31 May 2013

Olivier Salad

Olivier Salad (салат "Оливье") is one of those dishes that is almost synonymous with Russian cuisine.  In the ten years or so that I lived in Moscow, there were very few dinner tables that weren't graced with this salad.  As a kid, it was one of the few Russian dishes that I actually enjoyed eating (I wasn't a fan of a lot of them, like "Herring under a Fur Coat" (селёдка под шубой)...see the link for the recipe if you like, as it won't be on this blog anytime soon).

Olivier salad, also known as Russian Salad, was originally invented by Lucien Olivier for the Hermitage restaurant in Moscow in the 1860's; it was then adapted by Ivan Ivanov, who later sold the recipe for publication.  Over the years, it gained in popularity not only in Russia, but throughout the rest of the Soviet Union and even Europe.  There are many variations of the salad, including meatless versions, salads with chicken, ham or bologna, and even a version in Pakistan with pineapple!

My version includes the following:

  • 3 golden potatoes
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 1 C frozen peas
  • 4 hardboiled eggs
  • 6 small kosher dill pickles
  • 1 - 1 1/2 C olive oil mayonnaise
  • 3/4 C diced smoked ham (optional)
  • finely chopped dill, to garnish

The first step here is to cook your potatoes and carrots.  I used a steamer, but you can always go the traditional route and boil them.  In either case, peel the carrots but not the potatoes.  If you are steaming (or nuking in the microwave to streamline the process), make sure to prick the potatoes with a fork.  I'm not sure that they would actually explode in a steamer, but given that you want to end up with neatly diced potato cubes, better safe than sorry.  And did I mention that stabbing potatoes with a fork does wonders for relieving stress?

Steam the potatoes for 30 minutes to start with, and then add the peeled carrots.  Continue steaming for 10-15 more minutes, or until the potatoes and carrots are firm but tender when poked.

Meanwhile, you can cook your frozen peas according to package directions.  I use the kind that can be steamed in the package in the microwave.  When they are done, set them aside to cool.  

Note: there are traditionalists who will argue that nothing but canned peas will do in this salad, but I beg to differ.  The faded, dull color and taste of canned peas just cannot compare to fresh or frozen steamed peas.

When the potatoes and carrots are done, allow them to cool to the point that you can handle them easily.

Now you can peel your spuds.  Using your fingers or the back of a knife, gently scrape the thin layer of skin off of the potatoes.

Now dice them into 1/2-inch cube-ish shapes and put them into a medium serving bowl.

Next, dice your carrots.  I've heard it said that a Soviet housewife could be judged on her housekeeping skills by how finely she could dice vegetables for her soups and salads.  I, however, won't judge you.  In fact, if you chop your potatoes and carrots a little larger, I would probably even thank you.  I happen to like chunky salads.

Toss the carrots and a cup of steamed peas into the bowl with the potatoes.

Now you can peel and dice your hardboiled eggs.  Again, I know some like to have their salads with finely diced ingredients, but I don't.  So dice them however you like.

Pickle time!  I used small snacking dill pickles, so I needed to use six of them.  If you have larger pickles, try using three and see if that is enough for you.

Chop them finely or coarsely, it's up to you.

Add the ham if using and mix everything together gently before you add the mayonnaise.

Stir in one cup of mayo to start with, and add more if you think that the salad needs more binding together.

Cover the salad and chill for at least one hour or overnight to allow the flavors to come together.  And of course, garnish with dill.  This is a Russian salad, after all!

30 May 2013

Spinach Salad with Tarragon

When making Turkish chickpea soup with farro, I found that one bunch of spinach actually gave me a lot more than the two cups needed for the soup.  So I was left with a decision to make: overload the soup with spinach, or make something else to go with it.  I chose the latter, and made a salad.  Sometimes the best recipes come together by just looking around and tossing whatever you have on hand into a bowl!

