Category Archives: lunch

Chestnut Coquina Squash Soup with Porcini Mushrooms

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Chestnut Coquina Squash Soup with Porcini Mushrooms
I’m not too fond of soup, which makes me strangely unRussian. In Russia it’s considered an essential part of lunch. One hasn’t eaten until one has slurped on soup.
I think it’s the childhood memories of mom’s voice ringing in my ears, “Eat your SOUP” and the promise to 8 year old self, “When I am a grownup I never eat soup again” that left my family soupLESS for most of my marriage. It’s a shame because Brad really loves soup.

I can’t remember saying the word “soup” as many times in 2 minutes as I have just now. It’s a fun word to say, don’t you think? Fun fact: the word for “soup” in Russian? “Soup”!

I am not 8 anymore and now know that soups could be incredibly healthy and nutritious while also being warm and comforting when the weather turns miserable – welcome hug for the soul.  You will fall in love with this Chestnut and Squash Soup with dried porcini mushrooms. I’ve used Coquina Squash for its sweetness but Butternut Squash will be beautiful as well.  This soup is such a wonderful blend of the nuttiness of chestnuts and sweetness of squash while dried porcini mushrooms bring in the deep aroma of the forest. Serve it with a dollop of Greek yogurt. Pure delight. Chestnut Coquina Squash Soup with Porcini Mushrooms
Ingredients:

  • Pancetta or bacon- 50 gr.
  • Red Onions- 2
  • Coquina Squash- 1
  • Fresh Thyme- a few sprigs
  • Dried Porcini Mushrooms (or any other dried mushrooms)-40 gr/1/4 cup
  • Olive oil- 1 tbsp.
  • Chestnut puree- 400 gr/15 oz can
  • Chilli flakes (optional)- 1/4 tsp.
  • Stew Mix (barley, split peas and lentils) or barley- 1/4 cup
  • Chicken stock- 1 1/2 litres
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Chestnut Coquina Squash Soup with Porcini Mushrooms

Method:

It’s a good idea to peel and chop all the ingredients before you get going with the soup making so you are prepared and organised.

Cut your bacon into 1 cm pieces, peel, deseed and dice your squash into 1 cm dice as well, peel and chop your onions and remove thyme leaves from the sprigs. Soak the dried mushrooms in a cup of boiling water for 5 minutes. Chestnut Coquina Squash Soup with Porcini Mushrooms Prep

Set a large pot on the stove and heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil in it, then cook your bacon over medium heat, add onions, chilli flakes if using and thyme and cook for about 5 minutes until onions are softened. Chestnut Coquina Squash Soup with Porcini Mushrooms
Now add squash, barley and lentil mix and stir to lightly coat the ingredients with oil. Chestnut Coquina Squash Soup with Porcini Mushrooms Prep
Lastly add your pureed chestnuts, dried mushrooms with the liquid (make sure none of the grit get in there) and chicken stock, a pinch of salt and pepper, turn the heat up and bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low and simmer for 40 minutes.Chestnut Coquina Squash Soup with Porcini Mushrooms
Check if your squash is cooked at the end, remove 1/2 of the soup and blend it in a food processor, then return it back to the pot and combine for a thicker texture. Alternatively you can blend all of it if you prefer a smoother soup but I love having a bit of roughness to it.
Chestnut Coquina Squash Soup with Porcini Mushrooms
Serve with lightly toasted bread and a dollop of Greek yogurt or sour cream.Chestnut Coquina Squash with Porcini Mushrooms
This recipe was adapted from Jamie Oliver’s “Jamie’s Great Britain”.

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Thai Noodle Bowl

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Thai Noodle Bowl
“I would kill!!!! for a noodle bowl but the broth would probably kill me with salt”, my sister Lydia texted me about a week ago. Looks like a text of an overly dramatic girl except that Lydia’s health condition is so serious that every single word in that text is pretty darn close to truth. Due to Type I diabetes her kidneys failed a year before she turned 30 leaving her first, fighting for her life,  then being put on a waiting list for a transplant,  then waiting.  Waiting is a tough business but what makes it even worse is her incredibly restrictive diet, sodium being her mortal nemesis.  Asian food, of course, comes to mind immediately when you think of ‘high sodium” offenders, especially if cooked in a restaurant.

