Spice Up Your End-of-Winter Cooking!

As we enter the last few weeks of winter, you may have found yourself running out of creative cooking ideas for the cold weather. Warm, creamy beef stews or a Texas chili may have worn out their welcome! No worry here, Christine Boyett Barr of LadyFaire has searched for delicious recipes from the Slavic and Scandinavian regions of the Northern Hemisphere to add a dollop of delicious to your last days of winter frost. And to learn more about winter tales to accompany these dishes, enjoy ForestDark and Water Deep: Slavic Spirits and Stories.

In the bleak midwinter

Frosty wind made moan.

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, Snow on snow, 

Snow on snow,  

In the bleak midwinter
Long, long ago

   –  Christina Rosetti 

   In the northern hemisphere, Christmas, Yule,  and Winter Solstice celebrations all stand in opposition to the darkness, spreading what light and comfort they can. From the earliest days of recorded history, the people of the north have used nourishing foods to make it through the dark, cold days that make up the winter months. 

   We tend to think of meat-based soups and stews as being the winter mainstays, but it was not always so. It is difficult to pin down Russian food prior to the 17th century; we know they were heavily dependent on cereals, flour, berries, fish, and game. With the advent of Orthodox Christianity, meat was regulated by periodic fasting periods. Blini, a thin pancake, came from the pagan tradition of making cakes round like the sun. They are especially eaten during Maslenitsa, a holiday celebrated one week before the spring. It is believed that the Russian dumplings pelmeni came from China through Siberia and Urial in the 15th century. Families gather to make them, stuffing them with a mixture of minced lamb, beef, and pork, and serving them with sour cream.  Perhaps most emblematic of old Russian cuisine is kasha, a buckwheat porridge, which in addition to being a breakfast staple was a  major dish of Orthodox fasts. But never let it be said that all was staid and heavy in Russian winter cooking; Pastila was a food for celebrations. It was made simply of apples, egg whites, and sugar, but intense beating and heating in the oven resulted in a light, almost marshmallow-like treat that, like many foods which were considered unnecessary after the Russian Revolution, almost disappeared. In 2009, the Museum of Forgotten Flavors, or Kolomenskaya Pastila, opened in Kolomna, and the future of pastila and many other older Russian foods seems secure. We have the benefit of stand mixers or handheld mixers, so it’s much easier to replicate today! This recipe comes from emmymade.com.

Pastila 

Ingredients: 

6 large Granny Smith apples

3/4 c. granulated sugar

2 large egg whites,

1/2 c. powdered sugar for dusting. 

INSTRUCTIONS

Apple Pureé

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚F/177˚C.
  2. Wash the apples and place them in a 9″x12″ baking pan. Add 1 1/2 cups of water.
  3. Bake for 1 hour or until the apples are saggy and soft when pierced with a knife. Allow to cool to room temperature.
  4. Press the cooked apples through a strainer to remove the skins and cores.

Batter

  1. Into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add the egg whites and apple pureé.
  2. Turn the mixture on medium-high speed and slowly add the sugar.
  3. Continuing beating on medium-high speed for 10 minutes. Periodically scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  4. Preheat oven to 180˚F.
  5. Line a rimmed baking pan (a half-sheet or 2, quarter-sheets) with parchment including the sides.
  6. Reserve 2 cups of batter for gluing the layers.
  7. Spread the remaining batter into the lined pan(s) and smooth into an even layer.
  8. Bake at 180˚F/82˚C for 4-7 hours or until the dry to the touch.

Assembly

  1. Preheat oven to 180˚F/82˚C.
  2. When the pastila is completely cool, gently peel the parchment paper away. If the pastry sticks to the paper use a spatula to gently scrape it off.
  3. If using quarter-sheet pans cut each layer half for a total of 4 rectangles.
  4. Line a baking sheet with parchment and place one layer of pastila.
  5. Scoop a couple of teaspoons of the reserved batter and with an off-set spatula spread it out evenly. Add another layer of pastila. Repeat for the remaining layers.
  6. Coat the sides and top of the layered pastilla with any remaining batter.
  7. Bake at 180˚F/82˚C for an hour and a half.
  8. Cool completely.
  9. Using a dampened knife and a sawing motion, slice the pastila into 1″ wide slices.
  10. Gently roll the pastila slices in powdered sugar. Serve with a cup of tea.
  11. Store in an airtight container for a couple of days.

Not all northern cuisine is foreign to the average American or European of today.  Poland is of course famous for its pierogies, which were reputed to have come from St. Hyacinth, who became the patron saint of pierogi after bringing the recipe from Kiev in modern Ukraine. Some credit Marco Polo with bringing them from China, but the true story is shrouded in the mists of time. Hungary is known for its goulash, which is nothing like the ground meat dish Americans sometimes refer to as “goulash”. The great grassland plains of Hungary saw the Huns, the Mongols, and finally the Turks, who brought the chili plants which simple cowherders would ultimately use to make the warming dish we now enjoy as goulash.  Germany has its sauerbraten, which was supposedly originated by Charlemagne in the 9th century as a way to use leftover cuts of meat, but Albert the Great in the 13th century is also given the credit. Either way, it is usually made from beef now, and not the traditional horsemeat. This recipe is one I have made for years, and it is wonderfully satisfying. It is from McCall’s Cooking School, and although it calls for sauerkraut, I serve it on egg noodles. 

