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!

IMG_9854IMG_9848

IMG_9821

Advertisements

Pickled Apples

The short Summer growing season and loooonnnggg winter meant preserving foods was truly a matter of life or death in pre-Industrial Russia. It is a tradition that is still largely upheld today, even among urban Russians. A dacha or country house is a surprisingly common amenity for even middle class Russians. According to “Housing Studies: The Russain Dacha phenomenon” by Raymond J. Struyk and Karen Angelici About one in four big city families have dachas. While the “second homes” first came about as gifts to loyal vassals to Peter the Great, the Soviet Era saw a moderate boom in dacha-living, as many of the properties were nationalized and made into vacation homes for the working class. Spring and Summer are called “Dacha Season” and stores advertise sales for gardening equipment and other outdoor amenities. While they have become leisure retreats for many of the more affluent Russians, the memory of the Soviet Era food shortages coupled with a long standing cultural tradition of growing and preserving their own food means many people still invest in rigorous gardening at their dachas.

So when your dacha apple trees need harvesting or you have just finished plundering your neighbor’s apple tree, you will want to preserve some of the bounty for the barren months ahead.

This recipe is more of the immediate gratification solution. You can bring in the apple harvest from your dacha plot and have pickled apples in the same day!

I found this receipt at Portland Monthly Magazine courtesy of Gregory Goudet of Saucebox

IMG_1968

4 red apples
4 shallots, peeled, sliced thin
2 tbsp spice mix*
2 cups rice wine vinegar
2 cups sugar

(1) Wash and medium-dice apples.
(2) Place shallots in a container and cover with apples.
(3) Add spice mix to vinegar and sugar and bring to a boil.
(4) Pour mixture over apples and shallots.
(5) Cover with plastic wrap to keep everything submerged under liquid.
(6) Let cool at room temperature.

* Spice Mix

INGREDIENTS

8 cinnamon sticks
8 pieces star anise
12 cloves
1 tbsp cardamom
1 tbsp 
fennel seed
1 tbsp allspice

(1) Place all spices in a sauté pan and toast in a 375-degree oven until fragrant (about 10–15 minutes).
(2) Once cool enough to handle, grind in a spice grinder until fine.