This salad combines juicy tomatoes, crisp apples, salty feta, spicy tarragon and sweet balsamic glace to create a brightly flavored salad perfect for summer.  Balsamic glace is a reduction of balsamic vinegar and I think it works well with salads as well as desserts, pasta and grilled vegetables/meats.

For the salad, you will need:
  • 3 C spinach leaves
  • 4-5 small tomatoes (I used Campari tomatoes)
  • 1/2 large apple
  • 2 Tbsp tarragon leaves
  • 2 oz feta
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic glace

Tear or roughly chop the spinach leaves.  I used regular spinach, but baby spinach leaves would work just as well.  Put them into a medium bowl.

Next, quarter all of your tomatoes.  Toss them in the bowl with the spinach.

Now halve your apple and remove the core.  I left the skin on for color and nutrition, but it's up to you to peel it or leave it.  Slice the apple thinly and then cut the slices into three pieces, forming small apple bites.  Add those to the bowl.

Coarsely chop your tarragon leaves and add them to the salad.

Toss the salad to distribute the tarragon before adding in the wet ingredients.

Now crumble in the feta, toss and drizzle with the olive oil and balsamic glace.  Serve promptly, before the vegetables have a chance to release water and get things soggy.

29 May 2013

Turkish Chickpea Soup with Farro and Spinach

It's no secret that soup is good for you.  For years, chicken soup has been touted as a cure for the common cold, and more recently, our grandmothers' claims to that effect have been backed up by medical research.  Even if you aren't suffering from a cold, soups are a great way to use up vegetables (or even fruits!) that you have lingering on the counter or in the fridge.  They are also helpful in maintaining a healthy weight, being often low-calorie yet flavorful and satisfying.

One soup that I recently made is similar to the Turkish Maras corbasi.  It is a sour soup with farro (wheatberries), chickpeas, lentils and spinach.  It's made sour by using an ingredient that is somewhat unusual outside of the Middle East: dried sumac.  Dried sumac is made from the fruit of the Rhus Coriaria, or Elm-leaved Sumac plant.  The fruit is harvested, dried and crushed with a bit of salt to draw out any moisture.  Although uncommon in the rest of the world, the spice is used extensively throughout the Middle East, appearing in sauces, soups, salads, hummus and meat dishes.

For this version of the soup, you will need:

  • 8 C water
  • 3/4 C parboiled farro (wheatberries)
  • 3/4 C red lentils
  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp dried sumac
  • 1 Tbsp Aleppo pepper
  • 1/2 Tbsp black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • juice of one lemon
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 C chopped spinach

To begin with, heat your water in a large pot until boiling.  Once it boils, add the farro and lentils.  Reduce heat to simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes.

While that is cooking, you can chop your spinach, if you haven't already done so.  Juice your lemon and mince your garlic.

At the end of the 15 minutes, stir in the tablespoon of tomato paste and the chickpeas.  Stir well to incorporate the tomato paste and then add the spices.

Allow the soup to cook for another 5 minutes and then stir in the garlic, spinach and lemon juice.  Simmer gently for another 5 minutes, then remove from the heat.

Serve hot with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt or a bit of crumbled feta, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of Aleppo pepper.  If you're like Bulldozer, try it all mixed together!  (Although I'm not sure he's the best person to imitate - he wanted to put sliced banana in, too...)

28 May 2013

Cinnamon Pecan Date Scones

What comes to your mind when you think of scones?  To me, the word conjures up images of lazy weekend brunches or elegant English teas.  To those who frequent coffee shops, it may remind them of the large and often over-sweetened pastries that are becoming popular.  But did you know that scones are traditionally from Scotland?  Not only that, they can be traced back hundreds of years, with the first mention of the word scone appearing in the Oxford English Dictionary in the year 1513.  They can be sweet or savory, baked in an oven or cooked on a griddle and made of wheat, barley, oats or even potatoes!