As soon as Lydia mentioned her craving, I had a recipe in mind and I was determined to make it delicious and guilt-free! Thai Noodle Bowl is basically a Chicken Noodle Soup with a Thai twist. It takes 20 minutes to prepare and it gets all the flavour from spices and not MSG. If you are an Asian food lover chances are you have all the ingredients in your fridge already. I certainly did but I am also told by my friends my condiment section is out of control.

Thai Noodle Bowl
Ingredients: (Serves 4)

  • Oil- 1 tbsp.
  • Sesame Oil- 1 tbsp.
  • Onion, diced- 1 medium
  • Celery, diced- 2 ribs
  • Garlic, minced- 4 cloves
  • Lemon grass (I used a pre-made paste from a tube)- 1 tbsp.
  • Chilli powder- 1 tbsp.
  • Dried Chilli flakes- 1/8-1/4 tsp. (to taste)
  • Low-sodium Chicken Broth, pre-made or your own- 6 cups/1.5 litre
  • Canned Crushed Tomatoes- 1 cup
  • Chicken Breast, diced into bite size pieces- 2
  • Fish Sauce (Nam Pla or Nuoc Mam)- 3 tbsp.
  • Cilantro/Coriander leaves- 1 cup
  • Chow Mein Noodles or any other Asian noodles or even spaghettini- 125 gr.
  • Spinach- 150 gr
  • Lime juice- from 1 lime

Method:

  1. In a large pot heat both oils, then add diced onions, celery, minced garlic, lemon grass paste, chilli powder and red chilli flakes and cook until soft over medium heat for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the broth, tomatoes, chicken, fish sauce, cilantro leaves and bring to a boil, simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Add the noodles to the pot and cook according to package directions, mine took 5 minutes.
  4. Once the noodles are done, stir in spinach leaves and lime juice and take off the heat.

If you think chicken noodle soup is boring and reserved for sick days you will change your mind after trying my recipe.  Thai Noodle Bowl is a vibrant with a hint of spice dish that tastes even better than your favourite restaurant can deliver while you know all the ingredients that went into it.

Thai Noodle Bowl
{Note} The recipe was adapted from Food and Wine Magazine “Quick from scratch one-dish meals”cookbook.

French Ratatouille or Russian Eggplant Caviar

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Are you ready for another family classic?

This recipe is something my grandma cooked and my mom cooked and I cook ALL summer long…and sometimes in the winter and in-between. In Russia it’s called “Baklajannaya Ikra” or “Eggplant Caviar”. Surprisingly enough the recipe is almost identical to French Ratatouille. There is also Sicilian Caponata that is oh so similar with an addition of olives and capers. After travelling the world and discovering all the food similarities you realise we are a lot more connected than we think.French Ratatouille or Russian Eggplant Caviar

This dish is incredibly flavourful and so versatile. It’s eaten as a warm side dish or as a tasty topping for your crusty bread, a favourite with Russian children. As a little girl I remember eating it cold with bread for an afternoon snack. I still love doing it but Brad really prefers it warm so you are going to discover for yourself which way is your favourite.
Ingredients:

  • Eggplant-2 medium
  • Zucchini-2-3 medium
  • Onions-2
  • Red, yellow, green peppers( I use whatever I have on hand)-2
  • Garlic-2-3 cloves
  • Parsley- 1/2 bunch
  • Cilantro-1/2 bunch
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Ketchup or tomato paste-1 tbsp.
  • Olive oil-2 tbsp.

Method:

There is a long version and a speedy version. The long one involves slicing eggplant, putting it in a colander and sprinkling it with salt and letting it sit for an hour under a heavy weight. That draws bitterness and extra moisture out. It really does. However, I often skip that step and never regret it. If you decided to skip the first step as well the dish will take a bit longer to cook. Lately I’ve been using a cast iron casserole which cuts the cooking time in half. After years of not wanting to spend the money I finally broke down and bought an Ikea version (still can’t bring myself to pay the Le Creuset price tag) and I’ve never been happier. A cast iron pot is truly a must have tool for every kitchen. Now I have a small size and a big size and 3 skillets!

