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Russian, Eastern European and international cuisine brought to you by a mother and a daughter

Churchkhela - A Sweet From The Caucasus

Georgian Churchkhela

Today I’m going to tell you about a  Georgian sweet that a relative of mine recently brought us from the Caucasus. Despite its name, it has nothing to do with the church; it is a sausage-shaped sweet that (to my mind) looks a little bit gross yet tastes good.

Churchkhela is made by dipping strings of nuts or dried fruits into thickened grape juice with addition of flour; then Churchkhelas are dried in the sun or in a dry ventilated place. The grape juice that coats the filling is rubbery and very dense; it has a mildly sweet flavour and a subtle fruity smell.

This sweet is also made in Armenia, I’ve eaten it in the Crimea, and I’ve heard that they have an analogous sweet in Turkey. The variety I’ve had in the Crimea had a thinner coating of juice and was coloured into bright yellow, red, or purple. The Churchkhela I got from Georgia looks more natural, and the thickened juice is more tender. This variety has walnuts inside: Read the rest of this entry »

Banana Chocolate Swirl Muffins

Banana Chocolate Swirl Muffins

I came up with the idea of these muffins when I wanted to bake something as a little “Thank you” gift for a friend of ours who is helping us with choosing and buying a car. Of course the idea of banana chocolate swirls is not new, but I didn’t really follow any recipe except for using my Chocolate Marmalade Candy Muffin recipe as a reference for making chocolate batter. I generously complemented the banana batter with vanilla in order to enhance the contrast between the moist, sweet banana swirls and the dark, rich and dense chocolate swirls. The batter was very quick and easy to make, although of course adding mashed banana and melting the margarine involves some extra bowls. I haven’t actually tried to just cream margarine instead of melting it - I suppose the batter would be  plastic enough with creamed margarine, so if you don’t want to wash an extra saucepan, try using creamed margarine at room temperature.

I was very content with the result and was happy to give these muffins away as a gift. I also gave a couple of them to my parents and left two for me and Stano to sample. I am trying to follow a healthier diet these days - five months of breastfeeding are making themselves felt and my skin and hair are starting to suffer (although I’m still getting off lightly I believe!).  One of my latest hits is an easy salad made with arugula, baby spinach, canned cannellini beans, walnuts, and blue cheese (yes, blue cheese again!). I’ve also bought a pack of organic wheat, so soon I’ll be able to jazz up my salads with wheat sprouts.

Banana Chocolate Swirl Muffin

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Baked Millet Bars

Baked Millet Bars served with sour cream

I think I should experiment more with traditional Russian/Eastern European ingredients, trying to create my own, new recipes inspired by these foods. Millet is one of the foods that are very characteristic of old Russian cuisine. You would hardly see any modern recipes using millet, but it’s still widely available in local supermarkets even here in Latvia. A bowl of millet flakes boiled in sweetened milk is a great alternative to oatmeal for breakfast. But even though millet flakes are much faster to make, I still prefer millet grains. The warming and healthful millet meal is one of my favourite comfort foods. Millet is rich in vitamins В1, В2, В5, PP, and protein, and it’s gluten-free. It’s also very versatile, as it can be made both in sweet or savoury variations, or milled into flour and then used for baking flatbreads, for example.

One of the traditional ways to cook sweet millet in Russian cuisine is to cook it in boiling milk with pumpkin and then let it sit in the oven for some 15 minutes. Another option is to add prunes or raisins. Millet is normally cooked untoasted. As a savoury dish, millet can be cooked with lard and, optionally, fried onions, potatoes, green herbs, etc. This thick soup called Kulesh, served as the main course, belongs to traditional cuisines of Ukraine and Southern Russia.

