russian cuisine: 3 posts

Belgian Strawberry Capital and Russian Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam

My ideal weekend would be spent reading or watching my favorite movies, but since we moved to Belgium my routine has been completely upended. Our apartment is so tiny that even the most minimalist notions of privacy are compromised–this is further compounded by the transparent bathroom door. To escape our weird living situation we’re taking lots of weekend trips. Belgium is a small country, but its size belies its impressive diversity. The travel distances are ridiculously short, especially by American standards, and if you are here as a tourist, I highly recommend renting a car and seeing the country this way.

A couple of weeks ago we were once again on the road going south. Belgium is divided into two regions; the Dutch-speaking Flanders spread out to the north, and the French-speaking Wallonia to the south. The line that bisects the country at Brussels may be imaginary, but it’s easy enough to get your bearings. Once the street signs start appearing shorter you’ll know that you’re in French-speaking Wallonia. Dutch, like German, has a tendency to fuse several words together in a string that looks unpronounceable to me.

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Tasting Spring : Green Borscht (Ukrainian Sorrel Soup)

Spring smells like the musky sweetness of wet soil, the green tartness of young maple leaves, the bitterness of apricot blossoms and the mineral sharpness of rain on my lips. But spring also has a likewise exhilarating taste—the delicate sweetness of sugar snap peas, the metallic pungency of ramps, the milky perfume of strawberries and the floral tartness of rhubarb.  Tart and green is the dominant flavor of spring, and when I see the long blades of sorrel at the market stalls, I know that spring is here at last. I can’t wait to pop a leaf in my mouth and taste its mouth puckering, lemony acidity.

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Buckwheat and Mushroom Pilaf Recipe : Toasty, Savory Notes

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As I was enjoying the toasty sandalwood of Serge Lutens Jeux de Peau recently, it reminded me of the burnt, caramelized notes we enjoy in food such as coffee, freshly baked bread, chocolate and pralines. These flavors oscillate between languid sweetness and smoky bitterness, yet all facets add up to an irresistible mélange. In food, as in fragrance, the judicious use of charred notes can convey a savory, mouthwatering sensation. One of my favorite ways to experience this is a simple buckwheat pilaf. Accented with the dark, piney notes of mushrooms and sweet caramelized onions, this traditional Russian dish is very satisfying. In the spring, it takes well to morels and white field mushrooms, while in the winter, it can be made with smoky and savory dried porcini.

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