Zakuski

Zakuski is the pre-dinner spread that welcomes guests in a Russian home. Zakuski is derived from the word morsel, and it is an assortment of morsels to accompany vodka that you will of course be drinking at any Russian gathering.

The spread can include a great variety of dishes, hot and cold, homemade and store bought, spicy, salty, rustic and gourmet… as long as it is plentiful and complimentary to vodka it is welcome. The tradition probably evolved among the 18th Century aristocracy in the countryside as a way of welcoming guests who had traveled a long way in the cold, and whose arrival times may have been uncertain.

Our spread included Salami, Green and Black Olives, Hard Boiled Eggs, Sardines, Smoked Oysters, Anchovies, Pickles, Cheese & Crackers. Bread and Salt are the symbols of Russian Hospitality, so should be served in plenty.

Other authentic options could be Caviar (of course!), Russian Black bread with herbed butter, anything pickled (apples, beets, mushrooms etc.), smoked salmon, cocktail meatballs, small boiled potatoes with with dill… the list can go on and on.

Zakuski is usually accompanied by the drinking of several vodka toasts, which are usually followed by a bite of a sharp dill pickle. This is much like the lime to chase a tequila shot, the pickle absorbs the burn of the shot with it’s briny goodness. Toasting is an art form in Russia. At some gatherings the host will make a one or two toasts, at others, every guest will take a turn. I attended a Russian dinner with my parents when I was 16 when everyone at the head table took their turn. The memory of watching a roomful of adults throw back 10 shots of vodka over the evening left a lasting impression.

Na Zdorovye!

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Open Sandwiches

With your left over bread you can make some small, open faced sandwiches. Your only limit is your imagination and the ingredients you can locate. But here are few ideas:

Dill Havarti and Gravlax Sandwich
Dill is considered the Scandinavian Herb. The old Norse word “dilla” meant to lull or soothe, and it was used a remedy for colic and upset stomachs. Dill is the essential ingredient that distinguished Scandinavian Gravlax from other culture’s smoked salmon.

Havarti is a Danish, semi-soft cheese. It was created by Hanne Nielsen on a farm north of Copenhgen in the mid-19th Century.

Or celebrate Vinland’s salmon streams with a Salmon and Cream Cheese Sandwich with a little sprig of dill.

Cream Cheese and Lingonberry Jam Sandwich
Lingonberry Jam in Sweden and other Nordic countries is like grape jelly in the U.S., a staple item. But they are also a popular wild picked fruit in the Canadian Provinces of Newfoundland adn Labrador, which must have made Lief and his companions feel right at home.

Salamagundi

The Elizabethan era dish, Salmagundi was apparently a very popular pirate ship menu item. One of the reasons must have been it’s infinite versatility. There seem to be as many recipes for it as there were pirate chefs. The name itself evolved from salmigondis which is French for hodgepodge or a whole bunch of different stuff that doesn’t seem to go together. So a ship’s cook could make this out of whatever they had available at the time, which would have varied widely depending on where and how recently they had raided a port. (In fact, according to Pillaging the Empire: Piracy in the Americas 1500-1750 by Kris E. Lane, Pirates “raided coastal settlements for fresh victuals at least as often as for booty.”) The recipes are so varied that it’s not even certain what category of dish it is. It can be a stew, a salad and even a paté when known by it’s Jamaican name, Solomon Gundy, which is made from pickled fish and served with crackers. For our purposes it is salad.

In a possibly unrelated coincidence or another strange evolution, Solomon Grundy is also a popular English Nursery Rhyme. It was first published in 1842, which means it was probably widely circulated orally before that, but the salad most likely predated it.

Solomon Grundy,
Born on a Monday,
Christened on Tuesday,
Married on Wednesday,
Took ill on Thursday,
Grew worse on Friday,
Died on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday.
This is the end
Of Solomon Grundy

What, if anything this has to do with a salad of cooked meats, pickled fish, vegetables, fruits and flowers I have no idea. But the Justice League Zombie-Super-Villian Solomon Grundy was based on this nursery rhyme. Naming himself Solomon Grundy because he was “Born on a Monday”, the only thing he remembers about his pre-zombie life. Both of these guys could probably use a good hearty serving of salamagundi.

