Sauce

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Feta and Zucchini Fritters
How do you know your friends really love you? It’s easy. They share their garden bounty with you!I felt really loved by my friend Angela not once but twice last week. First when the girl showed up at my door with a bag full of zucchini she’d earlier that day cut from her garden. And the second time when I had the first bite of the zucchini fritter dipped in a zingy garlic yogurt sauce. Oh the joy when the recipe turns out even better than you’d envisioned!
Feta and Zucchini Fritters with garlic yogurt sauceFeta and Zucchini Fritters with Garlic Yogurt Sauce
Here is what you will need to make the fritters.
Ingredients:

  • Zucchini- 3 medium
  • Salt-1tsp.
  • Onion- 1 large
  • Butter- 1 tbsp.
  • Fresh Dill (chopped) – 1/4 cup
  • Feta cheese (crumbled)- 6 0z/200 gr
  • Flour- 1/2 cup/125 gr
  • Eggs-2
  • Pepper to taste (optional)
  • Oil for frying

Ingredients for Garlic Yogurt Sauce:

  • Greek Yogurt- 1 cup
  • Garlic- 2 cloves
  • Fresh Dill- 1 tbsp

Method:

Grate zucchini and toss it with 1 tsp. of salt in a large colander, let it sit for 30 min. The salt will draw water out of zucchini. Squeeze the zucchini to remove the excess water and wrap it in two sheets of paper towel, squeeze again. Don’t skip this step even if it seems fiddly as it’s important to the success of the recipe and it’s the only fiddly step! I promise. Place zucchini in a large bowl.

Chop the onion and saute in butter or oil over low heat for about 5 minutes. I chose butter. I am Russian after all. Add the onion to the bowl of zucchini along with feta cheese and dill, mix to combine. Whisk flour and eggs together, the mixture will be sticky and add to the zucchini mixture. Combine all the ingredients together. At this point you can add more salt and freshly ground pepper. I didn’t add any more salt because feta is already quite salty and in the end I was happy with the taste. Your zucchini mixture will look more like a zucchini salad rather than a pancake batter, don’t get alarmed, the egg and flour concoction will hold your patties together like magic. 🙂

Add enough oil to the large skillet to come up about 1/2 inch and allow it to get very hot. Drop the zucchini mixture the size of a golf ball into the hot oil and flatten it a bit to form a patty. Fry until golden on both sides.

Mix yogurt, minced garlic and chopped dill to make the garlic yogurt sauce. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Feta and Zucchini Fritters with Garlic Yogurt SauceFeta and Zucchini Fritters with Garlic Yogurt Sauce These fritters are wonderful both as a side dish to your meat and as a vegetarian main course.
Feta and Zucchini Fritters with Garlic Yogurt Sauce
Note: The recipe was adapted from “Please to the table” by Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman

Get Your Picnic On!

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Roasted Eggplant Salad

Lately, I am all smiles. Why wouldn’t I be? The weather outside is glorious! I know I am not the only one who is loving sweet summer days that lead to wonderful outdoor dining. A while back I announced a contest. I suggested my readers would challenge me with any recipes/meal ideas and I would cook them, photograph them and report back. I was supposed to randomly draw up 3 winners. Drum rolls please….
The first winner is Noemi Hedrick. Here is what she requested, “I would love to see a picnic “done well”. Cold foods that make you want to picnic ALL DAY! I love chicken on skewers and dip. Can you deal with that?”

Absolutely!

I loved working on this post because it combined so many things that I adore-my reader’s request, Russian food I grew up on, endless tasting tests with friends and family while having picnics of my own.

The first thing I got working on was skewered meat with dip called Shashlik in Russian, which is mostly likely a borrowed word as it doesn’t sound Russian to me. 🙂 Shashlik is a marinated meat that is later skewered and slowly roasted over hot coals. It’s Russian campers’ favourite past time. All city dwellers will talk of nothing more than their desire to finish the work week and go to the countryside “na shashliki” (to have shashlik).  This tasty food came to Russia in the 19th century and was brought by Russian soldiers who fought in the Crimean War and fell in love with that local delicacy. Since then it’s been one of the most beloved foods and became the symbol for outdoor eating.Russian skewered meat "Shashlik"

My husband Brad was first introduced to shashlik by my two friends Marina and Misha in the country house outside of Nizhni Novgorod, Russia. He loved it so much that he made it his first project in our newly bought house to build a brick fire pit for making shashlik. It does tend to leave an impression on people!

