HI FROM ESTONIA! I got here almost a week ago and have been subsisting on: “Mexican” wraps from a very small store on the main square where they sort of speak English but which is also unfortunately frequented by loud American teenagers; cheese and Estonian black bread; Nutella, spread with a steak knife because my apartment came with all utensils except butter knives; frozen vareniki and smetana (well, I cooked the vareniki first and the smetana was not frozen); instant coffee (I will totally do a taste test sometime); and овсяная каша с малинами. I bought that last one over cheaper options because the main label was in Russian and I was homesick. Or something. In a land where the main labels are in Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian, Polish, Finnish, German, and Spanish (in more or less that order), anything Russian is friendly and comforting.
So now it’s a late Sunday afternoon, exactly cooking time according to my habits the last time I regularly updated this blog, and I have an Estonian cold or maybe allergies, and I finally finished washing the pots and pans that came with the apartment and the dishes I bought for fifty cents each from a departing graduate student, and I’m going to cook something.
I’m going to cook something my Russian host mother made for me at the beginning of the summer. Whenever she made something I really liked and I asked what it was, she would say, I don’t know! I just made it up. I haven’t even tried it yet. I don’t know if it will come out. And it always did; but I never got her to teach me how to cook. So I’m making it up, channeling my inner Russian babushka (who may or may not exist), and we’ll see. I thought during this summer that I wanted to cook more without recipes, just inventing with whatever vegetables I wanted to eat, so we’ll see how it goes.
This is going to be a vegetable soup/stew/mixture/thing of cabbage, beets (I like beets now!), potatoes, onions, and carrots, since that’s more or less what was in the one she made, as far as I remember; and I have some vegetable broth things (identical to the ones I bought in Glasgow except in Polish … so actually I don’t really know what they are); and I have salt and pepper, and that’s all. Oh, and some bread, and some cheese that’s in Estonian. It’s called maasdam. I would Google Translate it, but that’s not fun.
I actually think this is like the first or second time I’ve ever invented a recipe. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just sitting at the kitchen counter stalling. OK. Plan. I don’t feel like using multiple cooking methods so I’m gonna chop the beets and potatoes first and start them cooking, since they’ll take the longest, and then do some other stuff.
I love chopping beets. It looks like animal heart. This is my Russian heart on a cutting board.
Also, my vegetable peeler is pretty banging, but never buy a two-euro knife. I hold knives the fancy way because I am a douche, and now I have a knife blister. Actually now it’s just a straight-up cut. Time to chop eight billion potatoes, yay.
The potato-to-beet ratio is very off (the potatoes were tiny and the beets were huge and I just bought some number of each and didn’t really think about it) but oh well. I’m going to start off with some salted water in the skillet and go from there.
I have beets, potatoes, and carrots in the skillet now (the stovetop is ceramic and I have no idea how to use it yet), and the bottom appears to be burning, which is delightful, obviously. OH my God, I just noticed that my arms are covered with beet-juice drops and it looks like I have some horrible rash or have been bitten by tons of insects (паук face anyone?). Also my muscles look awesome. Anyway. The vegetables are boiling and for some reason they already smell good. I think this summer I learned that I actually like vegetables. Not just drowned in tomato sauce and cheese, but by themselves. My host mother would make this salad with lettuce, tomatoes from the dacha, sweet peppers, cucumber, parsley, and dill, just dressed with salt and sunflower oil, and it was my favorite thing in the world. I’m going to try to make it but it won’t taste as good as it did in her kitchen. We would watch a Russian detective miniseries together and giggle at the condom commercials, and then we’d drink tea and eat chocolate for a long time.
Oh dear. I want to start poking the vegetables to see how they’re cooking but all the potatoes turned the same color as the beets so I can’t tell what’s what. Beets are a beautiful disease.
Onions in. There’s no room in the skillet for cabbage but I’m going to add some anyway. Also this cooked way more quickly than I expected and it’s not dinnertime yet. I’m writing this post in Word because I’m trying to conserve Internet (life tip: if you set up a mobile hotspot with your phone because your apartment doesn’t have Internet yet, and then you stream that really really really sad episode of Sherlock that will make you cry for a really long time, you will use about 5 gigs of data and then you will feel bad about yourself and also you’ll have to go to the store and buy more Internet and it will be embarrassing) and now I can see how many words I’m writing and wow, guys, I can go on and on forever.
One of those ugly intermediate steps that the fancy food blogs never show you.
I’m just going to turn the heat down and hope the cabbage will cook down until it can be stirred. I have added “giant pot” to my shopping list. Woah, I just heard something on the Splendid Table about pairing cheese and beer. Tartu friends, this is what we are going to do every night in the dead of winter, when we are depressed.
The cabbage isn’t cooking. I just freaked out and thought maybe I bought iceberg lettuce instead. But I feel like I would know. Right? Maybe I should learn some Estonian. I have Googled “difference between cabbage and iceberg lettuce” and learned that if I can’t tell the difference, I should stay out of the kitchen. I just forgot that I was cooking and then went back to the stove and everything was burnt to the bottom of the pan. Ugh. I added some sunflower oil (that and rapeseed oil seem to be the main oils here – and my Russian host mother used sunflower, not olive, which is mostly why I bought sunflower; so we’ll see how it goes this year) and stirred and salted and peppered and tasted. It’s too sweet, but it’ll be fine. It’s not anything like what she made, of course. I think I’ll declare it done soon.
No recipe because there is no recipe. I’m not really sure you should make this, either. But you can if you want. And if not, hi from Estonia. (I keep wanting to update you all about random other Estonia things, like the many fantastic improvements I have made to the 1980s-era bathroom since I moved in. Does anyone want to see a picture? It’s beautiful. No, it’s not. It’s less disgusting than it used to be.) (Also I bought an excellent duvet cover, but my room has pink wallpaper so all my art looks stupid.) (OK, bye for real.)
A few notes:
-Put the beets in before everything else, with a lot of heavily salted water (well, maybe check on how to cook beets first. I’m not going to); they cook more slowly than the potatoes (which were sort of like very small Yukon Golds, I guess).
-The potatoes cooked more quickly than expected; the carrots, less quickly.
-If you use the ribs in the cabbage, remember that they take a long time to cook – put them in earlier. Maybe the order should be: beets, carrots, cabbage ribs, potatoes, cabbage.
-I always say this, but SALT LIKE TWICE AS MUCH AS YOU THINK IS HEALTHY. Unless you already know how to season correctly. If you are me, add a lot more salt than you think you should.
-It’s not super filling. You will want to eat a lot of it at once.
Overall this was oddly satisfying, better than I expected (although I can’t tell if I’m still hungry). The bread and cheese were good. The cheese is Swiss, I think, but better. So remember that the next time you’re in Estonia.