Tuesday, March 21, 2006
From Russia with love
Does anyone remember Project Harmony? This was a BIG DEAL in my middle school years--an exchange program between Russian and American students intended to foster goodwill after the old iron curtain came a tumblin' down. I was so envious of those kids from my school who went to Russia, returning with ziploc baggies filled with pins depicting Stalin and the hammer and sickle, nesting dolls, brightly colored shawls and tales of grocery stores that sold no groceries and stewed cabbage and strong tea served in tiny, gracious St. Petersburg apartments.
I still really want to go to Russia, and I daydream about vodka and big fur hats, the Kremlin's dome and traditional Russian food. For those of us who were raised in the era when Russia was a have-not nation, images of bread lines firmly planted in our subconscious, it might come as a surprise to learn that the Russian imperial cuisine was some of the finest of its time. While countryfolk might have survived on potatoes, kasha and cabbage, the royals commissioned French chefs to invent dishes (and then name them after the royal family!) that today are considered traditionally Russian, like borscht, koulibiaca (salmon encased in pastry) and kissel, a puree of red summer fruits thickened with cornstarch and arrowroot and served with whipped cream for dessert.
Today, inspired by the story of my friend spying Mikael Baryshnikov at a recent charity dinner, I dusted off an old recipe for a Russian classic, beef stroganoff. This simple dish, which combines filet of beef, onions and mushrooms in a veloute with tangy sour cream, mustard and dill, is a new favorite. It's dead simple, very satisfying and rich, and full of bright flavor. Served over egg noodles, it's a lovely little thing to add to your repertoire.