Russian Shish Kebab "Shashlik"
Shashlik is traditionally enjoyed with fresh vegetables and simple salads.
        My Picnic Menu

  1. Pork Shashlik with Minted Greek Yogurt Dip
  2. Crudités (tomatoes, green onions, cucumbers or any vegetables you like)
  3. Grilled Eggplant Salad with crusty bread
  4. Mixed Olives
  5. Red Wine

Russian Picnic Menu
Russian Picnic Menu
Grilled Eggplant Salad
Ingredients for Shashlik:

Marinade:

  • Onions (sliced for marinade)- 3 large
  • Garlic- 1 head
  • Cumin- 1 tbsp.
  • Paprika- 1 tbsp.
  • Oregano- 1 tsp.
  • Salt- 1 tsp.
  • Fresh Pepper- 1 tsp.
  • Red Wine Vinegar- 2/3 cup
  • Lemon Juice- 1 lemon
  • Bay Leaf-2

Skewers:

  • Pork Loin- 2,5 lbs
  • Onions (quartered for skewers)
  • Bell Peppers- 2-3 (red, green, yellow)

Method:

{The night before}

In a large wide bowl combine all the ingredients for marinade, then add 3/4″ cubes of pork loin, cover with either a lid or a cling wrap and refrigerate over night.

Prepare hot coals for grilling until coated with white ash or use a gas grill.

Remove the meat from the marinade and string it on a skewer intermittent with pieces of bell peppers and onions. Grill the skewers sprinkling with marinade every 3 minutes for 9-11 minutes.

Note: Do not use the onion slices from the marinade on your skewers as they were in contact with raw meat for hours and might be unsafe to eat.

Ingredients for Minted Greek Yogurt Dip:

  • Greek Yogurt-1 cup/250ml
  • Lemon Juice-1/2 lemon
  • Fresh Mint- 3-4 sprigs, leaves only (to taste)
  • Cucumber (diced)- 1/4 cup
  • Radishes (diced)-1/4 cup
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Method:

Recruit your spouse or partner to grill the meat. This way you can get all the side dishes ready. Combine yogurt, lemon juice, mint, salt and pepper. Add cucumbers and radishes right before serving as the vegetables will release quite a bit of liquid and will make the dip too watery if combined too early.

Also prepare a selection of raw vegetables and arrange them on a platter. They will be delicious with Minted Greek Yogurt Dip.

Grilled Eggplant Salad

Ingredients for Grilled Eggplant Salad:

  • Eggplant- 2 medium
  • Eastern European style or Italian marinated mushrooms (usually in the deli section)- 1 small jar
  • Bell peppers (red, orange, yellow)-  2-3 mini peppers or just the number according to the size
  • Cherry tomatoes (halved)- 7-8
  • Olives (optional)-1/4 cup
  • Flat leaf parsley (chopped)- 1/4 cup
  • Garlic (crushed)- 1 clove
  • Red wine vinegar- 1 tbsp.
  • Olive Oil- 1 tbsp.
  • Salt to taste

Method:

While your barbecue is warming up, cut the eggplants into 1/2″ slices and leave them in a bowl filled with water and 1 tsp. of salt for 30 minutes. Then remove them from water and put on the skewers, brush with a bit of olive oil or spray with a calorie reduced cooking spray. Grill on the barbecue for 10 minutes, test for doneness, they should not be spongy but have a soft and silky texture.

While your eggplant is getting grilled, prepare the dressing for the salad. Mix together oil, vinegar, crushed garlic and chopped parsley, set aside.

As soon as you take the eggplant off the grill, put the slices in a salad bowl and pour the dressing on them while still hot, then add the remaining ingredients, season with salt if needed.

Set aside for the flavours to meld. This salad is delicious both cold from the refrigerator and at room temperature. Perfect picnic food!

{Note: Grilled Eggplant is also great just on its own with the salad dressing as pictured in this post.}Grilled Eggplant SaladRussian skewered meat "Shashlik"
So what do you think Noemi? Did I handle it alright?

Chunky Pico De Gallo

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Chunky Pico De Gallo
I can’t believe it took me so long to share one of my favourite things to eat with you friends! However, summer is upon us, and since even England is reluctantly warming up, it calls for colourfully fresh outdoor dining.

