Plov with Young Chicken: The Soviet Experiment, Part 1

Here commences the Great Soviet Experiment (or perhaps, that is, the second Great Soviet Experiment). I will be cooking something from each former republic, in order, because I am back in America and have nothing to do and miss the Soviet Union (historically and geographically).1 (That is, I will do this one and then probably forget about the whole thing.) I’m starting with Azerbaijan because it comes first in the Russian alphabet, and I’m doing this from a Russian cookbook.

It’s called Cuisines of the Caucasus and Central Asia, by William (or Vil’yam) Pokhlyobkin (Вильям Похлёбкин)—he’s also done cookbooks on the Slavic countries and the entire Soviet Union, which I thought was what I bought, but I guess it was too heavy so I got this one instead. It was a while ago in Bishkek, I don’t remember anything. (Important note about Pokhlyobkin, whose name is impossible to spell in English: it seems like he’s an expert on Russian cuisine, and just sort of decided to branch out into Central Asian and other former Soviet, so we should maybe not trust him too heavily. But it is nice to use the Russian-language cookbooks that one has bought. Also, apparently he once got into trouble for writing a book about tea.)

Anyway. For Azerbaijan, we are doing a chicken plov (#plov), because most of the other dishes were much meatier (mostly lamb), and no. Plov is basically a dish of rice and meat from Uzbekistan/Turkey/many other places that they eat all over the former Soviet Union because, at least in Russia, they are obsessed with the food of their culinarily better neighbors/take-over-ees. There are literally entire books about plov, which is something I would like to own, so I will not go into more detail on it here. It is very complicated.

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Spanish tortilla, aka food without cheese

Because I had a grotesque and horrible cold last week (well, I don’t know when I’m going to post this… so let’s just say sometime in the recent past), I needed a dinner recipe for the week that involved no cheese. This was very tragic for me. My first thought was something Asian, but ultimately I chose a Spanish tortilla, and then went to Smitten Kitchen’s recipe. (I was sick and in no mood for doing any further research.)

I first spent ninety-seven years slicing three enormous Yukon Gold potatoes (or U.K. Gold, if you are my supermarket and speak imperfect English) and one small onion. I can thereby attest that you should not make this on a weeknight unless you have a mandoline, which I do not. I am, however, an exemplary slicer. But it still took forever.

I cooked the potatoes and onion in a terrifying amount of oil

(most of it gets discarded later, though; so I now have a totally solidified Grey Poupon jar of potato-y, onion-y olive oil in my fridge) for about ten minutes; I should have done slightly less, since the pan I was using was far too big and thus most of the potatoes were in direct contact with the heat source. (SK tells us to use a nine-inch skillet, but I only have one skillet and it is enormous; I didn’t want to risk using a frying pan and having an eggsplosion. This seems like the sort of thing that would happen to me.)

I drained the oil using a colander over a bowl, added s&p, and let them cool a bit while I beat my seven eggs (!!!!). I added s&p and then poured in the potato/onion mixture. They mingled for ten minutes while I did my Russian homework. Я учу русский язык.

I added some oil back into the skillet, then added the egg mixture; I cooked for a bit, trying to let the egg run around the sides as she said, but the pan was so oily that the entire tortilla kept moving whenever I tried to do this.

Once the top was mostly solidified (I’m sorry but I don’t even remotely remember how long this was… five, ten minutes??), I spatula-ed it onto a dinner plate. That part wasn’t too hard—it came right out.

Then I turned the skillet over the plate.

Then I went, what in God’s name do I do now.

I think I just sort of stuck my oven mitt–encased hand under the plate, and then, with my other oven mitt–encased hand on the skillet’s bottom, flipped it over. It was actually not as hard as it sounds, but it was anxiety-provoking.

I put the skillet back over the flame, and learned that the bottom of my tortilla was way too dark. I either overcooked it or had it over too high a flame. (I think the latter; I am overall satisfied with the amount of cooking.)

Then it was done shortly thereafter.

I didn’t think it would be that exciting-tasting, but it was REALLY GOOD. It was like… potato omelette… but in cake form… and it was weirdly addictive and I couldn’t stop eating it. That said, I can’t really imagine ever doing this again, but it was a good experience. And yummy.

