Monday, December 15, 2008
There was a time in my life when I doubted the relevance of winter vegetables. It was years ago, before I was concerned with the changing of the seasons or the flavor of ripe tomatoes. Or Russia.
I grew up in the central Texas world of summer gardens and insufferable heat. If it wasn't tomato season, then we weren't growing anything. Which is ironic, since things seem to grow better when the heat is a few notches below insufferable, and bit closer to balmy. Somehow this concept was lost on me, as was the concept of beets and turnips and fancy lettuces and snow peas. That is, until I stopped eating meat.
Suddenly legions of winter flora not only made themselves very apparent to me, they also endeared themselves to me. I developed a fondness and a longing for the vegetables that grew in what I once thought was the barest of the seasons. This new love of winter foods then led me to explore foods from countries where winter dominates the year, such as the Scandinavian countries, Eastern Europe and of course Russia.
Coincidentally, Russia is Mark's not so secret love. All of Mark's reading is about Russia, all of the art he cares about is from Russia, the movies he watches all have subtitles and even the beer he drinks... Russian. Sometimes I fear Mother Russia may steal his heart away from me. I had to act fast to make sure my man wasn't lured away into the seductive embrace of that massive and chilly country (and I do believe the chilly part is the part that will keep him at my side – thank goodness for that). But how?? However could I possibly lure him back to me, his lady love?
And this was when it dawned on me. I had to bring Russia into our home, and I had to beat her at her own game. I devised a plan of the grandest proportion I could muster up on a Sunday afternoon... I crafted a meal that as closely resembled a Russian meal as a vegetarian could dream up. There was black bread and pickled tomatoes, deviled eggs and borsch, cabbage up to our ears and liquor bottles labeled in cyrillic. I even made a tiny salad with winter vegetables that I grew in our very own little winter garden. I then invited a few friends and convinced them to give this Russian fare a shot. A few of them even played along and brought treats from a little Russian supermarket here in town. I have to say, it was pretty fantastic. Who knew pickles and cabbage were such uniters?
And what would we have done without those winter vegetables? Gone very, very hungry, I'm pretty sure. Those husky, hearty veggies were the darlings of the evening, from the sweet candy of the beets to the earthiness of the mushrooms. I think I worried a few friends when they heard the menu, but I've been told I made a few beet and cabbage lovers out of the group of us. But the real question, is it me or Russia, Mark? I have a bottle of vodka in the fridge with Mark's name written all over it, so something tells me he's staying put right where he is.
Inspired by the Balthazar Salad from The Balthazar Cookbook by Keith McNally, Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson
1 medium fennel bulb, sliced paper-thin
10 red radishes, sliced paper-thin
2 handfuls of Frisée
2 handfuls of arugula
1 handful of mache
1 small handful of baby sorrel leaves
6 thin slices of ricotta salata
Zest of one lemon
Lemon-truffle vinaigrette (recipe below)
Juice of one good sized lemon
1/4-1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/8 cup mild olive oil
1/8 cup white truffle oil
In a medium bowl, combine the lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Slowly add the olive and truffle oils, whisking constantly. Continue to whisk until the dressing is thoroughly emulsified. The vinaigrette will keep, refrigerated in a sealed container, for one week.
Toss all veggies with vinaigrette - BUT add the vinaigrette a little at a time. You might not need it all. Salt to taste and toss with ricotta salata and lemon zest.
Adapted from The Soup Peddler's Slow and Difficult Soups by David Ansel
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 onions, sliced into thin crescents
2 carrots, sliced into 1/2" thick coins
1/2 head of cabbage, shredded
2 potatoes, cubed
2 beets, cubed
1 tart apple, very thinly sliced
3 Tbsp tomato paste
8 cups of water
Heat the oil in a very large soup pot or dutch oven over medium-low heat. Saute the onions and carrots in the oil for about 15 mins. Add enough paprika to lightly coat the vegetables in a red paste. Then add about a Tbsp more. Saute for a few more mins.
Add the cabbage, potatoes, beets, apple and tomato paste. Add the water to cover the veggies. Cover and simmer for about 20 mins.
Once the vegetables are soft and cooked through, salt the soup to taste. Don't be shy. It's a lot of soup. Then add about 1-2 tsp vinegar to really bring out the flavors. Serve hot with sour cream on top and a generous garnish of dill.
Cabbage and Mushroom Galette
Filling adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
Use this pastry. Trust me.
For the filling
2 Tbsp butter
1 large onion, finely diced
4 ounces fresh baby portabello mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thinly diced
1 tsp chopped thyme or 1/2 tsp dried
1 tsp chopped tarragon or 1/2 tsp dried
1 Tbsp chopped dill or 1 tsp dried
6 cups thinly sliced cabbage
salt and freshly milled pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 hard-cooked eggs, crumbled
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 1/2 Tbsp melted butter
Make pastry and have chilling in the fridge.
To make the filling, heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, mushrooms, and herbs and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the cabbage, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 cup water. Cook slowly until the cabbage is tender, 15 to 20 minutes, turning it occasionally. Add more liquid. When tender and raise the heat to evaporate any excess moisture. The mixture should be fairly dry. Stir in the parsley and sour cream. Season with vinegar and taste for salt and pepper. Make sure you get the perfect flavor at this point.
To assemble, preheat the oven to 400 F. Roll the dough into a large thin circle and set it on the back of a sheet pan or cookie sheet. The edges will hang over the sides. Put the crumbled egg down to cover the center area of the dough, where all of the cabbage filling will rest. Add the filling, making a mound 7 to 8 inches across, then fold the edges over and brush with whisked egg yolk and cream for glaze. Pour the melted butter into the vegetables. Bake until browned, 25 to 30 minutes.
** Thank you so much for the photos, Adrian! **