This salad is something that appears on our table any season of the year but tastes best in the summer when the tomatoes are ripe and flavourful. It comes in many incarnations as long as there are the major players present-tomatoes, onions, cilantro, garlic, chillies and lime juice. The rest is variable and optional. I usually make it into a fresh salsa but once in a while I change it up and add  various beans, corn and such. You can use it as a filling for your burritos and fajitas but you can also eat it as a salad. My kids called it a dip because they were dipping tortilla chips into it. Whatever you call it, this concoction is bursting with flavours, vitamins and is out-of-this-world delicious.

Chunky Pico De Gallo
Ingredients:

  • Cherry Tomatoes (red and yellow)- 2 large handfuls
  • Red Onion-1 small
  • Garlic-2 cloves
  • Cilantro- a bunch
  • Red Chilli (minced)-1
  • Lime Juice (I was out of limes and used lemons!)- from 1 lime
  • Green Onions-3
  • Chick Peas/Black Beans- 1 can
  • Green Lentils (optional)-1/4 cup
  • Corn- 1 cup
  • Avocado (diced)-1
  • Salt to taste

Method:

Half or quarter the cherry tomatoes, dice the red onion finely, mince the garlic cloves and red chilli, then add chopped cilantro, sliced green onions and lime juice. To the mixture add the beans/chick peas, lentils, corn and salt. Mix everything and taste for the right balance of spices. You can see that this is hardly an accurate recipe and more of an idea. I like my pico de gallo spicy but you can skip or half the amount of onion and garlic if you prefer a milder version.  Add diced avocado right before serving to avoid browning.

This Pico De Gallo is truly a flavour winner and packed with power foods like chick peas, lentils and avocado. My kids were scarfing it down, having completely forgotten that they can’t stand tomatoes!

Chunky Pico De Gallo

Cilantro and Walnut Dip

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Cilantro and Walnut Dip
The barbecue season is here and I am always on the lookout for a new side dish to complement my grilled meat and especially dips. Who doesn’t love to dunk a cracker or a chip into something flavourful. I stumbled upon this dip accidentally while testing a new recipe for the green bean salad. When I tasted the dressing I immediately knew I made a cracker dip!

Ingredients:

  • Walnuts-1/2 cup
  • Fresh Cilantro-half a bunch (1/4 cup chopped)
  • Garlic cloves- 2-3
  • Red Wine Vinegar- 2 tbsp.
  • Fresh Lemon Juice- 2 tbsp.
  • Water- 1 tbsp.
  • Salt- a good pinch
  • Olive Oil- 4 tbsp.
  • Red Onion- 1/2

Method:

In a food processor or a blender combine all the ingredients, except the onions and blend them well until you have a homogenous paste, very much like Italian pesto. Chop the onion finely and put it in the dressing.{ I sliced mine because they were meant to go in the greens bean salad} Let stand for 30 minutes. This time allows the flavours to blend and the onions get slightly pickled. The acidity in vinegar and lemon juice neutralise the bitterness of the onion and enhance the flavour.

Serve with crackers, tortilla chips or crudités.

Cilantro and Walnut Dip

Spicy Turkey Burek

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Spicy Turkey and Filo Burek
Some smells and tastes are so nostalgic that even the mere memory of them create instant longing. Sometimes it’s the taste itself but more often it’s the time of our life that is linked to certain food experiences-happy childhood memories, flashbacks to the dizzying early days of a first love or late night eating with your girlfriends in a college dorm. Life is inevitably connected to food we eat and people we share it with. That’s what makes some things truly unforgettable.

One of the best parts of my childhood were summer travels with my parents to the South of Russia. We often went to the Black Sea for a much needed beach holiday. It was a day and a half travel by train which was surprisingly fun for my brother and I. I really loved Russian trains or “mobile hotel rooms” as Brad calls them with their endless tea drinking ceremonies usually accompanied by adults passionately discussing everything from the history of football to the flaws of the government structure and the children watching the expanse of Russian landscape stretch for hours on end. The highlight of the journey was the moment the food vendors would knock on our door with their cart full of wonderfully smelling food. To our utter disappointment, their food never passed my mom’s standards for health and nutrition but once in a while she’d be out of the compartment and my dad would buy us a burek or a cheburek as it is known in Russia