Because of the extent of British influence, there are varieties of scones to be found all over the world.  In the United States, we are most familiar with sweet scones of the coffee shop type.  Unfortunately, commercially made scones are often too sweet and not impressive.  The good news is that they are extremely simple to make, and are ready in about thirty minutes.  The even better news is that scones, while decent enough in good cafes, are a thousand times more delicious just out of the oven and served with a cup of home-brewed tea or coffee.

The following recipe takes a basic scone recipe and makes it a little more interesting with the addition of chopped dates and pecans.  If you don’t have either of those ingredients handy, you could substitute dried cherries and walnuts, which would make an equally delicious tea pastry.  These scones are also kid-friendly, as my four-year-old son will attest to.  He loves to help make them and can barely wait for them to cool off so he can eat them!


·         2 cups all-purpose flour
·         3 tbsp sugar
·         ¼ tsp salt
·         1 tbsp baking powder
·         6 tbsp chilled butter
·         ½ cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
·         5 large Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
·         1 beaten egg
·         ½ cup half-and-half
·         1 tbsp half-and-half
·         2 tsp sugar
·         ½ tsp ground cinnamon

The first step is to combine your flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in a large mixing bowl.  Now would also be a good time to preheat the oven to 400°F.  Next, cut the very cold butter into smallish cubes and add them to the flour mixture.

Next, cut the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse crumbs.  If you have a pastry blender, feel free to use that.  Other ways include using a couple of knives, a food processor or your clean hands.  I tend to use the latter, and this can also be a fun way to involve a young helper (who has obviously just thoroughly washed and dried his or her hands).  My son loves squishing the butter (working quickly) into the flour.

Once the butter is cut in, you can stir in the dates and nuts.  Stir thoroughly to break up any clumps that the dates might form.

Combine the egg and ½ cup of half-and-half.  Add all at once to the dry mixture and stir until just moistened.  If need be, add another small splash of half-and-half to pull in all of the flour at the bottom of the bowl.

Now turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it a little, about 15 strokes, until it is fairly smooth.  It won’t take long, and if you want, this is another great job for little helpers.

Next, shape the dough into a flat round.  You can do this directly on the baking sheet (ungreased) so that you won’t have to go through the acrobatics of trying to move a perfectly shaped round over to the baking sheet and dropping it or tearing it in half on the way.  Not that I’ve ever done that, of course.
Pat the round until you have it flattened to a thickness of between ¾ inch and one inch.  Eyeballing it is fine.

Cut the round into 8-10 wedges.  Pull them apart and smooth the edges to form individual scones.

Brush the top of each scone with the remaining tablespoon of half-and-half.  (Once again, this is a perfect job for small assistants!)  Stir together the remaining sugar and the cinnamon.  Sprinkle the tops generously with the cinnamon and sugar, and then pop them in the oven on the center rack for 15 to 20 minutes (or until golden brown).

Serve the scones hot and with your favorite tea or coffee (or milk for kids).  These make a lovely and easy addition to a brunch with friends or family or just a great afternoon treat!  Enjoy!

27 May 2013


Pelmeni, manti, maultaschen, jiaozi, mandu, pasteles, kubbeh, khinkali.

What do all of these have in common?  They are all dumplings.  Nearly every civilization on Earth has a dumpling in some form or other.  Some are vegetarian, some are filled with meat, and some are simply bits of dough.  The manner in which they are prepared varies from culture to culture as well.  For example, in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, manti are steamed, whereas in Armenia they are first browned in butter and then boiled or steamed in either a chicken- or tomato-based broth.  Some cultures serve dumplings as part of a soup and others consider the dumplings to be the main course, sufficient by themselves or perhaps with a dipping sauce.

Khinkali are of Georgian origin, although they are also prepared in Armenia and other parts of the Caucasus region.  They are made with a mixture of beef and pork (occasionally with lamb), cilantro, onions and plenty of garlic.  In size, khinkali are similar to the more widespread manti, which can be found across all of Central Asia, as well as the Muslim republics of the Caucasus and in Armenia.  However, they are not steamed, but are simply boiled in salted water.

