Sunday, June 9, 2013

Book Review: The Food & Cooking of Russia

My previous encounters with Russia cuisine in the United States have left me disappointed. That is why I was so surprised to find myself enjoying the food that was served throughout Moscow on my first trip to Russia earlier this year. I was especially enamored with Chicken Kiev and mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy and I went hunting on Amazon.com as soon as I returned home from my trip, hoping to find an authentic Russian cookbook to recreate those flavors in my own kitchen.

The Food & Cooking of Russia by Elena Makhonko has received nothing but positive reviews so I settled on it as my cookbook of choice and ordered it. It’s a lovely hardcover book with beautiful illustrations and opens with a great section on general information about Russia, festivals and Russian celebrations, and classic ingredients in Russian cuisine. The recipes are organized by course in an easy to follow layout.

I made the salted cucumbers from the chapter on appetizers and although I did not have vodka on hand to serve as an accompaniment, the cucumbers went over very well with my dinner guests. They were salty and delicious, bursting with dill flavor.

For dinner one evening I prepared Chicken Kiev with mushroom sauce (page 86-87) and served it alongside whipped potatoes. I thought it odd that the author recommended rice as the side dish for this entrée as when I was in Moscow it was always served with potatoes. The preparations were pretty easy (pound the chicken very thin, stuff with garlic butter, dredge in breadcrumbs, chill, and fry) and yet the finished presentation was nothing less than exquisite. Rich, delicious, and very filling, this will be on regular rotation in our home.

To accompany the chicken, I made the small blueberry pies (page 117) but that did not go so well. For starters, the recipe states in the header that it makes 10 pies but in the written directions it states that it makes 24. That made it very difficult when attempting to scale the recipe down for 4 guests. Also, I was expecting the pie dough to have the texture and flavor of traditional pie crust but it was much more along the lines of a dinner roll. Nothing was too tragic about the pies that couldn’t be solved by serving them a la mode, but it’s definitely not a recipe I’ll repeat.

With two A+ recipes and one C- to date, I hold out hope that the rest of the recipes will be winners. And I certainly think that this cookbook is hands above the rest of those available that focus on Russian cuisine. I’m going to try the Honey and Cardamom Drink next, along with Little Beef Pies, and the Chicken Noodle Soup.

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