Spicy Turkey and Filo Burek
Cheburek is a popular street food commonly sold throughout Russia. It’s Crimean Tatar’s national dish that is loved and accepted in Russia as their own. Different incarnations of it exists in parts of Eastern Europe and also in Turkey, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan and is more commonly known as Burek or Borek. Deep fried pastry filled with spicy minced meat and onions, cheburek is a lovely snack but not the healthiest thing in the world. I am sure you can see my dilemma as I’ve been on a quest to shed a few pounds for a couple of months, burek just didn’t fit into my diet but the need to make it grew stronger every time I passed the Turkish shop on my way to pick up the kids from school. Necessity is the mother of invention they say. Lo and behold, I present to you-Healthy Burek. Spicy minced turkey breast wrapped into delicate filo pastry and baked in the oven. I served it with hummus and fresh veggies for dipping. Although creating guilt-free burek was hugely experimental, the end result was a keeper and equally loved and enjoyed by husband and children alike. Win-win.
Spicy Turkey and Filo Burek with Hummus
Ingredients:

  • Minced Turkey Breast-500 gr
  • Onion-1 medium
  • Cilantro- 1/2 bunch
  • Parsley- 1/2 bunch
  • Garlic- 2 cloves
  • Dry Coriander- 1 tsp.
  • Chili Flakes(optional)-to taste
  • Salt and Pepper- 1 tsp.
  • Filo Pastry sheets- 150 gr.
  • Olive oil or oil spray

Method:

Preheat the oven to 250C/450F.

Chop onions, cilantro and parsley, mince garlic and combine with turkey, add salt and pepper and mix well. It’s very important to make sure your filling is properly spiced or you will end up with something bland and uninteresting, pinch a small amount off and fry it, taste it and add more spices if necessary.

Take one sheet of filo pastry and keep the rest covered with a tea towel to prevent drying out. My filo pastry came from a Turkish shop and was already cut into triangles, if yours is not you can do it yourselves. I prefer the triangle shape because you end up with less pastry to meat ratio and therefore crispier burek.

Put 2 tbsp. of filling on the wide end of the filo sheet and wrap it towards the tip of the triangle tucking the sides in. Place it on the parchment lined baking sheet making sure that the tip of the triangle is on the bottom, then either brush it with a bit of olive oil or use an oil spray. Repeat until the filling is gone- approximately 8-10 bureks.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, turning them over at a half time point to make sure they crisp up evenly.

Spicy Turkey and Filo BurekSpicy Turkey and Filo Burek
Additional links of this tasty treat are found below. Enjoy!

Russian Pastry Chebureki by Mom’s Dish

Borek or Burek (with spinach and cheese) by To Food with Love

Turkish Sigara Boregi with Minced Meat by Eating Out Loud

Lime Tequila Chicken Wings

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Lime Tequila Chicken WingsNothing screams “summer is here” louder than a gloriously sunny 3-day weekend and a fired up barbecue. Will you agree with me if I say that absolutely everything taste better when it’s cooked outside? Suddenly simple and everyday foods get transformed into heavenly bites. The images of happy childhood camping days start flashing in front of your eyes as soon as you smell a bit of smoke coming from your barbecue, only now you can also indulge in a margarita. I love a quality margarita, only not the sweet and slushy kind you get in a pseudo-Mexican restaurant but “the real deal-squeezing your own lime juice-on the rocks margarita”. There is something magical in the combination of sour and refreshing lime juice and tequila that goes further than just making a drink great. No surprise, it also works wonders as a marinade for chicken.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken Wings (split in half)- 2lbs
  • Fresh Green Chilli Peppers-2
  • Lime Juice-1/2 cup
  • Lemon Juice- from 1 lemon
  • Lime Zest- from 1 lime
  • Tequila- 1/2 cup
  • Garlic- 3 cloves
  • Cumin- 1 tbsp.
  • Chili Powder- 1 tbsp.
  • Salt

Method:

Put all the ingredients except for the chicken wings in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Put the chicken wings in a shallow dish and pour the marinade over them, cover with a cling film and let the marinade work its magic for at least 5 hours. Grill on the barbecue until a golden crust develops and the juices run clear or cook them in the oven at 450F/250C for approximately 20 minutes.

Serve with grilled corn, Pico de Gallo and corn chips and, of course, don’t forget to toast the arrival of the barbecue season with a homemade margarita. Cheers!

Lime Tequila Chicken Wings
Lime Tequila Chicken Wings
Lime Tequila Chicken Wings

Spring fresh or a Bruschetta Trio

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Bruschetta party
We’ve been hit by some amazingly beautiful weather lately. We are approaching our third summer in London and boy did we learn fast! Sunny and warm days are so rare and far in between that you gotta grab them as soon as you see a small clearing in the sky. You know you’ve met a true Londoner if he is sporting shorts, flip flops and pale legs in 17C weather. I believe we are quickly moving in that direction.