        Hungarian Goulash 

 Ingredients – 

3 lbs boneless beef chuck

1 lb onions, about 3 cups (peeled and sliced)

1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil

1 tablespoon Hungarian paprika

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 (10 1/2 ounce) can condensed beef broth, undiluted

Sauerkraut

2 (14 ounce) cans sauerkraut

1 large potato

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

1/2 cup chopped onions

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

boiling water

3 tablespoons flour

1 cup sour cream

8 servings – 5 hours 1 hr prep

Cut beef into 1 1/2 inch cubes.
Peel and slice onions.
In a 6 quart Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat. Add beef cubes in a single layer (do not overcrowd) and saute over medium heat.
Continue cooking, turning to brown on all sides.
Remove beef to a bowl as it browns. Continue browning the rest of the beef. This will take approximately 30 minutes in all.
Add onion to drippings; cook, stirring until tender and golden (about 10 minutes).
Return beef to Dutch oven. Add paprika, salt, and pepper, stirring well until combined.
Stir in 3/4 cup beef broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered, 2 hours or until the beef cubes are fork-tender.
While beef cubes cook, prepare sauerkraut.
In a colander, drain sauerkraut well. Pare potato; grate enough potato to measure 3/4 cup.
In hot butter in a large skillet, saute 1/2 chopped onion until golden ( about 3 minutes).
Add sauerkraut, potato, caraway seed, brown sugar, and 2 cups boiling water.
Bring to boil; reduce heat; simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the flour and remaining broth; stir until smooth.
Gradually add to beef mixture, stirring constantly.
Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes longer.
Just before serving, slowly stir 1/2 cup hot gravy into sour cream in a small bowl. Add slowly to beef mixture; stir to blend.
Heat, but do not boil.
Serve goulash with sauerkraut.

The long, dark months of winter and the vast coastlines of the countries of Scandinavia resulted in their distinctive cuisine. While lutefisk is the butt of many jokes, there are certainly plenty of other examples of delicious fish dishes from the sea-faring Norse, and they are justly renowned for the quality of their salmon gravlax, which originated in the days when fishermen had to preserve their catch with a crust of salt, seasonings, and vodka. Herring was and remains popular, and while a later entry into Scandinavia, the potato has become a winter staple, used in everything from Norway’s lefse, a sort of potato flatbread or tortilla, if you will, filled with butter and sugar in its simplest form, to Sweden’s pyatt i panna, a hash made of leftover meat and potatoes. My favorite Norwegian comfort food is the nisse’s favorite, risgrøt. The nisse, of course, are the gnome-like magical beings that every Norwegian family have as protectors – unless they are offended. Fail to leave them their rice porridge with all the butter and sugar they could want, and bad things might happen. A wonderful commercial from a few years ago showed perfectly what is required. To keep your family’s Nisse (or Tomte, if you are Swedish) happy, or even just to have a delicious way to achieve hygge (“a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being”), I recommend the following: Ingredients: 

Long grain white rice

Sugar

Vanilla extract

Cardamom. Use pre-ground, or buy cardamom pods and grind it yourself for a truly powerful cardamom flavor!

Whole milk.

Unsalted butter.

Cinnamon.

Directions: 

  1. Simmer the rice in water for about ten minutes to partially cook it.
  2. Spice and sweeten it with cardamom, vanilla and sugar.
  3. Stir, and begin adding milk very slowly as you continue to stir, just as you would with a risotto. The rice will absorb the milk as you stir it over the heat.
  4. Keep stirring. You’re going to stir pretty constantly for about 40 minutes, so you’ll probably want to put on your favorite Christmas album and make it a party. Stirring is a job even the littlest elf can help out with, so don’t hesitate to enlist some helpers!
  5. Done! When the rice porridge looks creamy, but like all of the milk has been absorbed, you’re done! Ladle it into big bowls, and serve with cinnamon, a pad of butter and (if you’d like to) some fresh or frozen berries.You can add an almond, and the lucky person who finds it will have good fortune! 

Christine Boyett Barr is an award-winning journalist and English instructor, teaching middle school and college English.In addition to her pedagogical pursuits, she hosts movie events for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and portrays Catherine of Aragon at the Texas Renaissance Festival. She is the mother of four, and is owned by two cats. 

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The mission of LadyFaire is to encourage people, particularly women and femmes, to recognize the beauty and magic in their world while developing their inner strength and connections with others so that they can live abundant, creative, empowered lives. Words build bridges to relationships, art strengthens the soul, and authentic friendships change the world.

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