I ate it with arugula-and-cherry-tomato salad.

 

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen; not adapted, so just look at it on her site.

If it’s meant to be, you will find him.

I met a very wise Hare Krishna on Saturday while my family and I were looking for our Hare Krishna cousin at the Hare Krishna festival in New York. He gave us that nugget of wisdom (see title) instead of telling us where our cousin was. I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. Nevertheless we did find him in the end; I suppose it was meant to be.

We were coming from brunch so we didn’t partake of the free feast, but everything looked amazing and chickpea-ful and saucy and spicy and warmening. (Hare Krishnas are vegetarian; my cousin preached at us a bit. Then I had a cheeseburger for dinner.) So when I was deciding what to cook for the week, the only thing that appealed was something Hare Krishna-esque. I found this AMAZING website with tons and tons and tons of fascinating and beautiful vegetarian Indian recipes, and I might make nothing but recipes from this website for the rest of my life. (I hate summer, and never really want to eat anything; I am not big on salads. So I’m probably just going to cook recipes from hot countries all summer.)

After an extensive deciding interlude, I settled on Bengali red dal curry (you’ll have to scroll down). (It was between that and pear dal, which I had never heard of before and thus was really intrigued by.) I also decided to do a vegetable thing vaguely following the Aviyal #4 recipe.

I ended up using regular brown lentils instead of red—I’m a little out-red-lentiled lately—but, spoiler alert, it came out fantastic and it’s definitely my biggest success with brown lentils to date.

I chopped my jalapeños, first slicing the tops off and carving out the inside using my paring knife to remove the ribs and seeds. I put them in my bigger saucepan with the lentils, water, salt, and turmeric. (It is QUITE salty, which makes it taste really good. I don’t think I’ve ever made a recipe soon that actually specified the amount of salt, and this was a perfect amount for me. But if you’re not me perhaps you’ll want less.) I cooked it for a while while doing other cooking activities—I didn’t time it because the recipe was for red lentils and brown take longer, but it was probably somewhere around thirty to forty minutes.

After cooking

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Hummus pitas

Hello dear blog readers,

I wasn’t going to post about this because it is not a recipe, but then I took two very pretty pictures and wanted to put them on the blog, so here is a wonderful post about hummus pitas.

I spend 90 percent of my time (and 98 percent of my conversations with Jacqui) agonizing about what to make for lunch. The only remotely happy meat my grocery store carries is Applegate, and they are mad expensive, yo, so usually I go for vegetarian lunches instead. It is an ongoing problem.

This week hummus was on sale (I have been meaning to make my own but have finally accepted the fact that my “food processor” is not a real food processor, it’s just a very small thing with a blade that doesn’t really do anything, so I don’t want to put the effort into what will almost certainly fail… despite what is actually kind of the mission of this blog), so I made hummus pitas. (This post sounds like an SEO post. I have said “hummus pita” like 98 times.) (Note: You can tell how bored/procrastinatory I am feeling by how many superfluous links I add to my posts. OR AM I GETTING PAID? No, I am not.)

My lunch assembly line. (Sorry this is so dark. It was morning and there is no light in my kitchen. iPhoto and my brain couldn’t solve this.)

This involves:
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COLD SESAME NOODLES!!!!!!!

Dear Sam Sifton,

You are the best person ever.

Love,

Julie

I just made his cold sesame noodles and then I died because they were SO GOOD and I was SO EXCITED THAT I MADE SOMETHING THAT TASTES GOOD. I AM GOING TO EAT THESE NONSTOP FOREVER.

Anyway, so it is ridiculously hot in New York these days and I decided I should try making cold sesame noodles, even though I’ve never actually eaten them. After extensive research I settled on this recipe, mostly because I love Sam Sifton (ah, the roller coaster of emotions when he was appointed restaurant critic, and then again when he stopped being the restaurant critic).

