In the Kitchen: How to Cook Russian Cuisine
There are thousands of ways to make Grenki. At its most simple, it is fried bread. For breakfast, it is French toast. But however served, it is a way for frugal people—like some Russians — to turn stale bread into something scrumptious. Breakfast grenki, like French toast is bread soaked in eggs and milk sautéed in butter and served crisped with syrup, preserves or sugar.
Savory Grenki often omits the egg soak. The version below is a snack which somehow evokes grilled cheese, Italian bruschetta and blinis with caviar. These are simple, but so welcome. Have fun with these; make them your own.
• Rye or Pumpernickel Bread, preferably fresh, not too stale
• Garlic clove, peeled and cut in half; or minced garlic. See below
• Salt/Fresh Ground Black Pepper
• Vegetable Oil
• Optional Toppings:
• Grated cheese (any variety, but smoked Gouda or mozzarella work well),
• Sour cream
• Smoked salmon
• Tomato slice
• Diced tomatoes (well drained)
• Slivered scallions or chives
1. Heat 2-3 T Vegetable oil in large skillet to until shimmer coats bottom of pan. Heat until almost smoking.
2. Cut the bread into strips or elongated triangles. Remove the crusts from bread to make this a bit elegant, but this is not necessary.
3. Place triangles of bread in hot oil, not touching. Oil should be hot enough to see sizzle bubbles along edges. Fry until crisp
4. Carefully flip and crisp second side; add a few sprinkles of minced garlic (optional) and about ½-1 teaspoon of grated cheese. Invert 2d skillet over one frying to melt cheese. Transfer to paper towels.
5. If you have not added garlic to pan, rub garlic clove in salt and rub on cooling pieces of bread.
6. Top cheese side with ground black pepper, dollop of sour cream and choice of: diced tomatoes, sliced scallions, roll of smoked salmon, dab of caviar.
7. (Optional variation #1): When bread is flipped, put tomato slice on bread and top with cheese slice. Allow to melt
8. (Optional variation #2): Don’t add any cheese; just add touch of garlic, sour cream and topping of choice. Sprinkled chives or parsley garnish make a nice presentation
This is served warm
Borscht is a Russian answer to stew-like soup, common in many cultures, i.e., Italian Minestrone. There are lots of meats and vegetables in this dish. It can be a meal. Because beets are ubiquitous in Eastern Europe, they play a large role. Borscht has a somewhat bad rap in the States, perhaps due to the strong taste over-vinegared and screaming red canned beets, or the strange finish of vinegar to heighten the soups flavor at the end. This is actually a hearty flavorful antidote for freezing toes while watching down-hill racers and the 80 mph luge. I’ve included a short cut version, using canned beef or chicken stock; homemade stock will only add to the flavor. See suggestions at the end.
Some crucial ingredients define Borscht: beef short ribs and fresh beets are crucial. Everything else is personal choice. Have fun with this. Make it your own.
• 2 quarts/64 oz. (approx.) canned or homemade beef (better) or chicken stock or bouillon (see below)
• Vegetable oil
• 3-4 # Beef short ribs
• 2-3# pork spare ribs (optional)
• 3-4 duck legs, chicken legs or turkey legs, (optional, smoked okay)
• 10 medium beets (about 2 inches in diameter), rinsed, tops trimmed
• Water, as needed
• 1 stick, ¼# butter
• 3-4 peeled, diced carrots
• 1-2 chopped onions
• ½ head thinly sliced green cabbage or Napa cabbage
• 3-4 minced garlic cloves
• 2 red potatoes, peeled, diced
• Red Wine vinegar, about 1-2 T
• Salt and Pepper
• Chives or Scallions
• 2 tablespoons (or more) red wine vinegar
• Sour cream
1. Roast the Beets: Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange beets in single layer in 13x9x2-inch baking dish; add 1 cup water. Tightly Cover. Turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake beets until tender when pierced with knife, about 1½-2 hours. Cool beets. Peel and cut into small dice.
[*hint for peeling beets; see below]
2. Heat vegetable oil in soup kettle. Add short ribs and other meats, if using, in batches to brown all sides. Remove meat as browned.
3. Add meat back to kettle; cover with beef or chicken stock. Bring to gentle boil. Simmer 1-2 hours until meat is tender. Remove meat from liquid; Strain stock.
4. Remove beef from bones, shred into soup spoon size pieces. Discard poultry meat and pork.
5. (Optional) Shred pork and poultry meat; add to shred beef. Not traditional; but it’s your soup.
6. Clean out soup kettle and melt butter over medium heat
7. Add onions and sauté until translucent; add carrots, cabbage, garlic and potatoes. Sauté 15-20 minutes. Add Salt/Pepper.
8. Add strained beef stock to kettle. Bring to gentle boil.
9. Add beets, touch of red wine vinegar and allow to simmer, 15-20 minutes.
10. Add meat(s) back to soup. Taste; correct Salt and Pepper
11. Add water if necessary to cover all ingredients. Simmer 10 minutes.
12. Ladle into (warmed) bowls or cups. Garnish with sour cream and chives. Pass the vinegar for individual taste. Take a bow. You are ready for Olympic coverage
*Trick for peeling beets: Wear plastic gloves if you have them. If not, use vegetable oil to oil your hands and your cutting board. The red beet color will wash off much easier.
Want to Make your own? Buy some veal bones, Bone in Short Ribs, and (optional, but Russians love the complexity) some Pork Spare Ribs and Duck or Turkey Legs). The beef alone is enough.
Roast in oven 400 degrees, uncovered for 20-30 minutes: meat and bones, chopped celery, chopped carrots, chopped onions, peeled garlic cloves. Roast until until the outside of bones and meat start to caramelize,
Add a glob of tomato paste and some peppercorns, bay leaves, salt, and (optional) a few whole cloves. Roast 15 more minutes.
Transfer all from roasting pan to soup kettle; make sure to scrape all the fond on bottom of roaster into kettle. Cover with water, bring to a slow boil, and simmer 3-5 hours. Strain all.
I know, it seems a waste to toss all those meats, but no one said you can’t eat the beef, pork and duck. You have just made scrumptious Beef Stock.
Susan Delbert joined The Fourth Estate Restaurant at the National Press Club as Executive Chef after working at The Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington, D.C. as Sous Chef for several years. Delbert has worked in several Washington restaurants, including The Oval Room, BeDuCi in Dupont Circle and Gerard’s Place. She started her culinary career as a Front of the House Maitre d’ in Clyde’s of Chevy Chase. She trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., where she graduated at the top of her class. She was an invited participant in an Italian regional cooking program sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission.