If you say ‘okroshka’ to me, I immediately see a bright summer day, as this herbaceous tangy cold soup is nothing short of a sunny meadow in a bowl. Another example of a pre-Revolutionary recipe that was simplified and popularized during the Soviet era, okroshka, as its name suggests (from the Russian kroshit, meaning ‘to crumble or finely chop’), is a mix of finely diced vegetables, cold meats and soft herbs topped with the fizzy fermented bread drink kvass and soured cream. Preferring my soup vegetarian, I exclude the meat but double the herbs and, rather unconventionally, throw in some chickpeas to add a bit of that ‘meaty’ texture. When making this dish in the UK, where I don’t always have homemade kvass at hand, I resort to Turkish ayran, a salty pouring yogurt. Some horseradish cream or Eastern European mustard adds an extra punch! This works so well as a light lunch (in which case you are likely to have seconds) or as a very refreshing starter to a summer feast.
1 large cucumber
4 hard-boiled eggs, shelled
Bunch of dill
Bunch of flat leaf parsley
Bunch of chives
200g drained canned or cooked chickpeas
800ml kvass or Turkish ayran
4 tablespoons soured cream (if using kvass)
4 teaspoons horseradish cream or Eastern European mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Finely dice the cucumber, eggs and radishes. Chop all the herbs and put them in a large mixing bowl together with the eggs, vegetables and chickpeas. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide the mixture equally between 4 bowls, top each with 200ml kvass or ayran and add a dollop of soured cream (if using kvass) as well as a teaspoon of horseradish cream or mustard.
An old Russian saying goes: ‘Shchi da kasha pishcha nasha’ (good luck trying to pronounce that one!), which simply means that Shchi soup and porridge are national staples. With buckwheat and mushrooms being amongst the most ancient ingredients of Slavic cuisine, dating far back into the Middle Ages, porridge with fried onions, mushrooms and soft herbs is an indisputable classic. Indeed, nothing can beat the combination of sweet, earthy and woody flavours that these ingredients produce when mixed together. Thinking of ways to elevate this simple dish, I felt that all these flavours could be highlighted even more if cooked together as a risotto, with the addition of garlic, white wine, pine nuts, and a pungent tarragon pesto. Having served this dish at one of my supper clubs, I received the best feedback from a guest who compared eating the dish to a walk through a Siberian wood. Well, bon appétit and enjoy your promenade!
20g dried wild mushrooms
100ml boiling water
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 small onion, finely diced
400g chestnut mushrooms, chopped
2 pinches of salt
4 garlic cloves, grated
1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
1 teaspoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley, plus extra to serve
150ml dry white wine
Splash of soy sauce
400g roasted buckwheat
600ml vegetable stock
Knob of unsalted butter
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
50g toasted pine nuts, to garnish
Dill leaves, to serve
Soak the wild mushrooms in the measured boiling water for 10–15 minutes. In the meantime, heat up the oil in a medium-sized saucepan and fry the onion over a medium heat for a few minutes until translucent but not yet caramelized. Add the chestnut mushrooms and salt and cook over a medium heat for 5–8 minutes until the mushrooms have released their liquid and it has evaporated. Drain the wild mushrooms, reserving the liquid, chop them roughly and add to the pan, along with the garlic and herbs. Cook for 5 minutes before adding the white wine and soy sauce. Increase the heat for 5–8 minutes to let the alcohol evaporate and then add the buckwheat. Reduce the heat to medium and stir well until the buckwheat soaks up all the liquid. Mix the mushroom soaking liquid with the vegetable stock, then start adding it to the pan, 100ml at a time, stirring constantly. Let each batch of liquid become absorbed before adding the next lot. Continue until all the stock is used up. The buckwheat should be almost cooked by this stage. Turn off the heat and add the knob of butter and black pepper, then cover firmly with a lid and let the risotto rest for 10 minutes.
An indisputable family favourite, this simple-looking but mighty tasting cake has graced the festive table on a number of occasions: from most of the winter holidays to Easter weekend, and on occasional lazy Sundays. Made up of pretty much nothing else but honey, butter and pine nuts, to me this cake encapsulates the key flavours of Siberia (the land of honey and pine nuts!). Aside from its buttery richness and the slightly bitter crunch of the pine nuts, what I love about this cake is its versatility; add some orange or lemon zest, drizzle with olive oil and decorate it with rosemary, and your classic Siberian cake turns into a luscious Mediterranean treat.
250g pine nuts
250g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
200g caster sugar
4 tablespoons clear honey, plus extra to serve (optional)
115g plain flour
icing sugar, for dusting (optional)
Preheat the oven to 160°C fan/Gas Mark 4. Spread the pine nuts out on a large baking sheet and toast in the oven for a few minutes until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool. Increase the oven temperature to 180°C/Gas Mark 6. Grease a 24cm cake tin. Cream the butter and sugar together using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment – or an electric hand mixer – until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, while you continue whisking on a lower speed. Then mix in the honey and fold in the toasted pine nuts, reserving a handful. Pour the cake mixture into the prepared tin, sprinkle the remaining pine nuts on top and bake for 30 minutes, or until a cocktail stick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let the cake cool on a wire rack and serve with an extra drizzle of honey or a dusting of icing sugar.
Move over mulled wine, here comes Russian sbiten. The most popular drink from ancient days through to the 19th century, this honey-and-spice infusion is enjoying a bit of a comeback. Substitute water for red wine and you are all set for the festive season.
150ml blackcurrant or plum jam
1 tablespoon cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 litres water
Put all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring occasionally. Don’t let the liquid boil vigorously but take off the heat as soon as bubbles start to appear. Let the mixture cool down to room temperature and infuse. Strain through a muslin cloth or a fine sieve and consume straight away, or transfer to a sterilized glass bottle (putting it through a dishwater will do the job) and keep refrigerated for up to a week. It tastes equally good hot or cold, but a hot cup of sbiten can’t be beaten on a cold winter evening.