To go with them, I decided on an Asian-ish vegetable stir-fry with tofu. The stir-fry was made up; I figured it should involve snap peas, because I love snap peas, and baby bok choy. I also bought scallions and then discovered they weren’t in the sesame noodle recipe, so I included them in the stir fry. For the bok choy, I cut the ends off and then just sliced them; I broke up the stems a bit more so I wouldn’t have huge bites of them. (See note below.) For the snap peas, I de-stringed them—you just pull the little string thingy and they sort of unzip; it’s very satisfying—and broke them in half.

I stir-fried the baby bok choy, scallions, and snap peas with garlic, ginger, and a little soy sauce and toasted sesame oil (not enough of either, actually). I pan-fried the tofu until golden. For some reason I thought it would mingle with the vegetables, which would impart their flavor to it; but then I just ate it plain, which was sort of gross, but serviceable, I guess.

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Italian feast + austerity measures

I guess it would make more sense if it were Greek feast + austerity measures. Har har har. Anyway, Jenny and I made our parents an Italian feast last night, and today I didn’t get the chance to buy groceries (slash drank more than I ate at dinner, so I probably shouldn’t be cooking anyway; but I did make baked oatmeal, which was kind of nerve-racking under the circumstances), so I’m just going to scrounge in my own apartment for food all week. And I’ll be editing my parsnip soup to make it more palatable for a second week of eating. SIGH.

Also, you should all go to my Flickr, since I don’t post all the pictures here. Does that link work?

Our first course was bruschetta, which Jenny made. She thinly sliced a French baguette (because there were no Italian baguettes), then drizzled olive oil over them. Then she instructed me to preheat the oven to whatever temperature I desired (I chose 350), and toasted the baguette slices for a while. Then she added diced tomatoes, which smelled like tomato vines, which is the best smell on the planet.

Meanwhile, I was making tiramisu, which turned out to be Tiramisu Soup. Ahh! Soup! I am categorizing this post as soup. (How noticeable is it that I had two beers for dinner??) I made custard (egg yolks + sugar, but it was supposed to magnify to two or three times its initial volume, and I don’t think it did) and whipped in a pound of mascarpone, and then Jenny and I valiantly tried to make whipped cream. We failed, for the first time in our lives. I know you’re supposed to use nonpasteurized cream for whipped cream, but I only use pasteurized because I shop in normal grocery stores for normal Americans who only eat pasteurized things, and I have always been a magnificent cream-whipper before. But tonight, alas, it came to naught.

So we combined them, and created tiramisu-soup-filling. Then I dipped ladyfingers

[just remembered what I forgot about the oatmeal. Oatmeal always gets really excited and overflows the boundaries of its containers. So now my recently cleaned oven has oatmeal all over it. NOOO]

in decaf coffee, layered them with the soup in an 8×8 pan, and put it in the fridge, where I hoped I could forget about it. It was very sad. More on that later.

The first course was Spaghettini alla carrettiera, aka Lidia Bastianich–brand linguini with basil from our freezer (previously from our garden) and fancy Whole Foods canned tomatoes. Recipe below; it looked terrible but tasted really, really good, and was really easy to make. We did have to make a disclaimer that we had no idea if it would be nasty, because it really did look nasty. Frozen basil has a tendency to turn an unattractive color after it thaws.

Don’t worry, I have even worse pictures.

Then the steak. This was extremely exciting. Jacqui, avert your eyes.

Oh no, my cat is sleeping with his head on the cookbook, so I can’t turn to the recipe! It was steak cooked with onions and tomatoes, and it was supposed to have olives, but only one-half of the present family members are willing to eat olives, so we omitted them.

First the onions were cooked in an amount of olive oil that was supposed to come up to the one-quarter mark on the saucepan. This was horrifying, but we of course obliged, since Marcella Hazan said so. Jenny cooked them, asking me every three seconds whether they were softened or golden or whatever they were supposed to be. I said I did not know. She said this was not helpful. After a while, garlic and more canned tomatoes were added; these cooked for a while.

Then it was time to cook the steak. We got very happy steak from Whole Foods (clarification for those who still don’t seem to understand this: they were happy before they were humanely killed), and were supposed to slice it into 1/4-inch pieces. We tried to pound them using a meat cleaver. Well, Jenny did, while I freaked out. I later described the scene as “It looks like we murdered a cow and then splattered its blood everywhere.” To which Jenny responded, “No it doesn’t.” I was like, “Yeah, I don’t know why I’m still talking.” It was gross, though.