Balmy days call for picnics and fresh food. Nothing could be better than stretching out on a blanket  in the Greenwich park after the empty picnic basket has been tossed aside and enjoy watching your little ones run wild. That’s exactly what we did this past bank holiday Monday. And the food was definitely worth writing about. Fresh, simple, quick and delicious.

My picnic menu was inspired by these things: a baby olive tree growing in my front yard and a bowl of ripe red tomatoes.

0001r7
A Bruschetta Trio was born. Eggplant and Mint.  Artichoke, Lemon and Mint.  Tomato and Basil.
Brad and I really enjoy a meal of little bites, one that could be thrown together within minutes but lingers in your memory for days. This is one of those meals! Colours, smells, textures will send all of your senses into overdrive.

A Bruschetta Trio
Ingredients for Eggplant and Mint Bruschetta:

  • Eggplant-2 medium
  • Olive Oil-2 tbsp.
  • Balsamic Vinegar (or any other vinegar)- 1 tbsp.
  • Fresh Flat leaf Parsley- 4 sprigs (leaves only)
  • Fresh Mint- 6 sprigs (leaves only)
  • Garlic- 1 clove
  • Salt and Pepper

Method:

Slice eggplant 1/8″ thick and grill on a hot grill or griddle about 3-5 minutes on each side or until cooked and not spongy anymore. While eggplant is getting grilled. Mixed together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chopped parsley and mint, finely chopped garlic. Add the cooked eggplant to the bowl, mix with a pinch of salt and pepper. Done.Grilled Eggplant Mint Bruschetta

Ingredients for Artichoke, Lemon and Mint Bruschetta:

  • Artichokes- 1 jar 
  • Lemon juice from 1/2 lemon
  • Garlic- 2 cloves
  • Mint- 2 sprigs
  • Olive Oil (optional)
  • Salt

Method: 

If your prepared artichokes were packed in oil like mine skip adding oil to your bruschetta. Chop up artichokes in bite sized chunks and add the rest of the ingredients. Voila your Artichoke and Mint Bruschetta is ready. I told you it was easy. It should also be noted that although it doesn’t look as appealing as eggplant and tomato it can definitely rival them in taste.

A Bruschetta Trio
Ingredients for Tomato and Basil Bruschetta:

  • Ripe Tomatoes (deseeded)- 5 medium 
  • Fresh Basil- a handful
  • Garlic- 1-2 cloves
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil- 1 tbsp.
  • Salt and Pepper

Method:

Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze the seeds out, chop them finely or chunky-your choice, put them a bowl. Tear basil leaves into the same bowl, add garlic, olive oil and season with salt and pepper. It’s very important you only use very ripe tomatoes and good quality olive oil because that’s where your flavour is going to come from.

Finally, slice a loaf of crusty bread (ciabatta is my favourite) and grill the slices until a bit crispy. Load up your bread right before serving, otherwise it will get soggy very quickly or let your guests do the work themselves. They will love it!
To round up the meal serve with some olives, salami and cheese or use the Bruschetta Trio as a lovely starter.

Bruschetta party

Celebrate like a Russian with Shuba and Olivier or Russian Food Demystified.

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caviar canape

Yesterday was Russian Orthodox Christmas celebrated according to the Gregorian calendar, and as done as I was with all the holidays I couldn’t resist making a special meal. Our festive fare was an exact replica of what my mum would have made- Roasted Chicken and Savoury Buckwheat with Caramelised Onions and Mushroom as the centrepiece but surprisingly that is not what my post is about. Today I will be talking about the sidekicks of Russian holiday meals known as “zakuski”, which if translated into English, would mean “little bites”. Little they might be but their presence is absolutely essential and marks every special meal in every Russian household. Zakuski (pl) serve the same purpose as Italian antipasti-they are meal starters and are meant to whet your appetite and are traditionally offered with a selection of flavoured vodkas, liqueurs and, more commonly nowadays, wines.

Although Zakuski are just there to tease you before the main course arrives, they are so incredibly delicious and oftentimes people can’t resist eating just a little and are usually already stuffed to the brim when it’s time to move to the next course. In Russia there is a vast variety of foods that are known to be served as zakuski-from simple pickled and brined vegetables to cured meats, variety of cheeses, caviar and salads.