I have never tried making Kulesh myself - I think I would have to play with the traditional recipes a little bit before this dish could be adapted to modern taste - anyway, this time I just wanted to make something new and unconventional. And I thought of baked millet bars on a shortbread crumb base. This was a total improvisation - I added a pinch of this and a dash of that - which eventually worked out pretty good. I mixed the millet meal with beaten egg to make it fluffier and added a layer of pear apricot jam between the shortbread and the millet. This jam layer turned out to be the most problematic part for two reasons: 1) the jam didn’t want to spread over the crumbs, 2) its flavour didn’t really come through in ready millet bars. So, if you ever decide to try this recipe, feel free to experiment with fruit/jam in it and suggest your ideas. I felt like millet bars without any fruitiness in them would be too chewy and plain. Maybe I should have incorporated bits of dried fruit in them. This recipe is totally open for improvements, I am just posting my Beta version - this is just a humble blog of mine, after all.

Oh, and a few words on the bars: they were very filling and there were a lot of them. I believe it would be wise to reduce all ingredients twice unless you have an Italian family. The bars should be eaten warm, best served with sour cream or creme fraiche. They have a rustic look and a nice, expressed texture formed by tender, plump millet grains. The shortbread base adds a  more sophisticated and finished look to these simple, homely baked bars. Read the rest of this entry »

Green Bean Avocado Arugula Salad

Green Bean Avocado Arugula Salad

I lied to you.

I am not making anything Eastern European this time. I have an excuse: to make something Eastern European, we always join with my Mom. She’s been planning to come over today, but it’s -18C/-0.4F outside and we had to cancel our cooking session. I could not believe it was so cold outside until I read about it in all news. Central heating is set to its fullest and we have blooming flowers all over the apartment, which sometimes makes Stano start to rummage in the wardrobe in search of  his spring jacket because he thinks it’s warm outside :)

So, I’d like to post my recipe for a salad I made yesterday for my friends. I wanted something filling (that’s why I chose green beans and avocado) yet refreshing (the crisp and watery Chinese pear) and very green (arugula, my favourite salad plant!) and flavourful (black olives and blue cheese). Stano said he could not stay in the same room with blue cheese and ostentatiously lit an aromatic candle in the living room. What’s so wrong with blue cheese?! I love it in salad dressings. And I loved the Chinese pear. Of course I drizzled both the avocado and the pear with lemon juice, but anyway the pear kept very well without darkening at all. I also cut the avocado in larger slices, so it was my first avocado salad that didn’t come out mushy. Some of the ingredients can be made ahead: I cooked the beans the day before and sliced olives and crumbled cheese in the morning, so half an hour before the guests arrived, all I had to do was to slice the pear and avocados and assemble the salad.

P.S. Happy Valentine’s! My Valentine’s gift for Stano will be that I won’t take the remaining blue cheese out of the fridge today :)

Green Bean Avocado Arugula Salad

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Peanut Butter Fudge And Happy Birthday To Me!

You know what? I love presents. I received so many presents for my birthday on Sunday and I’m so happy. And astonished. I’m astonished to be 27. It seems like this is happening to someone else. I just can’t be 27. Ahh!!!

So, I got some beautiful clothes that match each other…

Jeans and tops

…and some new spring flowers in pots…

Pink Hyacinth

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RussianSeason.net is a food blog run by two Russian-speaking women - a mother (Natalia) and a daughter (Alina) - living in Latvia. Natalia is a professional artist and Alina is the co-owner of a web directory of Russian-speaking businesses in Europe. We both cook and Alina writes posts and takes photos.
In our blog you'll find a range of (mostly tweaked&adapted) recipes from Russia, Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and former USSR. But we can't restrain ourselves from experimenting with other cuisines too :)
Stano is the guy behind the Slovak version of this blog. He is currently living and working in Latvia and is also known as the Man Who Makes Alina Eat A Lot Of Cakes, because he hardly ever eats cakes or pies she bakes. He doesn't have a sweet tooth, you see. Stano also provides us with traditional Slovak recipes - such as Halušky that he's been promising to make for 7 months now :) Just be patient - we're sure he will eventually do it!
Ivanka is the largest cross-cultural project Alina and Stano have been ever involved in:) We hope she will be a foodie too when she grows up!
Our email address is: russianseason@gmail.com

Priyatnovo appetita! (Bon appetit!)

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