Belarusian cuisine is influenced primarily by climate; the growing season is relatively short and wheat does not grow well. Root vegetables such as potatoes, turnips, and carrots are relatively common, and meat is relatively scarce (probably due in part to the poverty of the country). Culinary influences include Russia and Jewish immigrants from Germany. Salt and onions are the primary seasoning agents; I was afraid the meal would be bland. I settled on babka, a meat and potato bake, and pskovsky, a warm vegetable salad. They weren't that difficult to make and were ready around the same time. All together, it took about an hour and a half to make, although I probably could have done it faster with better time management skills (and better potato-grating skills!). I did take some liberties. The babka recipe only called for "meat," so when I found veal at Shoppers I decided to go for the tenderness (sorry, Molly), and doubled the amount. I'm pretty sure it's the only thing that saved the dish. I also cut the number of potatoes in half in both recipes, partially because I got really tired of grating potatoes. Finally, instead of switching over to a casserole dish to bake the babka, I just used my cast iron skillet, in which I'd fried the meat and onions. I think it was a good decision.
When everything was ready, I really thought I was going to have to order pizza or something. It all looked incredibly bland (my first bite supported this) despite a ridiculous amount of salt. The potatoes on top of the meat were gray and dismal-looking, and barely cooked. I seriously wished I'd put cheese on it. But the meat and onion mixture was tasty and flavorful and the potatoes were edible with yet more salt (I put the leftovers back in the oven for ~15 minutes at 425 with a nice topping of shredded sharp cheddar cheese because I hate throwing out food. I expect them to be pretty good). I forgot the sour cream, but am not sure it would have helped. The vegetables were pretty bland. Next time I'd probably salt the water they simmered in, but the topping was good. I might make it again and just eat it on peas or pasta or something. I'd also add some garlic.
Has anyone ever been to Belarus? Is this a good representation of the cuisine? I was wishing I'd made the mushroom croquettes with bacon I'd found a recipe for, but didn't really have time or energy for more than two dishes. On a related note, I'm going to have to do Moldova and Ukraine sometime; does anyone have suggestions? Chicken Kiev is actually Russian, I think.
Babka (Meat and Potato Bake)
200g meat, finely chopped
1 large onion
salt, to taste
Add a little oil to a pan and use to fry the meat until well browned but not cooked through (about 12 minutes). Add the onion then season with salt. Continue frying for about 12 more minutes, or until the onion is golden brown.
Grate the potatoes then place in a clean tea towel and wring out the excess moisture. Transfer to a bowl and beat in the milk and egg. Season with salt to taste. Grease an oven-proof casserole dish with vegetable oil then spoon the meat and onion mix into the base then pour the potato mix over the top.
Transfer to an oven pre-heated to 350 and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top is a nice golden brown in color. Serve hot with sour cream.
|Veal and onions is a delicious combination.|
|Not sure why the grated potatoes turned this unappetizing brown color. Side note: wring out with paper towels. It stained my dish towel.|
|This appetizing gray color is kind of how I think of most of the former Soviet Union.|
Pskovsky (Warm Vegetable Salad)
5 tbsp frozen peas
For the Sauce:
5 tbsp vegetable stock
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp flour
1 onion, finely diced
1 celery stick, finely diced
3 tbsp button mushrooms, diced (I used baby bellas)
sea salt, to taste
Wash the vegetables, peel and dice. Add each vegetable (except the peas) to a separate pan, cover with a little water and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until tender (add the peas to one pot for the last 5 minutes of cooking). Drain the vegetables (keep the stock) then combine the vegetables.
Meanwhile add about 2 tbsp oil to a pan. Add the mushrooms and fry for 2 minutes then scatter the flour over the top, mix to combine and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. While still stirring carefully add 5 tbsp of the reserved vegetable broth, stirring quickly to ensure there are no lumps.
Add the onion and celery and season to taste. Simmer very gently for 15 minutes.
Serve the vegetables in a bowl, covered with the hot sauce.