First there was Olga, the cook who sustained me during my Peace Corps years, whose Russian roots rarely extended to the table of her Paraguayan pension. Always tripe and manioc and beef à caballo, never borscht or blini or piroshki. Sometimes meat laced with chimichurri, a green sauce from Argentina, which reminded Olga of home, as we shall see.
And then there was Marina, who only cooked for me once. She roasted a chicken and baked a whole salmon and kept popping up from the table to run into the kitchen because of severe anxiety. I never learned her real story. And perhaps I ought to be glad of that, considering the Russia she escaped from.
I don’t know about you, but for me the best “foodie” thing since sliced bread is the Köneman Culinaria regions-of-the-world series (now published apparently by H. F. Ullmann).
These heavyweight volumes cover most of Europe — Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Hungary — as well as other parts of the world. I ask myself how best to describe the feeling that comes over me when I open up one of these books. And my answer has to be this: Imagine going to a beloved friend’s house, stepping through the door, smelling a delicious cake cooling on the kitchen counter, being greeted by people you really like but haven’t seen for a long time, handing you a refreshing cool drink, and then as you walk into the living room, noticing the colorful table heavy with all sorts of food artfully displayed on heirloom plates.
A feast, that’s it, a veritable feast awaits you with each volume in the Culinaria series. That and a magic carpet, as it were, for you’ll journey from place to place without even leaving your favorite reading chair.
But I’ve moved on to bigger and, yes, better things.
The gamut of easily do-able recipes in Culinaria Russia runs from detailed directions for a zakusa (hors d’oeuvres) table — herring plate to Salad Olivier to meatballs with mushroom filling — to varenyky (Ukrainian ravioli) to simple sauces and soups. Many of the recipes are similar to those found in Molokhovets’s book, including green sauces of various types.
As a matter of fact, Molokhovets’s green sauce closely resembles Italian green sauce with anchovies, but she includes green olives, cornichons, and spinach. Other areas besides Russia also use herbs in sauces, as the following recipes taken from Culinaria Russia attest: Ukrainian Green Sauce — similar to Olga’s chimichurri — and Georgian Green Ajika.
Reading Culinaria Russia is like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole, taking you to another place, maybe a place of memory, but certainly a place of endless and wondrous culinary delights.
If you know any homesick Russians, be sure to share this book with them.
1 whole head of garlic, peeled and minced
1 bunch parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 T. unrefined sunflower oil
3 T. water
Grind garlic, parsley, and salt in a mortar and pestle. Stir in oil and water; season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve on top of Pampushky, doughnut-like breads served with borscht.
Georgian Green Ajika (from Culinaria Russia)
7 oz. hot green chiles
Whole head of garlic, peeled
2 bunches each cilantro and parsley
1 bunch white basil
Handful of celery leaves
1 ½ T. salt
Finely chop the vegetables and herbs. Mix. Stir in salt. Serve with fried meats.
*Augmented with forays into Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.
© 2010 C. Bertelsen