I will be sharing two main salads that no Russian holiday goes without- Shuba and Olivier. You are probably wondering if I’ve lost my mind trying to promote salads as some sort of a delicacy. Don’t worry; for Russians holiday salads are something entirely different- no lettuce leaf in view!

Shuba

Shuba- Smoked Salmon under layers of colourful veggies.

Shuba Ingredients:

  • Smoked Salmon -200 gr. ( I prefer cold smoked salmon)
  • Potatoes- 2 medium
  • Onion- 1/2 medium
  • Carrots- 2 medium
  • Eggs-3
  • Beets-3 small

Dressing Ingredients for both Shuba and Olivier:

  • Mayonnaise – 3/4 cup
  • White Wine Vinegar- 1 tbsp
  • Dijon Mustard (no yellow French’s mustard please)-1 1/2 tsp.
  • Milk- 1-2tbsp (to losen the dressing)
  • Pepper -a pinch

Method for Shuba:

Put potatoes, carrots (don’t worry about peeling)  and eggs in the same pot and cook until  tender but not falling apart. Cook beets with the skin on in a different pot as they will take much longer to cook and will colour the water bright purple. Alternatively, you can roast them in the oven at 375F/190C for about 30 min., pierce them with a knife to test for doneness, your knife should easily go all the way through.

Cool the vegetable.

While the vegetables are cooling prepare your dressing. In a medium sized bowl mix together mayonnaise, white wine vinegar, mustard, milk and pepper with a wire whisk until well combined. Add more milk if necessary to ensure your dressing is somewhat runny.

Peel your eggs and vegetables and grate them on a vegetable grater separately without mixing with each other. Set aside in separate small bowls. Dice the onion finely. Set aside.

Chop the smoked salmon and cover the surface of your serving plate with it. This recipe will fit on a regular dinner size plate.

This salad is assembled by layering the ingredients on top of each other. The order of the layers is not as important as long as you start with the salmon and finish with the beets. This is how I usually arrange my layers:

  1. Salmon-a drizzle of dressing all over
  2. Potatoes-a little more of dressing
  3. Onions-still more dressing
  4. Carrots-and a bit more
  5. Eggs-a teensy more
  6. Beets- and the last bit of dressing

You get the idea, right? Each layer of the salad gets covered with the dressing, just drizzle lightly with a spoon and smooth it out.  I recommend using no more than 1 tbsp per layer, otherwise it becomes too stodgy! Reserve the rest of the dressing for Salad Olivier.

This salad is the best enjoyed a few hours after it’s prepared as time allows the dressing to seep through the layers and produce almost magical and very unusual flavours.

Note: Traditionally Shuba is prepared with pickled herring but I started making it with cold smoked salmon for the lack of the right kind of pickled herring I found that I like it even better. I’ve also made it with adding yams/sweet potatoes as another layer, it was simply delicious.

Olivier 

olivier

Salad Olivier is a Russian favourite and as I am discovering quickly becoming a salad of choice for anyone I’ve ever cooked it for. I often bring it to barbecues as it goes ideally with grilled meat. Overtime it became known among my friends as “Russian Potato Salad” and one of the most requested items. The original recipe was invented in 1860s in Moscow by a French chef and a fashionable restaurateur M. Olivier. It was so wildly popular they could never take it off the menu. Many other chefs tried to duplicate it without success as chef Olivier never revealed his secrets and took the dressing recipe to his grave while the salad lived on. The modern day recipe is not exactly the same as in the 19th century and my version will take you even further from the widely accepted one.

Ingredients for Olivier:

  • Potatoes-4 medium
  • Eggs-6
  • Cooked Chicken-(I usually use Rotisserie Chicken from a supermarket) 1/2 of whole chicken
  • Dill Pickles/Gherkins- 4 medium
  • Green Onions- one bunch
  • Apple- 1/2 of a medium
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Method:

Cook potatoes and eggs until potatoes are tender but not too soft and cool both. Cook chicken if not using already prepared, set aside to cool.

Dice all the ingredients into 1/2″ dice and empty into a large bowl. Add the reserved dressing and gently mix everything together making sure not to mash the cooked ingredients. At this point give it a try and add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for a couple of hours to allow all the flavours to blend. Don’t skip that step, it does make a big difference.

If you would like to experience a true Russian zakuski table serve some salami, a variety of cheeses, olives, crusty bread with butter and caviar in addition to the lovely salads I shared with you and don’t forget VODKA!

caviar canape