ANYWAY. We heated up the pan for a good long while, then added olive oil, then put in the steak. It splattered. There were screams. Our mom, doing laundry in the basement, yelled, “Is everything OK in there?” We ignored her, being unable to truthfully answer.

We cooked it on both sides until it was beautifully browned (though still somewhat raw on the inside, as we would later learn. Holy shit, I just spelled that lurn). We topped the steak pieces with the onion-tomato mixture.

Then dinner time! The bruschetta was lovely.

The pasta tasted way better than we anticipated. The steak was re-cooked on lower heat when it was time for the second course, because it was scarily red inside, even though we are all medium-rare eaters in this family. Ooh, the kitty got off the book. Yay.

At first we ate all the courses in the right order, but then we went back and re-ate more of the previous courses. Also, we drank wine.

The tiramisu was even pretty good! It was texturally ridiculous, but it did taste like tiramisu. (You know, I just went to post a picture of it, and decided not to.) And we also ate macarons from Laduree that Jenny and our mom had bought the day before. They were good, but I don’t really get why people think they are the epitome of wonderfulness in life. Maybe I am a heathen.

This is my favorite plate.

That’s about it. It went well. Then we finished our puzzle, and all was right with the world.

Spaghettini alla carrettiera (thin spaghetti with fresh basil and tomato sauce)
from Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook
1 bunch fresh basil (1 1/2 to 2 cups; I only used 1)
2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes (or regular, even non-Italian! tomatoes), seeded, drained, and coarsely chopped
5 large cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/3 c olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground pepper, about 6 twists
1 pound whatever spaghetti you frickin want

Pull all the basil leaves from the stalkes, rinse, and roughly chop. Put the basil, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, 1 tsp salt, and pepper in an uncovered saucepan and cook over medium-high heat for 15 minutes. Taste and correct for salt.

Drop the spaghetti in 4 qts boiling salted water. Cook until very al dente.

Drain the spaghetti. You’re supposed to mix the spaghetti with the sauce, but we served them separately, since we still didn’t know if the sauce would be nasty…

Marcella says no grated cheese is called for. This is bullshit. You should serve it with (good) parmesan cheese. Sorry, Marcella. Unless you meant that it shouldn’t be served with the green-can stuff.

Fettine di manzo alla sorrentina (Thin pan-broiled steaks with tomatoes and olives) (without the olives)
1/2 medium yellow onion, sliced thin
Olive oil sufficient to come 1/4 inch up the side of the pan
2 medium cloves garlic, diced
2/3 c canned tomatoes, roughly chopped, with their juice
1 dozen black Greek olives, pitted and quartered (or not)
1/4 teaspoon oregano
Salt
Freshly ground pepper, 6 to 8 twists of the mill
1 pound beef steaks, preferably chuck or chicken steaks (what is that???), sliced 1/4 inch thick, pounded, and edges notched to keep from curling

In a good-sized skillet, saute the sliced onion in the olive oil. As it takes on a pale gold color, add the diced garlic. Saute until the garlic has colored slightly, then add the tomatoes, olives, oregano, salt, and pepper. Stir and cook at a lively simmer until the tomatoes and oil separate, 15 minutes or more. Turn the heat down, keeping at the barest simmer.

Heat a heavy iron skillet until it is smoking hot. Grease the bottom (we just poured some oil on and swished it around). Put in the beef slices (Jenny, on reading this I am now worried we did it completely wrong. Were we actually supposed to slice it into slices????? Does that make any sense? Whatever, you don’t read this blog). As you turn the meat, season it with salt and pepper. Transfer the browned meat to the simmering sauce, turning it quickly and basting it with sauce, then to a hot platter, pouring the sauce over the meat. (Whoops, we just put the meat on the plate and poured the sauce on top.)

Marcella says not to serve this with any tomato-based first course. Oops.

The tiramisu was adapted from this—and by adapted, I just mean I did it wrong. I also omitted the coffee liqueur and did not chill it enough.