In Ossetia, where my husband grew up, khinkali are often made by a group of friends or relatives.  It can be something of a chore to make enough dumplings by oneself to feed a crowd, but as the saying goes, 'many hands make light work'.  In a kitchen surrounded by friends and family, all working together to form the khinkali dumplings, the work turns into fun.  And of course, at the end of it all, everyone gets to enjoy the delicious, juicy fruits of their labor.

To make khinkali, you will need the following items:

For the dough:
  • 6 C bread flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 C cold water

For the meat filling:  
  • 1 lb ground beef (use no leaner than 92%, or else the meat will be dry)
  • 1 lb ground pork (as with the beef, do not use lean meat)
  • 1 large onion, cut in wedges
  • 1 bunch cilantro, stems mostly removed
  • 1 jalapeno, roughly chopped
  • 2 anaheim chilies, roughly chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp salt

You will also need a deep stockpot and a food processor.

The first step is to prepare the dough.  It will have to sit for 30 minutes, so make sure you put that together before you make the filling.

Combine the flour and salt in a food processor.  Pulse to mix it.  Now, through the feed tube with the machine running, pour in the eggs, one at a time.  Let that mix in completely.  Next, slowly pour in the cold water.  By the time that you've poured it all in, your dough should have formed a large mass in the food processor bowl.  Once it has done that, scrape it out onto a floured work surface.

Knead in as much flour as you can, and keep going until you have a very hard dough.  Form it into a ball, cover with a clean kitchen towel (not terrycloth, or you will be picking fuzz out of your dumplings...never an attractive sight) and let it rest for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, it's time to get the filling ready.  After you've washed your food processor, put the onions in and process them until they are pureed.  With the machine still running, add the cilantro, peppers and garlic through the feed tube.  

Continue processing until everything is pureed.  It will be a very juicy mixture, but this is exactly what you want.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the ground beef and pork.  Add salt. 

Dump in the onion/cilantro mixture.

Knead the meat mixture by hand until everything is very well-mixed and uniform in texture.

It should be a very wet mixture so that it will make a juicy filling, rather than a spiced hamburger patty encased in dough.

When the 30 minutes are up, it's time to roll out the dough and form the dumplings!  First though, pour about six quarts of water into your stockpot and heat to boiling.  While your water is heating up, divide the dough into two logs, each about 12 inches long.

Cut 12 1-inch rounds from each log and roll them out to about 7 inches in diameter (about 2 or 3 mm thick).  Make sure to use plenty of flour so they don't stick to the counter or each other.

Form 24 balls from the meat, and place on a plate.
Working one at a time, place one meatball on a round of dough.  
Gather the edges in an accordion-pleat shape and pinch to seal at the top.  Pinch off any excess dough at the top (leaving a top 'hat' about 1/4 to 1/2 inch tall). 

Set the formed khinkali on a floured surface until you have about 12 ready.

By now, your water should have come to a rolling boil; add about a tablespoon of salt.  Using a slotted spoon, carefully slide each dumpling into the water.  Only cook one dozen at a time!  Stir gently within the first minute or two to prevent the khinkali from sticking to each other or the pot (and thus increasing the risk of bursting).

When the water returns to a boil, set the timer for 15 minutes.  While the first batch is cooking, you can work on forming the next dozen, so they will be ready to go in as soon as the first come out.

At the end of the 15 minutes, gently remove the dumplings, again using a slotted spoon.  Place them on a serving platter and serve hot.  Khinkali are traditionally served with no accompaniment aside from black pepper and a good ale or dark beer.  When you eat them, be sure to hold them 'hat' side down, take a small bite and drink the flavorful broth first.  Also, don't eat the tops!  At the end of the meal, look around to see who has the driest plate and the most tops. 

Now I have a question for my readers:  Which dishes would you like to see on this blog?  I am open to suggestions for just about anything!  Georgian, Russian, Mediterranean, Central Asian or Middle Eastern - I will research the recipes, make them and post the results here!