Vegetarian in Russia

vegetarian in Russia

Keep your oven temperatures under control!
A lot of people keep TELLING me how hard it must be to eat as a vegetarian in Russia.

Give me some roast vegetables, milk, butter, cream, eggs and flour and I’ll survive.
Maybe some sea salt, black pepper and fresh lemon, too…

It’s very easy to be a vegetarian in Russia.

As I said, keep you oven temperatures under control and, as always, measure your ingredients carefully.
roast plumpkin quiche…

carrot coriander cress salad

cress carrot coriander salad

 

Take the simplest of summer ingredients for a carrot coriander cress salad and a great looking summer meal. Then get back to me and we’ll cook some more!

But there’s the question, isn’t it? What do we really mean when I say ‘simple’ ingredients? What is simple to me could be exotic to you: peppercorns
were regularly traded as currency and historically were more valuable than gold! Am I trying to say a ‘summer meal’ is different to a ‘winter meal’ or just that there’s less of it…? This could become complicated, but really doesn’t need to be:

Cress, coriander, carrot, lime, flax or olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds… (a little summer sunshine also helps a little)

How do we get those long strips – we can’t cut like that? Is it a ‘dry’ salad – isn’t there any dressing? What are the proportions – how many carrots? Isn’t it too bland -can I add some cheese or mayo for ‘flavour’? Is this a ‘raw’ salad? I can’t eat that – where’s the meat? Can I have some more?

These are some of the questions I was asked at a local demo class a short while ago. You see, one thing is just throwing a few ingredients together and hope it’ll work out fine. Another thing totally is to be able to grab a few simple summer ingredients, combine then in both an attractive AND tasty way, and believe that some of the class will be intrigued enough to try and make it again.

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coconut porridge while waiting for a bus

coconut porridge while waiting for a bus

 

An old friend had come to visit and cook with me for a few days.

We were planning to make some porridge for an early breakfast, before heading to market, only we’d run out of milk – why did that always seem to happen first thing in the morning?

In a moment of inspiration, I thought about adding coconut milk for flavour and texture.  (Inspiration, and also a lonely can forgotten at the back of the cupboard)

Who knows, it could work, it might not – but just in case, I added a teaspoon of freshly grated coconut. (Inspiration plus desperation?)

“Do you know, that in some islands they use coconuts while waiting for a bus?”  I’m not entirely sure why I asked that question, almost rhetorical. Maybe I felt there was a need, in my ‘role’ as a travelling chef, to offer tales and adventures from around the world, as if to prove I was who I said I was.

 

There was a blank stare and raised eyebrows, as if to say ‘huh?’ “You mean they sit on coconuts while waiting for a bus? Or do they use them as payment for the bus ride?” she asked. “And anyway, where exactly are people doing this kind of coconut bus waiting?”

I added a little boiling water to the oats, let it soak for a couple of minutes, then added a can of coconut milk. So far so good

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everybody loves cupcakes, don’t they?

cucakes in Russia

“Everybody loves cupcakes, don’t they?”. This is the answer I usually give when asked why I was trying to make cupcakes in Russia, and this is what I was telling the group of reporters in front of me at that moment. After a few years cooking my way around the country, the question had become pretty regular.

“Let me get this straight”, one of them suggested, waving her (dessert) fork at me “you came ALL the way to Siberia just to make… cupcakes?”

(Despite the aggressive tone of her question, the look on her face was telling me “this banana cake salted caramel one IS pretty good, though”)

banana caramel cupcake

Well that wasn’t entirely true, of course, I was here to try and achieve much more than that, and cupcakes were just a part of my role as the travelling chef. At the same time, I was hoping to also tap into the cupcake craze that had been sweeping the world the past few years. It was even hitting places like Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, so why couldn’t it succeed in the largest country on the planet?

Like I said, everybody loves cupcakes. Think about it for a moment. It’s like you are able to take a whole cake, just for yourself, without the actual guilt of eating a whole cake by yourself. Some of those cupcakes can be so tiny that they you can even two or three and compare different flavours before you force yourself to stop! Continue Reading

lunchtime decisions

 

lunchtime decisions

Sometimes lunchtime decisions are made for you. The cartons of eggs were packed so closely together on the shelf that when I tried to pull out one carton, the one next to it fell to the floor.

Is that what they mean when they tell you that you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs?

I looked around for an assistant, walked around the supermarket and when I finally found someone, explained what had happened. In my limited Russian. In Russia.

Unfortunately for me, I may as well have been a penguin asking her if she’d like to dance!

She looked at me in near horror, shook her head and shuffled away. I could see her peering out from behind the cereal boxes, checking if I was still there.

I went back to see if those eggs had been cleaned up, but no, they were still there. I decided to hang around a few minutes, just in case a manager came by or there was someone else I could explain the situation to.

Should I just stand there, or should I discreetly move away?
Looking at the bigger picture, I suppose this was not the biggest dilemma I was going to face that day (I mean, for example, apples: green or red?)

Like I said, sometimes lunchtime decisions are all but made for you:  I was going to have carrot soup instead, with a savoury muffin

lips as red as sun dried tomato pesto

sun dried tomato pesto

her lips were red.

I mean, full, dark red, just like that sun dried tomato pesto that we were eating. I wondered to myself if there actually WAS a lipstick colour called sun dried tomato pesto or something – that would be funny, you wouldn’t know whether to eat it or wear it!

there’s just a little bit of chilli in there, to give it a bit of heat – can you feel it – I asked her…

I like food that has flavour. This is great focaccia, by the way – soft and lots of taste

she told me. then she continued:

none of this bland stuff they keep feeding me, salads and oil, potatoes and butter, fish and cream. I mean, what is THAT all about?
I can tell you from just one taste what’s going on in this stuff you’ve made, which I’m quite happy to slather over my bread – is IS focaccia, isn’t it?
I can definitely taste pine nuts, toasted, right? There’s olive oil, lemon juice, black pepper, cheese – tastes like Pecorino, am I right? Then there’s the chilli you mentioned, definitely more than a little bit, but just the right amount. And you haven’t used completely dried tomatoes, have you, seems to me to be those soft, fluffy “sun-blushed’ ones

This girl was good. Oh yeah, she was very good! How could she have known all that? I mean, OK, it wasn’t an exclusive recipe, pretty straightforward in a way. I made it regularly enough – throw everything in one of those hand blender attachments, whizz it for a minute or two, season to taste and it’s done. But I’d been making it for a long while and almost felt like it was mine, the taste, the texture, the colour. I could make it with my eyes closed. So how had SHE known what I was doing? continue reading to find out how she knew the recipe