I really enjoy ‘food lit’ or books about food, chefs, and stories with food woven in. This book falls right into that category. Igor Klekh’s poignant, humorous, and authentic (at least to this reader) voice is translated by Slava Yastremksi and Michael Naydan into an entertaining read about Slavic food.
This book is more about the essays and musings of Igor although does have some recipes which more resemble general ingredient suggestions or inspirations than a true measured and instructional recipe. Unfortunately I was really hoping this book would have enough of a recipe to enable me to create three dishes I encountered on my trip to St. Petersburg this summer: okroshka (could soup made with kvass), solyanka (a spicy hot soup) and a pinecone jam (not sure of name, and yes, pretty random but was delish).
The okroshka is mentioned in section title The Kitchen of a Hot Summers Day, but Klekh really dissuades the reader from trying it with phrases like “it does not possess the merriment of” (p125) and “what will we do about the color?” (p126). However, the suggested alternatives sound delightful. The recipe for solyanka appears in the Hangover Cookery section, which as you can imagine is witty and relate-able if you have ever imbibed too much. The solyanka ‘recipe’ is quite descriptive but assumes more baseline knowledge and experience with flavors and Slavic soups. I have more ‘market research’ to do before attempting. Lastly, there are jam recipes highlighted (of which, like many recipes in this book vodka is noted as ingredient), but no pine cone versions, so my quest continues to recreate.
I would not suggest beginner cooks attempt to make any of the items in here as there are steps missing, a lot of assumptions for technique etc. While I am not a beginner cook by any means, I did attempt one recipe to see if it produced the results as tastefully described by Klekh. The recipe for prianiki (a gingerbread or spiced shortbread like treat) nabbed my attention at “The secret is in the mount of fat that goes in it” – all about butter, which I do not fear. However, I followed the recipe as written and found the cookies to be lacking flavor, and tough and dense. They also remained in the ball shape versus spreading into cookie form. In looking at other prianiki recipes, the ratios are quite different but this might just reflect the time period and family version of this recipe.
Overall I recommend this book for people with a love of Slavic food, heritage and an adventurous soul for eating and cooking and reading about eating and cooking. The descriptions of the food and experience surrounding their consumption are quite enjoyable, you will learn more than you thought possible about salo (pig lard) and almost taste the differences between Slavic culinary traditions (Ukraine vs. Russian and beyond).
“Napertysia Horniatkom Kashi” – Eat till you burst. Excerpt from essay by Mikhail Epstein presented on page 44.
Original review over at Portland Book Review and incorporated above.