Category Archives: vegetarian

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!

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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?

Asparagus Risotto with Prosciutto di Parma Ribbons

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Asparagus Risotto with Prosciutto di Parma ribbons
If I was forced to choose the top three things I love about Italy I would have to say, in no particular order, my friend Angela and her crazy funny family, risotto and prosciutto di Parma.
Well, my fondness for Angela is understandable but the rest might require some explanation. Most people, you see, are pasta freaks. They will eat past in any form or shape with any sauce imaginable. Me, I love risotto. Warm, gooey and comforting risotto is all I want when I think of cooking something quick and simple, something I can eat out of a bowl while curled up on a sofa. And donʼt even get me started on Parma ham, The love affair started a few years back when we visited…you guessed it…Parma. How can one city give the world both Parmegiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma? The two are the works of a culinary genius! Or as Jane Austin put it in one of her famous books, “A happy thought indeed”. As Iʼd mentioned previously English summers can definitely work on giving us more sunshine but there are some things this climate does well and, apparently, growing asparagus is one of them. I was happy to take full advantage of fresh English asparagus that filled the shops and vegetables stands all over the city. The season is short so I was quick to think of several ways of incorporating one of my favourite vegetables into our meals.

Fresh seasonal asparagus is so flavourful on its own you don’t even need much to make this risotto work. Feel free to skip Parma ham if you are a vegetarian. This way you can enjoy the pure, unadulterated taste of asparagus.

Or you can add a prosciutto di Parma ribbon to bring out even more flavour.
Asparagus Risotto with Prosciutto di Parma Ribbons
Ingredients: Serves 4

  • Arborio Rice- 1.5 cups/400 gr
  • Chicken or Vegetable Stock- 3 cups/750 ml
  • Olive Oil- 2 tbsp.
  • Onion-1
  • Celery- 2 stalks
  • Garlic-2 cloves
  • White wine (optional)-1/4 cup/75ml
  • Butter- 2 tbsp.
  • Parmesan Cheese (freshly grated)- 4 oz/125 gr (or to taste)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Asparagus- one bunch (10-12 stalks)
  • Prosciutto Di Parma- 1 or 2 ribbons per person

Asparagus Risotto with Parma Ham Ribbons

Asparagus Risotto with Prosciutto RibbonsMethod:

Put the stock in a pot and heat it. Wash the asparagus and cut off the tips, cut the rest of the stalks crosswise in 1 cm pieces.  Chop up onion, celery and garlic and saute them in olive oil in a large deep pan over slow heat for 10 minutes. Then turn the heat to medium and add rice, and fry it while stirring for 2-3 minutes, add the wine and continue stirring until the wine evaporated. Add a ladle of the stock and cook over low/medium heat until the stock is absorbed by the rice, add the chopped asparagus reserving the tips to the rice, continue adding a ladle of the stock each time you see that the liquid got absorbed by the rice, keep stirring as doing so will bring out the creaminess in rice.

While your risotto is cooking, quickly cook the asparagus tips. They will take 5-7 minutes, so arrange for both asparagus and risotto be done at approximately the same time.

When all your stock is gone taste your rice to make sure it’s cooked, if it’s not add a ladleful of water.  Risotto is NOT rice pudding and shouldn’t disintegrate in your mouth. Rice just like pasta should be cooked al dente- slightly firm to the bite.

When the rice is the right texture remove it from the heat and stir freshly grated parmesan into it (not that awful pre-grated stuff), then add butter, cover with the lid and walk away for 5 minutes. I once heard that this trick is called “the risotto maker”. When you come back and take the lid off you will see the most beautiful and creamy risotto! If your risotto is cooked the right way it will ripple when you pour it into a bowl but won’t hold any shape.
Place a few asparagus spears on each plate.
Asparagus Risotto
Or add a Parma Ham ribbon.
Asparagus Risotto with Prosciutto di Parma RibbonsAsparagus Risotto

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

Green Beans in Walnut Garlic Dressing or The Taste of The Caucasus

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Green Beans in Walnut Garlic Dressing
What is your favourite side for a barbecue? Mine is Russian Potato Salad “Olivier”. It’s incredibly tasty but not exactly a health food. Green beans on the other hand are full of great stuff if only someone would think of an exciting way to eat them! If you eat green beans before and find them plain you are not alone. Green beans are not the most exciting vegetable in the world. Good news is I have found a reason to eat them, enjoy them and come for a second helping! Interested?

This recipe comes from the Georgian cuisine – not the state of Georgia but the country situated on the coast of the Black Sea. The dishes from Georgia were and are incredibly popular in Russia and many of them have become staples in every Russian home. I got introduced to real Georgian food while on a family holiday at the age of 15. To this day I consider that experience to be the biggest culture shock I’ve had – and I’ve lived and visited countries like China and Philippines.

Georgian food was very different from mild and rich flavours of my native Russia, but good different. Fresh, exciting, spicy and delicious are the words that come to mind when I think of their food. This Green Beans in Walnut Garlic Dressing recipe is no exception. Full of flavour and a joy to look at!

Green Beans in Walnut Garlic Dressing

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
  • Green Beans- 1 lbs

Method:

In a food processor or blender combine all the ingredients except for green beans and onions and blend them well until you have a homogenous paste, very much like Italian pesto. Slice the onion thinly and put it in the dressing. Let stand for 30 minutes. This time allows the flavours to blend and the onions slices get slightly pickled. The acidity in vinegar and lemon juice neutralise the bitterness of the onion and enhance the flavour.

Put the green beans in a pot and cover them with water, bring to a boil and cook them for about 5 minutes until tender but still have a bit of a crunch and retain their beautiful green colour. Take care not to over boil or the dish will be ruined.

Drain and rinse in cold water. This shocks the beans and they stop cooking immediately. Let them dry and toss with the dressing. Taste and add salt if necessary. Serve at room temperature or cold.

Bring it to the next barbecue party and people will be hounding you for the recipe! You can proudly tell them it comes from the Caucasus. Talk about being exotic!

Green Beans in Walnut Garlic Dressing

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.

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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