To continue our discussion on USSR cuisine, let’s begin today with the Baltic Republics.
First, they were told “Goodbye Lenin and goodbye Communism.” Sorry, for me it‘s not just the collapse of the biggest state in the world. We all know the biggest doesn’t mean the best.
However, the food was great.
6. THE LITHUANIAN ZEPPELIN
I start with a question: What do you know about the Zeppelin?
Most of you will think I mean the rock band Led Zeppelin. Others will recall the Hindenburg Disaster. Today I wish to speak of another zeppelin. A zeppelin that has nothing to do with music or flight, but with meat. The Lithuanian Zeppelin with meat far outdoes the voice of Robert Plant. (Do I need to go over the names of the guys in the band?) To prepare Lithuanian Zeppelins you don’t need metal, fabrics, aluminum, scientists, powerful computers, or Jimmy Page. To make 20 Zeppelins all you need are 4 kg of potatoes and 2 medium onions to form the potato mixture, and 800 grams of minced meat (preferably pork) and an egg for the stuffing. Plus black pepper and salt to taste. Cook the potatoes and mash them. Add the meat to the potato dough. You should then shape your Zeppelins and put them in the oven. Tips: avoid recreating the fate of the Hindenburg and don’t forget to take out the great Lithuanian vodka Stumbras. Say, in Lithuanian, Sveikatą.
7. PICKLED MUSHROOM SOUP
It is autumn now in Canada. Even if you bought all the paints at Omer Desserres and mixed them together you wouldn’t come up with all the colours of a Canadian autumn. “Indian Summer,” as they call it here. My poor English can’t begin to do justice to all its beauty in the forests surrounding Montreal. For me, though, autumn’s best gift is mushrooms. Wild mushrooms aren’t so popular in Canada. They are collected for other reasons, like psychedelic trips.
I was arrested once by the police. The officer thought I was gathering all those lovely mushrooms for a trip to Lucy in the sky with diamonds. I told him I just wanted to eat them. “You can buy all the mushrooms you want in the store,” he said. “They’re not expensive.” What was I to say?
“You need to be born in Russia to know,” I said.
“Ah, you’re from Russia?” he asked. “OK then, go ahead.” He smiled and with a twist of his hand at his temple he turned and left me alone.
One couldn’t live in the Soviet Union without mushrooms any more than one could get by without vodka. Today Putin is trying to come up with a national rallying point. I’ll give you a hand, Mr. Huylo. Salted, pickled, dried, fresh – just let there be mushrooms and cold vodka and there you have your rallying cry for the USSR.
Latvia’s most delicious dish is pickled mushroom soup with ham. To make this soup this is what you need:
200 grams of ham
300 grams of salted mushrooms.
One medium onion
2 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon of tomato paste
3 medium potatoes, peeled
Salt, black pepper and 2 bay leaves
3 sprigs of green celery
100 grams of sour cream
Cut the ham into thin cubes. Wash and cut the mushrooms into thin slices. Finely chop the onions. Chop potatoes into cubes. Cook for an hour and have a great meal.
But don’t forget to knock back a glass of good Latvian vodka. Say “Uz veselību!” (Cheers!)
Does Siberia mean anything to you? It’s freezing; I’m sure you all know that. However, Siberia is also full of wildlife, taiga; its rivers are full of fish; a minimum of civilization with a maximum of natural resources. It’s hard to sing in the bitter cold. “Pelemenyi” is a Siberian song. “Siberian pelmenyi,” or meat dumplings, if you please. I have eaten all kinds of pelmenyi. Ukrainian varenyky. Polish pierogi. Mongolian buuz. Chinese jiaozi. Kazakh manti. Uzbek chuchvara. Korean mandu. Japanese gyoza. But all this is rot compared to Siberian pelmenyi. Oriental “pelmenyi” is as different from the northern variety as earth is from heaven. You can cook Oriental dumplings any time – spring, summer, autumn – but Siberian dumplings are good only in the winter. The stuffing for Siberian pelmenyi may be bear, deer, hare, partridge, fish – as long as it’s winter time. You can cook pelmenyi and refrigerate. Modern refrigerators can be as cold as Siberia. But hear my advice:
“You must go to Siberia if you want to eat the real thing.”
Pelmenyi goes with Siberian vodka (infused with pine cones). This is a must. And you should know it’s easy to arrive in Siberia but not so easy to get out. I had a strange dream last night. I was one of a million people who were being buried in the Siberian permafrost. Well, as the Russians say, “Sibirskogo zdorovia.”
“Do you know what Holdnoe is?” I asked the restaurant owner.
In lieu of a verbal answer, he shook his head. I tried to explain but soon realized the futility. So I will tell you.
Mystical Russian holodnoe is: head, hooves, tails. That’s it. All this you have to handle by fire.
It is desirable to blowtorch it on a cold day; otherwise, it’s not going to freeze properly afterward. You can do it by night but there is a possibility your neighbours will steal it.
You can eat holodnoe at any time, in any company. Holodnoe is ideal with cold vodka. Never ever drink Italian wine or French cognac with it.
Also, never turn it into an intellectual debate. Eating holodnoe goes better with chatter about sports. Holodnoe looks like a hockey rink or a battlefield. Russian hockey players are top in the world. The battle on the ice was fought between the Republic of Novgorod led by Prince Alexander Nevsky and the crusader army led by the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Knights, on April 5th, 1247. The history of war is a fine topic too with holodnoe; just, remember, no politics.
10. SALAD OLIVIER
In the USSR there was little entertainment. The proletariat had to work to build a bright new future. In fact, the Soviet proletariat didn’t work; it drank cheap wine and beat the wives. That was the lifestyle of the majority of Soviet peoples. This was the developed Socialist society (I am not eating holdnoe right now, so I can say all this). In a civilized society it’s known as “hooliganism.” However, the Soviet people did enjoy a few holidays. There was the Day of Revolution, the 7th of November. There was May Day – a New Year’s celebration. The festive table of the Soviet depended on his salary. Soviet officials weren’t the only ones who got the bird’s milk. The middle class put sausages on its holiday table. The sausage for the middle class of Soviet society was a feast of conspicuous consumption. The poor Soviet people had pickles, boiled potatoes and blackstrap. This was known as “ink.”
I’m telling you drinking ink was safer than drinking Soviet portvein. But the cream of Soviet society was a glorious salad called Olivier. I never go without this salad on any of my Canadian holidays. Salad Olivier is as tasty as it is easy to make. You just have to take everything you’ve got in the fridge, chop it finely and drown it in mayonnaise. For more scrupulous meals I advise a Google search.
Dear readers, thank you for your attention. Above all, my final point: to master USSR cuisine you need a little knowledge and lots of imagination.