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Vintage Recipes

Vintage Veg

Russian Salad

February 26, 2021

I laughed when I saw it. Delightedly chortled, more like, to see that the New York Times was running a recipe story featuring that thousands-of-renditions Slavic home food: Russian Salad. I’d just confessed my love for the stuff the day before to a friend, as if whispering a guilty pleasure. And now the Times had legitimized it. Classically a mosaic of colorful and carefully diced carrot and potato, plus peas and ham, bathed in mayo, I’d long ago found making variations on the Russian Salad theme to be a “treaty” way to eat veg. I make it using everything from trimmed stalks of broccoli (steamed the tiniest bit to tender them) or with celery root, jicama, radish, kohlrabi, and maybe a little cheese, skipping any meat inclusions entirely. But the classic version is good, too.

Near my house, Russian Salad is everywhere. Just travel up the road in Skokie-Evanston to the various mom-and-pop grocers and you’ll find it ready made both plain and fancy. Layered in clear bowls with piped swirls of cream on top, the fancy versions look like frilly parfaits.

As it turns out, fancy is actually a throw-back: The salad’s genesis was quite gourmet. Food historians place its origins in Moscow where a French chef named Lucien Olivier served it starting in the 1860s at the Hermitage restaurant, mixing in everything from caviar and crawfish tails, to capers and veal tongue. Oh, and Lucien slathered his in Provencal dressing. Post Russian Revolution, the salad took on the proletariat stylings that survive today.

With a nod to Olivier, my version of the current classic dolls things up a bit with home-made mayo, sour cream, dill, and quail eggs. Plus, pickled beets that you mix in at the very end. 

My recipe also relies—as the NYTimes version does—on careful, even dicing. Trimming and cutting the ingredients to uniform size makes for good balance, mouth feel and presentation. P.S.—Don’t hold back on your own variations! Let me know what you come up with—I’d love to see. Continue Reading…

On The Side

Boston Baked Beans & Brown Bread

November 12, 2019

Despite the unfortunate  Phaseolus vulgaris moniker—the American Common Bean category includes bunches of beloved, native-to-the-Americas beans: navy, red kidney, pinto, great northern, marrow, & yellow eye, plus garden variety edible-pod beans (string, stringless and snap.) It’s not clear which of these the New England colonists first stewed in a pot, but we do know baked navy beans started with Native Americans. The Narragansett, Penobscot, and Iroiquois wrapped navy beans in deerskins—or put them in earthenware pots, along with venison, bear fat and maple syrup and then baked the lot in hot-stone-lined pits. Puritans eschewed the deerskins, but took to bean-pot cookery because the long, slow cook times meant housewives could prepare the beans a day ahead, and in so doing, stick to Puritanical no-cooking-on-Sabbath rules.

Continue Reading…

Pie Revival

Key Lime Pie

August 29, 2019

The story of Key lime pie is delightfully odd, including Cuban sponge “hookers”, mystery aunts, canned milk and curing. The classic filling: sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks & lime juice, has been around since the mid 1800s.

Key limes, those leathery little yellow-green golf balls otherwise known as Citrus aurantifolia, once thrived in the Keys as a commercial crop. That was before the local lime growers figured out they could make more money running tourist fishing boats, and sold off their groves. Key lime trees still grow in Key West backyards, but the big groves are in Mexico Continue Reading…

Must Have Noodles

Veal Stroganoff

January 20, 2019

When Count Pavel Alexandrovich Stroganov wasn’t busy commanding the Russian infantry in Napoleonic Wars, he feasted: Historians suggest that an early version of the stroganoff the world came to love was served in Stroganov’s family kitchens for a good number of years before it was published in a Russian cookbook in 1871. Continue Reading…