Cookbook Challenge: “Russian Food & Cooking”
So it begins… my journey into cookbook world. For the next three or so weeks, I will be sampling two-three recipes from seven cookbooks to determine if the book should stay or go. The Lunar New Year is here and it seems like a good time to get rid of the old clutter and simplify my living space. I have seven books that are on the “chopping block”, and if they don’t pass the random recipe testing, then they will get “eliminated” from my kitchen and donated. I couldn’t decide where to start, so I just picked a hardcover book at the bottom of my stack, “Russian Food & Cooking”, by Elena Makhonko.
My strategy for this was not particularly well thought out, because initially, I wanted the recipes to be super random. I was going to blindly open up to random pages without looking and select a recipe without prejudice. Nope. Bad idea. Some of these cookbooks, Russian cooking in particular, might have ingredients in the recipe that I can’t get in Hawaii, so instead, I selected recipes that were dishes I haven’t made before but had obtainable ingredients. It makes more sense anyway, because in trying to share them with the world, I realize that not everyone wants to make complicated dishes with odd stuff they’ve never heard of.
My first recipe, Little Beef Dumplings (or Peljmeni) is definitely a keeper! These dumplings are very traditional fare in Russia and throughout Eastern Europe, and are reminiscent of a gyoza, or potsticker. The recipe calls for 1/2 ground pork and 1/2 ground beef, but you could easily use all pork or all beef and they would still taste great. These are unbelievably simple and the ingredient list is uncomplicated, but be warned, they are very time consuming. The recipe makes 80-100 little dumplings, so you may want to enlist some help and set-up an assembly line to do the job. My batch was done by myself, and I only made 70 dumplings because I was pressed for time. I wish that I would have taken the time to roll them a little thinner, and instead, should have created 80-90 dumplings. I can now see why these should be rolled as thin as possible before putting the filling in… if you don’t, the dumpling is too thick and the meat inside will take longer to cook.
My other advice is to follow the ‘Cook’s Tip’ and put melted butter with a little bit of red wine vinegar to drizzle over the dumplings for serving. Sooooo… soooo… good. I think next time I’ll try using some Teriyaki seasoned ground beef and pork for the filling, and sprinkle chopped green onion and a drizzle of soy sauce on top for garnish. I’m happy to report, that this is the first recipe out of the three that I have picked for preparing and it has easily passed the taste test. I would make this again and again.
*A few things about the book itself:
It’s beautiful. Not only pleasing to look at, but the pictures really do a great job at drawing you in to the ‘story’ of the food. Most of the recipes have multiple photos to show you the more complicated steps in the cooking process. This is important because some of the recipes are labor intensive and it saves you time to be able to see what you are supposed to be doing along the way without the guesswork. For those of us who don’t know how to make a perfect Russian dumpling (or peljmeni) we NEED all the visuals we can get.
Secondly, the cookbook has an authentic feel, and that alone scores major bonus points from me. I feel like this is true home-style cooking from a Russian household and not some watered-down American version of what we expect. Russia is a gigantic country with so many varied cultures and regions, that it is hardly the bland, cold weather cuisine I had expected. Shame on me for assuming.
Should you feel the need to make delicious dumplings from Russia, you can find the full recipe in this cookbook, which is available on Amazon.