Anyway, I started with a recipe for Salmagundi from Celtnet.com, that was adapted from the “The Good Huswives Treasure” by Robert May. I further adapted to my tastes and what I had available, and I suggest you do the same. (This recipe measures everything in grams, as is the European way. A kitchen scale is helpful for this, but precision is not important in this instance. I translated the measurements to mean “some of this” “some more of that” “A little of this” and so on…

Ingredients:
1 rotisserie chicken.
4 Tablespoons fresh tarragon, finely chopped
100g French green beans blanched and refreshed in cold water
1 small red onion, finely chopped
8 radishes, sliced
60g plump raisins
1 Tablespoon capers (the recipe calls for finely chopped, I added them whole)
8 new potatoes, boiled, cooled and sliced
150g black seedless grapes, halved (or red currants)
6 eggs, soft boiled
Bed of chopped lettuce (or beet leaves)
4 Tablespoons mixed chervil, parsley and chives, finely chopped

Ingredients in the original recipe that I did not use. (because i couldn’t find, don’t like, or forgot to buy)
150g marsh samphire, blanched
60g broom buds
8 figs quartered
6 button mushrooms
60 g flaked almonds, toasted
60g black olives, sliced
1 orange peeled and thinly sliced
Ingredients not in the recipe that I added:
Tin of anchovies
Tin of sardines

Ingredients for the Dressing:
200ml extra virgin olive oil
60ml red wine vinegar
juice of 1/2 orange
juice of 1/2 lime
salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Method:
Boil your eggs for about 6 minutes, or until soft-boiled then drain and
place under cold running water until chilled. Then peel.

Par-boil the samphire and French beans

Remove the flesh from the chicken and cut into strips. Add to a bowl and
toss with the tarragon before seasoning with salt and black pepper.

Toss together the lettuce and broom flowers. Use these to line the base
of a large salad bowl. Arrange the chicken on top then layer the
remaining ingredients. Finish with the orange slices, and whole soft boiled eggs then scatter the
chopped herbs over the top.

Whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing and pour over the
salad immediately before serving.

Salmon with Fresh Mint and Tomatoes

According to the City Tavern cookbook, in colonial times salmon traveled all the way up the Delaware River to Philadelphia, making it an easy catch and frequent staple of the original menu.  This is a great centerpiece for a summer dinner since it can be served chilled or warm.

Ingredients
3 cups Court Bouillon (I used vegetable stock)
6 skinless salmon fillets (8 to 10 ounces each)
6 large ripe tomatoes thickly sliced
2 cups loosely packed fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh chives, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups Sherry Cream Sauce

Tools
Parchment Paper
Large Skillet
Baking Sheet

Steps
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Cut the parchment paper into eight 10 inch squares.
In a large skillet, bring the Court Bouillon to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low. Add the salmon and cook about 5 minutes, until firm to the touch.
Remove the salmon from the skillet. Let cool and reserve.
Place the parchment paper squares on a greased baking sheet.
On each square, place 3 tomato slices, a few mint leaves, and a cooked salmon fillet.
Sprinkle with half the cilantro and salt and pepper to taste. Add the remaining tomato slices and mint leaves.
Fold each square over diagonally to form a triangle, leaving as much space as possible inside.
Bake about 15 minutes, until the paper is brown.
Cut open the pouches and sprinkle the salmon with the remaining cilantro.
Remove salmon. Pour Sherry Cream Sauce over and garnish with chives.

Basil Shrimp

This recipe calls for BBQ sauce, which I thought to be very suspect as an 18th Century ingredient. But considering that the notion of cooking meat over fire is almost as old as the notion of eating meat, it stands to reason that people have been flavoring this meat for quite some time.  The Native Americans taught the Colonists the art of slow roasting meat over open flame that is what we now consider true BBQ. While I know they weren’t pulling out a jar of Heinz 57, and that the first bottled BBQ sauce didn’t enter the market place until 1926, it seems the invention of this most American of condiments dates imprecisely to the fifteen or sixteen hundreds in the colonies and spread to Europe over the next two hundred years. Some sources reference a sauce for cooking Alpaca meat that Christopher Columbus brought back from Hispaniola as the first, others say it originated in the American Colonies in the 17th Century. It is hard to say what style of BBQ sauce would have been used on a dish like this in Philadelphia, but I used a bottle of KC Masterpiece.

Ingredients
18 jumbo shrimp (thawed if frozen), peeled and deveined
18 fresh basil leaves
18 slices apple-smoked bacon
18 flavorless wooden toothpicks
2 cups vegetable oil
12 ounces BBQ sauce
4 teaspoons  grated horseradish
2 dashes hot pepper sauce

Steps

  1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF
  2. To butterfly the shrimp, make a deep slit along the back of each, but not all the way through. Rinse the shrimp; pat dry. Place one basil leaf inside the slit in each shrimp.
  3. Wrap each shrimp in a slice of bacon and secure with a toothpick.
  4. In a medium stockpot or saucepan, heat the oil over high heat to 350º; when hot, carefully add the shrimp a few at a time.
  5. Deep-fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until crisp.
  6. Using a slotted spoon, remove the shrimp from the oil and place on a tray lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil.
  7. In a skillet, combine the BBQ sauce, horseradish and pepper sauce.
  8. Add the precooked shrimp to the sauce and heat in the oven for 5 minutes, basting the shrimp often, until the shrimp is heated through.
  9. Serve on a platter garnished with lemon wedges and extra basil leaves.