Interested in Russian cuisine? These are the 8 ingredients to get your head around25th Apr 19 | Lifestyle
Ella Walker speaks to Russian cookbook author Alissa Timoshkina about the key items to stock up on.
Alissa Timoshkina’s debut cookbook, Salt & Time, puts a spotlight on Russian cuisine, but if you have no idea where to start with the flavours and ingredients of Siberian food, we don’t blame you.
These are the key culinary building blocks, according to Timoshkina…
“It’s almost a cliché that eastern European food is all about dill. It’s such an amazing fresh flavour, the scent always reminds me of summers at home. It’s always dill and salmon, but in Russia you put dill in so many vegetarian dishes, into cold summer soups, but also warm fish soup. The only place you don’t put dill is in a dessert – other than that, go for it.”
“You need a bit of tanginess and sourness – that comes from krauts and kraut brine. In soups you’ll find lots of fermented stuff like krauts, fermented mushrooms. It gives it almost a hot and sour feel like Chinese soups, obviously very different, but that same feel of a warm stew that has a deep tanginess that hits you at the back of your jaw – I love that.”
3. Rye bread
“Russians love bread – and a meal with bread is not a meal.”
4. Sour cream
“You can’t live without sour cream, so many recipes have sour cream – but even yoghurt or crème fraîche is a good equivalent. There’s different versions of sour cream and levels of fattiness; the creaminess varies. I love using the more tangy sharp ones for desserts, in the batter of a cake or as a side instead of cream, and use creamy fatty ones for soups. It’s very traditional to just use a dollop of sour cream in a soup, once you’ve cooked and served it.”
“[The use of mayonnaise is] really fascinating. My mum has a notebook with recipes from my great-grandma, and the baking recipes have mayonnaise in them – cookies and cake with mayonnaise, I was like, ‘This is crazy’. The reason for that is the Soviet regime – it was the cheapest, fastest, most produced ingredient. So there were a lot of dishes before the revolution, that were reintroduced to the Soviet regime, but simplified, because obviously you had to feed a huge amount of people and be very cheap. Margarine and mayo were the main substitutes for butter and cream.”
“Beetroot is a big flavour. I absolutely love beetroot. A really fresh well-cooked beetroot – the flavour is so rich, there’s sweetness then bitterness and earthiness, there’s so many layers to it.”
7. Salt and pepper
“It’s interesting that in terms of spices, there’s very little. If you look at Middle Eastern cuisine, the amount of spices you need to cook one dish is crazy – that’s what makes it so amazing – but with Russian food, it’s pretty much salt and pepper, then maybe fennel and coriander seeds. I love the lack of spices because it lets the flavour of ingredient come through a lot more.”
“Vodka is a good thing. It’s interesting in Russia, you would not cook with vodka, you just drink it. I don’t drink it often, it’s quite intense. What I do love about vodka, is that it’s a ceremony. Here [in Britain] you can have vodka on the rocks at the bar, which I don’t get at all, I don’t think vodka has a good flavour to enjoy on its own, normally it just burns.
“But it’s a palate cleanser essentially. It really awakens all your receptors, and the food you eat after the shot is BAM! There’s a whole favour explosion, so that’s how vodka is traditionally drunk – at the table. And it’s very specific; done right, a whole meal with vodka is amazing.
“Like the dish stroganina: Raw fish, frozen, that you shave slices off, you have this burning vodka shot and then the ice-cold fish that melts in your mouth and then a pickle. It’s amazing, there’s so much going on in your mouth, and obviously you’re a bit dizzy from the vodka.”
Salt & Time by Alissa Timoshkina is published by Mitchell Beazley, priced £25. Photography by Lizzie Mayson. Available now.
© Press Association 2019