Cooking School — Russian

By / Food / June 7th, 2010 / 2

Here’s one we don’t hear about too often. Russian cuisine. It doesn’t quite have the cachet of Mediterranean, Asian or Jamaican cuisines, but there’s really no reason why it shouldn’t. Hearty and delicious, Russians make the most of the produce that grows in a climate where summers are short and winters long. With access to fish, game, poultry, vegetables, fruit and honey, Russians have had the means to invent some truly delicious recipes.

What I find particularly interesting about Russian food is the way that it has stayed so true to the dishes that were adopted first in the 16th century from Germany, then those that came from France in the 19th century. I would have thought that after 74 years of Communist rule more melding would have happened among the countries that once comprised the Soviet Union. Perhaps the very fact that they were so closely tied politically inspired each nation’s peoples to be more protective of their own traditions.

Here’s a novel approach to cabbage rolls that might seem, at first, to be very filling fare (and no doubt it is). Yet, it’s a flavourful main course to serve on a spring evening when temperatures are still cool.

Russian Cabbage Rolls

Serves 6

1/2 cup pearl barley

1 head cabbage

1 lb. boned veal round

All-purpose flour

2 Tbsp butter

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and slivered

1/4 cup sour cream (or more as needed)

2/3 cup chicken broth

2/3 cup slivered kosher-style dill pickles

Salt

Pepper

Smetana sauce (recipe below)

1 lb loaf whole wheat bread dough

1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 Tbsp water

Smetana Sauce

2 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1-1/2 cups chicken broth

1 Tbsp tomato paste

6 Tbsp sour cream

Pepper

In a small pan set over medium-high heat, stir in butter and flour until mixture is smooth and bubbling. Whisk in chicken broth and tomato paste; stir until sauce boils. Remove from heat; stir in sour cream. Add pepper to taste. Use hot.

Assembly

1. Rinse barley and combine in a large pot with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until barley is tender to the bite, about 30 minutes. Drain; set aside.

2. In a large pot, bring 4 litres water to a boil over high heat. Core cabbage and, with a spoon, submerge head in water for about 20 seconds. Lift out cabbage; when cool to touch, gently pull off softened outer leaves. Repeat until you have 12 to 14 large leaves. Return leaves to the boiling water and cook until pliable, 2 to 4 minutes; drain well. Cut thick section of he stem from the back of each leaf.

3. Cut meat across the grain into 1/4 inch wide strips. Coat strips with flour; shake off excess. Put butter in a large frying pan set over medium-high heat. When hot, add half of the meat at a time and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Brown remaining veal, adding more butter as necessary.

4. In a pan, cook bell pepper until limp, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and mix in 1/4 cup sour cream, broth, pickles, barley, meat and juices, salt and pepper to taste. Divide into portions to match the number of leaves. Mound 1 portion in the centre of each leaf cup. Fold sides over filling, then roll to enclose. Place rolls, seam down, in a shallow casserole. If made ahead, cover and chill up to one day.

5. Pour hot smetana sauce over cabbage rolls. On a lightly floured board, roll dough slightly larger than casserole top. Lay dough over rolls; fold excess dough under and press against the inside rim of the casserole. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until puffy, about 15 minutes. Brush egg mixture over dough. Bake in a 350°F oven until top is browned, about 40 minutes. To serve, break through bread with a spoon; scoop out rolls and sauce to serve with the bread. Offer sour cream to add to taste.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rosemary Mantini has always loved words. When she isn't working as the Associate Editor at Tidings Magazine, she's helping others achieve their writing dreams, and sometimes she even relaxes with a good book and a glass of wine.

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