Tuesday, July 6, 2010

GAStronomy – a campstove cooking tour: Russia

From Cooking with Gas - Russia

Having only spent 20 days in two provinces of Russia, we are in no position to attempt to summarise the expansive topic that is Russian cuisine. Instead we’ve included a little on our experience with Russian foods and of course, the mandatory campstove recipe, which for this episode, is borscht.

Soups and stews are one of the staples for the majority of Russians. The ‘soups of the day’ are based on what’s seasonal. Borscht features on many menus, but is by no means a regular item in the cafes we’ve passed through. There are endless variations on borscht: Russian, Ukraninan, Belarusian, Romanian, vegetarian, etc and not all have beetroot playing such a lead role. Our version is influence by some of the soups we tasted and recipes we’ve come across.

To not have a vibrant backyard garden in these parts of Russia would be quite embarrassing it seems. Every yard has a plot and every plot of rich, aromatic soil (incidentally this ground is great for tent pegs!) is home to row upon row of green vegetables. We had the opportunity to closely inspect one such garden and saw spring onions, dill, strawberries, potatoes, chillies that put a lot of Aussie gardens to shame (Australian plots likely have much tougher climatic conditions to deal with). Instead of garden gnomes, Russia has babushkas that tend to and watch over their fields diligently each hour of the day.

On the occasions that we have strayed from our staple of muesli and fruit in Tupperware containers, we have noticed that here, breakfasts are quite the affair. A typical large breaky we sampled consisted of: porridge, bread, boiled egg with peas and mayonnaise, cheese/salami/tomato on toast and sponge cake. Yes, an important element of breakfast is desert. A hotel continental breakfast we enjoyed indulged us with kotleta (croquette of ground meat), soups, salads and a table dedicated to wafers, lollies and chocolate covered marshmallows. There was a notable absence of fruit, which is surprising given it’s quite widely available.

In the western end of the Altai Republic, roadside stalls sell the famous Altai honey (med), various herbs, watermelons and plastic cups full of fresh domestic and wild strawberries. The roadside also reflects the Kazakh influence on cuisine which is evident in the ubiquitous shaslik stalls. Cafes are never too far from a town centre and can allow you to recharge with the choice of instant or 3-in-1 coffee! These cafes also often have a collection of delicious hot fried foods on offer. We have adopted the habit of trying an item at random and then asking the waitress to write the name down in Cyrillic afterwards. Some of our favourite café items include: galuptsy (cabbage rolls stuffed with meat), belyash smersam (large fried meat dumpling) and pirogi (large fried cabbage dumpling).

Stove: MSR whisperlite international
Fuel: Gasoline from petrol station
2 pot set (1.5L and 1L)
Chopping board (we used our thin road atlas which had a surprisingly robust cover)
Knife (from multi-tool)
Tupperware containers
Travel cutlery set

Borscht (Russian Vegetarian Beetroot Borscht)

Beetroot – diced
Carrot - diced
Onion – diced
Spring onion
Tomato paste
Fresh Dill
Sour cream (smetana)
Salt, pepper, ½ stock cube
Bread (khlep)

Sourcing Ingredients
A road-side stall manned by a babushka was our source of fresh dill and spring onion. Once you have deciphered the Russian name for sour cream (smetana) all the remaining ingredients are available in most villages.

1. Boil beetroot until soft in pot. Put aside. Don’t throw away the water – this is central to the soup
2. Sauté onion in oil and salt and pepper
3. Add carrot and cook for 1-2 minutes
4. Add tomato paste, dill, spring onion and a few spoonfuls of beetroot water. Mix.
5. Add remaining beetroot water and beetroot pieces
6. Add salt, pepper +/- stock to taste
7. Simmer until vegetables are soft
8. Garnish with fresh dill and a generous dollop of sour cream
9. Serve with fresh white bread


Ali said...

Thanks for cooking me borscht! It was yum.

Ali said...

Hey, have you been logging in as me again...?

Adele said...

you guys are great!!

AiMeE said...

om nom nom! looks great, and thanks for the recipe! :)

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