Monday, 30 June 2008

An evening of Eastern European food

My stay at the Ballymaloe school ended on a high note - on the eve of my leave the Irish Slow Food movement organised an evening dedicated to Eastern European food. Ok, I'd love to be able to say that my skills and creativy were just so amazing that Darina Allen - the woman who runs the show at the school and is also a leading member of the movement - decided to organise the event in my honour, but I would be slightly exageratting...:) No, the evening had been planned some weeks in advance (well, 'planned' is probably another exagerattion, but on that some other time;): Julia Makejeva - a Russian from Lithuania, one of the school's cooks and the mastermind (or masterhands??) behind Darina's market produce; and Kate - a Polish girl from Dublin who runs her own catering company (mainly making delicious vegitarian Indian (?!!) dishes) were to prepare their favorite dishes and present them. I volunteered to help Julia - mainly 'morally', as we Russians say, ie stand by her side and say ocassional witty and/or useful things.

I loved the idea of showing off some of the Russian dishes, and especially make them using fresh, farm ingridients. In fact the latter was a bit of a challenge, considering that a lot of Russian food is stodge - a lovely and very tasty, but nevertheless stodge (I'm prepared to fight off all the angry defenders of the Soviet cuisine). So I came up with a few recipes, so did Julia, and here's what we made at the end:

Tsepeliny (Potato and meat dumplings - a Lithuanian national dish)

картофельные цепелины I have to be brutally honest here. Julia had invited me for dinner a few days prior to the event, serving Tsepeliny, and I was not very impressed....I'm sure Julichka will not be upset if I say:) that the dumplings in question looked more like 2 eggs from some strange Marcian creature (the taste was all right, but not of the potato..;). However, the second attempt, at the school, was a lot better. I wonder if it was something to do with the farm's lovely new potatoes or serving the Tsepeliny with some crispy bacon..Here's how you make this famous Lithuanian dish:

Serves 3-5

  • 3 large potatoes
  • 200g minced pork
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 medium onions: 1chopped and 1 whole
  • 1.5-2 litre of salted boiling water
  • 125 g sour cream
  • Salt, pepper

You will also need a muslin cloth.

Make the filling by mixing the mincemeat with 1 beaten egg, 1 chopped onion, and salt and pepper. Set aside.

Peel the potatoes. Finely grate them together with 1 onion. Put the potatoes and the onions into the muslin cloth, and squeeze the excess liquid out into a bowl. Then, carefully pour the liquid into a smaller bowl, so that the starch left at the bottom of the first bowl stays at the bottom of the bowl. Take half of the starch left behind and mix it into the boiling water so that there are no lumps.

Next, add the remaining half of the starch to the bowl of potato/onion mixture. Mix it well, divide it into 3-5 equal portions. Take one portion and put it into your palm, flatten so it is approx. 1 centimeter high; put a tablespoon of the mincemeat mixture into the centre and seal the potato mixture around it. Place the tsepeliny into simmering water and cook for 40-45 minutes.

Just before the tsepeliny are ready, fry the bacon bits in a frying pan until they release the fat and are crispy (optional: add chopped onions at this stage and fry them together). Add the sour cream and let it simmer for a few minutes.

Serve 1 piece of tsepeliny per person, topped with the sour cream/bacon sauce.


We also made Vinigret - just in case, horror, someone doesn't know what it is. It's a beetroot and potato salad. I call it 'a light, summary, version of the (in?) famous Russian potato salad, or Olivier'.

Serves 6-8 people

  • 180 g potatoes
  • 130 g beetroot
  • 90 g carrot
  • 90 g onions
  • 60 g gherkins (preferably salted, not marinated in sugar)
  • 60 g sauerkraut
  • 30 g peas (fresh, or frozen or canned)
  • 50 g olive oil
  • lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
Cook the beetroot, carrots and potatoes until tender, let them cool and peel them. Dice all the vegetables and combine them in a large bowl.

Make the dressing by mixing olive oil with lemon juice. Add salt and pepper and mix the salad well. Vinigret is best eaten chilled with rye bread.

Oladushki (Russian fluffy pancakes)

As a desert we made these amazing, probably about 2 cm high, pancakes. By mistake Julia put one extra egg, which made oladushki even fluffier! I made a point to the audience about eating them with a mixture of sourcream and granulated sugar. The combination had been tested on the Irish before and they loved it! These lovely airy oladushki really reminded me many breakfasts made by my mum. She used to make lots of them before I was even awake and keep them warm in a pan. I would then have them with coffee and cream - rare occasions I had coffee in those days.

Serves 4

160 g white flour

225 ml buttermilk

1 egg

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp sugar

1 tsp vegetable oil, for pan frying

First, measure the buttermilk into a small bowl and sprinkle the baking soda on top and allow the mixture bubble. Then, whisk the egg, salt, and sugar into the buttermilk mixture. Next, slowly add the flour to the batter by whisking until mixture appears to have an even consistency, set aside. Heat pan to medium high heat and add the vegetable oil. Scoop the batter with a tablespoon and drop by tablespoonfuls into the pan. Fill the pan with 6-7 tablespoonfuls spaced evenly apart. Fry until golden brown, flip once bubbles have appeared on the surface and popped. Repeat frying process until all of the batter is used.

Serving suggestions:

Make several dips by mixing sour cream with jam; sourcream with granulated sugar, and honey.

Kate, the Polish girl, made some scruptious vegetarian dishes, such as Pirogi (the stress is on the second syllabus) - which are in fact what we, Russians, call Vareniki - pelmeni like dumplings, slightly bigger than Russian pelmeni, usually made with vegeterian fillings, in this case potatoes, onions and cream cheese; served with hot sizzling melted butter.....the evening was a success (Julia was a star:))! If we could serve the dishes with some frozen shorts of vodka - we would have probably had to stay and make some Eastern European concoctions in the morning for breakfast.

Tomorrow is a start of the second leg of my trip - France, south of France. I'm staying in a small farm with a family, not far from Carcasonne. They've asked me to take a swimming costume. Apparently, there are rivers around in which I could swim after a hard day of gardening..a bientot!

1 comment:

Pille said...

Interesting to hear about the Eastern European event @ Ballymaloe (I love books by Rachel Allen, Darina's daughter-in-law, btw).
I've got quite a lot of Eastern European (as well as Estonian) recipes on my blog - incl. my favourite vinaigrette recipe.
Am yet to recreate the zeppelins at home :)