Back to our Eggplant caviar. Dice your onions, eggplant, zucchini, red or green peppers, set aside. Preheat the olive oil in a heavy casserole type dish and add onions and peppers first, let them saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes and then add your eggplant. Eggplants takes longer to cook than zucchini so if you put them together zucchini will turn into a mush and eggplants will still be spongy. Cook eggplant together with onions and peppers until it’s nearly done, about 7 minutes, then add zucchini, parsley, cilantro, minced garlic and a tablespoon of ketchup. Here is my confession, I never cook with ketchup, I don’t even like it but I found it gives this dish just a right amount of sweetness! You can add  some tomato paste, it’s up to you. Cook it for 5-10 minutes longer.

You will see quite a bit of liquid after you’ve added zucchini, at this point you can turn the heat up and cook it down or keep it a vegetable stew consistency. Mine varies depending on how I feel or how hungry my family is!

The batch right here was pretty dry and perfect to use as a bruschetta topping.French Ratatouille or Russian Eggplant Caviar The recipe given here is a basic recipe that you could be altered by adding any other vegetables that you like.
Just a few examples of what I’ve done in the past: At various times I’ve added green peas (frozen), asparagus, green beans, carrots, potatoes, chick peas and red kidney beans. They all work well. Play with it and find your favourite combo!French Ratatouille or Russian Eggplant Caviar

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

Spinach and Walnut Pesto Potato Salad

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Spinach Walnut Pesto Potato Salad
In this season of barbecues and outdoor eating you can’t find a more suitable side dish to a grilled steak or a burger than a nicely made potato salad. At least not for me. In my potato loving ways I am Russian through and through. However, I will only eat a potato salad made by me. A potato salad snob? Perhaps. I give no excuses but I do offer recipes. One of my all time favourite potato salads is called Olivier and I often turn to it at my family’s requests but as usual I crave variety.

A couple of weeks I ago a stumbled upon a recipe for a Georgian bean salad in one of my numerous cookbooks. The dressing for it caught my eye as something I vaguely recalled eating as a child while spending a holiday in the country of Georgia with my parents. Georgia’s cuisine is quite famous and loved in Russia for its unusual flavour combinations, their use of fresh herbs and spices and overall deliciousness. Needless to say, I was absolutely thrilled with the result. The dressing had the basic ingredients for Italian pesto but instead of using basil and pine nuts as the base, it called for spinach, cilantro, parsley and walnuts. I made so much of that pesto and literally fell in love with the flavour that for the next two weeks I’ve been putting it in everything-my morning eggs, my sandwich and finally potato salad. This is how a new and now a favourite potato salad was born. I wanted to contrast the creamy texture of new potatoes with something crunchy so I added sliced radishes and fresh shelled peas. Voila!

Spinach Walnut Pesto Potato SaladSpinach Walnut Pesto Potato Salad
Ingredients:

  • New small potatoes- 1 lbs
  • Radishes-10
  • Fresh peas- 1/4 cup (shelled)
  • Baby greens – 2 cups

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
  • Red chilli or dried chilli flakes (optional)-1 small
  • Lemon juice- 1/2 lemon
  • Olive oil-1/3 cup
  • Salt and pepper- a pinch of both

Method:

Cook the potatoes in a large pot until tender but not falling apart, they should be firm. I prefer to cook mine with the skins on. If you are using large potatoes, quarter them after they’ve been cooked. Let them stream dry and set aside.

While the potatoes are cooking prepare the pesto. Combine all the 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 potato 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.}

Coat the potatoes with the pesto sauce while they are still warm. That will allow for the flavours to blend properly. Put in the refrigerator for the potatoes to cool. Before serving toss the salad with sliced radishes, shelled peas, and baby greens.

Spinach and Walnut Pesto Potato Salad
As you can seen I had little visitors while I was shooting who were set to pinch sweet peas off any time I wasn’t looking but got caught in the act!

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

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