They say you should breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper. And today I am trying pretty hard….I’ve breakfasted like King Harald V of Norway on brown cheese and flatbrød and now I’m about to lunch like a Tsar (or Roman Abramovich) on blini and vodka. Its all good stuff and in aid of Eating Eurovision (a rather mad project thought up by journalist and food blogger Andrew Webb) – 25 food bloggers eat 25 cuisines within the M25.
I got Russia out of the lottery pingpong ball bag and also opted for Norway as an extra.
And that is where I came unstuck.
I woefully underestimated how long it would take to track stuff down, get it, eat it, write about it. I did Norway first because I thought it would be really hard to find the foods I wanted but actually it wasn’t so bad, finding Russian contacts and leads has proved much much harder. I thought there were lots of Russians in London and maybe there are but I didn’t find any. I found a possible deli in Queensway (Kalinka) but after buying my Norwegian cheese mountain had no time or strength left to get there to check it out. I’d spotted various restaurant options but time was short and I wanted to do some actual cooking.
Then I thought of vodka tasting at Potemkin but my friends could not be convinced to leave the grotty surroundings of the pub they had started the evening in to walk less than half a mile, they suggested the nearer Polish bar but that’s Polish so how was that going to help. I bet vodka isn’t just vodka you know, I bet it has hundreds of subtle nuances. Oh and to be fair to my mates by this time it was pouring with rain so we would have got drenched.
So having drawn some blanks and having been pointed at blini by fellow Tweeters – I thought lets make blini (and wash them down with a splash of vodka). I was tempted to go to a Lithuanian deli in Leytonstone I’d spotted during internet research for a (very) vague bit of almost authenticity but having seen @hollowlegs tweets about her Lithuanian restaurant eating I decided maybe not. Anyway I needed a recipe first, now I might have hundreds of cookbooks but curiously not one of them is about Russian food. Surfing the web throws up lots of blini recipes and some earlier surreptitious reading of books in Foyles suggested that actually mini blini are okay but the real deal is to have big huge proper pancake size blini – oh yay lunch sorted: big savoury blin (apparently the singular of blini according to wikipedia…hmmm doubtful) followed by big dessert blin.
Sorted right? Wrong. By this time it’s already past the deadline to post and I’ve only just decided what I’m doing. Oh dearie dearie me.
And there are only two choices in such circumstances: don’t post and FAIL completely or CHEAT.
So I cheated. Yes I did what we were not supposed to do I went to Waitrose bought the most Russian looking things possible, came home, cooked, ate and made myself listen to the Russian entry on repeat as penance! I could have cheated more by pretending the vodka we already had was Russian but I didn’t, maybe that makes it all ok?
My blini were good, they were rather thick so could perhaps be classed more as oladi (which are well, big fat blini) and very filling. I did a bit of a cheats recipe (what not more cheating) and followed the recipe on the bag of buckwheat flour using baking powder instead of yeast to get the raised texture but it worked fine. The 100% buckwheat flour makes a very brown looking batter. For the savoury topping I had sour cream, Russian (i.e. beetroot) cure salmon and chopped quails eggs and for the sweet more sour cream with warm raspberry compote I quickly made from frozen raspberries. Then I had a splash of Russian vodka to finish it all (and me!) off.
I am very very full now. I’ve had two hearty cuisines only a few of hours apart – perhaps fine if it was snowing and minus something scary outside but a little much for spring day in London. If I’m lucky it’ll mean I sleep through tonight’s competition and don’t have to watch all those crazy acts again.
I’ve also learnt that if you bite off more than you can chew you’ll get indigestion somewhere along the way but on the other hand, as Tennyson almost said:
‘Tis better to have tried and cheated than to have never tried at all’.
When it came to deciding what to have for dinner on Saturday there was quite a bit of negotiating to be done – I fancied doing a curry but hubby gets to have what he tells me is a really good take out curry once a week for his lunch so was much less keen. As we wandered up and down the aisles in the local Waitrose pondering our choices I knew that time spent in a shop would take its toll and that if I kept my nerve he’d go with the curry idea in the end…..and so it came to pass that curry was on the menu.
I particularly wanted to do a curry as I’d spied bags of chickpea (gram) flour earlier in the week and under a somewhat misguided thought that one of the Indian breads was traditionally made with gram flour I wanted to give it a go. Quite where my notion that gram flour is used in Indian breads had come from I don’t know because of course once I got home with my 2 kilo bag and started looking out recipes I realised I was very wrong. I paused for thought, disappointed. Where was my mate Jay just when I needed some guidance on authentic uses for gram flour – not anywhere to be found. But in the back of my mind there was a niggling little thought that I had seen something made with gram flour that wasn’t a deep fried bhaji or pakora. Further searching and at last I found the recipe I was looking for ‘Onion pancakes’ in a book called Brit Spice by Manju Malhi. It a quick and easy recipe and you can adjust the flavourings to suit.
Makes about 6-10 pancakes depending on how thick you like them (so serves 2-4):
I onion, peeled and chopped
1 chilli, peeled and chopped (I didn’t have a fresh chilli so used about ¼ tsp dried chilli flakes)
1 tomato, peeled and chopped (I hate peeling tomatoes its such a faff so I left the skin on)
1tsp peeled grated root ginger (lazy ginger worked fine)
250ml/9fl oz water
150g/6oz chickpea/gram flour
1tsp cumin seeds
¼ tsp salt
oil to fry
Put the onion, chilli, tomato, ginger and water in a blender and blast until you have a runny paste – doesn’t need to be ultra smooth just get it mixed together pretty well.
Put the flour, cumin and salt into a bowl and mix together so the cumin seeds are well distributed.
Add the paste from the blender and mix to get a runny batter.
When you are ready to cook the pancakes heat a frying pan (15cm/6inch size), add a little oil, ladle in some batter to cover the pan base fairly thinly and cook for about 30 seconds or so each size. Put on a warm plate and get using the rest of the batter till you have a nice stack of pancakes.
Serve with the curry of your choice or with chutney and raita. Any that are left are also good cold with dips and tangy cheese. Yum.
I’ll definitely be trying these again (not least because there’s a lot of flour left!) and might see how they come out unspiced.