Monday Meal Review: Belarus

I cannot lie.

Sure, I’ve tried. But I learned early on that lying is much more humiliating than the truth. No matter how bad the truth seems to be.

Of course, not being able to lie has its distinct disadvantages. Like having to admit embarrassing things, like how I got stood up this week. No, not by my husband (he knows better than to do that – love the sweet man).

Remember the lightening bolt of good fortune I had a few days ago? When I ran into a real, live Belorussian (at Dillard’s), the week I was cooking Belorussian? And I invited her to come show me her country’s cooking traditions? And she said yes, she’d be “happy to”?

Yeah. That’s who stood me up.

I wish I could tell you something much cooler.  That she turned out to be a spy and was sent back to the motherland. How, on her way, she managed to send me a telegram (delivered by white doves) apologizing for missing our dinner date. Included with the telegram, of course, were 3 plane tickets to Belarus, where we’d cook on her childhood farm for a week. Oh, and a few discount cards for Dillard’s, so I can finally get those Fiesta bowls I’ve been dreaming about.

Oh, how I wish I could lie.

Instead, I’m sitting here pondering that fickle lady, Luck.

So what’s the moral? Don’t count your chickens before they hatch, because they might stand you up? I’m not sure, but I do know this: Getting stood up feels terrible. Like being picked last for the team (I know. I was picked last throughout middle school). Thank goodness I have a cellphone so I could jet around and do my errands while waiting for the call that never came. Even our casual world filled with text-messaging and Facebook invitations does not negate the need for honest communication, rsvp’s, and promptness (just a few of my favorite things).

At least the food came out good, or I’d be really bummed.

Borshch Soup from Belarus (Beet Soup with potatoes) [Recipe]

What I liked most about this dish:

Not only is this soup beautiful, it is a snap to throw together. Other than hacking up a bunch of veggies, there’s nothing to it. Just lay out two bowls, one for compost and one for veggie chunks. After you finish cutting the veggies and throw them in the pot, and walk away.

Should you have the time, the soup is happy to bubble away for several hours, giving plenty of time for all the flavors to mingle (and for you to do something else). As the soup cooks, the beet’s juices leech into the other vegetables, staining the entire soup a shocking fuchsia. The color is so deep and beautiful, I can’t help but think how great it would be for a themed luncheon, maybe for breast cancer awareness?

What I liked least about this dish:

As beautiful as fuchsia is, the color makes for an impossible stain. Trust me, a clumsy hand will turn a beet into a dye-bomb. To avoid staining your hands use gloves. To avoid staining your clothes try a cute apron. Aprons are completely underrated and, if you’re not currently an apron wearer, this soup just might be the dish to get you on the bandwagon.

Even if the soup wasn’t neon, the beets would give themselves away by the flavor. I thought I would have a big fight on my hands over eating this “beet-infested” soup, but my husband gave it a “pass,” although he did mention how weird the color was. Thankfully, I never had to beg, he dutifully ate a bowl two days in a row.

Mushroom stuffed Draniki (Potato Pancakes/hash browns stuffed with mushrooms) [Recipe]

What I liked most about this dish:

If I’m having a bad day, I just might make Draniki. The crispy, fried potato and mushroom goodness fills my belly in a way that rivals the best efforts of chocolate ice cream. I’m a bit biased however, as my weak spot is for salty food, not sweet.

Technically speaking, I loved just spooning the potato mixture into the sizzling oil. The recipe is no fuss, and avoids those irritating steps that involve squeezing every drop of moisture out of the potatoes. Instead, simply grate the potatoes into a bowl, mix up with the other ingredients and begin cooking! The wetness of the potatoes works like glue to hold the draniki together – just give the mixture a quick stir every once in a while.

What I liked least about this dish:

For a normal, healthy day (free of stress and comfort food), Draniki are a bit greasy and heavy. I think I put on a pound in that first bite. To help combat the greasiness, be sure to drain the freshly fried Draniki over paper towels.

It should be no big surprise that my husband, who seems to live for unhealthy food, was a big fan of Draniki. If I served them up with a little bacon and eggs, he’d be happy, happy, happy.

Rye Bread [Recipe]

What I liked most about this bread:

I am so glad I finally made rye bread. My recipe blends ideas from King Arthur Flour (which is always a great place to start when developing a bread recipe) and Please to the Table. My version has a little more honey and sugar, making it rather like a honey-rye bread. The tight crumb is perfectly suitable for sandwiches. The rye flavor is pleasantly mild because I put the caraway seeds on the outside of the loaf. Overall a great loaf of bread. I will definitely be making this one again!

What I liked least about this bread:

I suppose, since I have to say something, the dough is rather dense and wet, making it a little harder to work with. However, using a bread machine made things easy – when I removed the dough after rising, the gluten had developed and very little stuck to my hand.

Strawberry Kisiel (Thick Strawberry Puree) [Recipe]

What I liked most about this dish:

Making kisiel is as easy and as quick as making pudding. The flavor is sweet (as sweet as you want to make it), but remains light and refreshing. The texture has the slightest viscosity, reminding me of sweet gravy. I think kisiel would be perfect poured over angel food cake or pound cake.

What I liked least about this dish:

This simple dish gets tricky in two areas – not making lumps and adding enough sugar. Lumps can be avoided if you start by dissolving the cornstarch into a slurry and continue by adding liquid very slowly. When you add the water, the mixture becomes less sweet, so be sure to taste the mixture again after adding the water.

I do feel that this dessert could use extra seasoning or brightness from lemon or lime juice. Although I decided to stick to the Belorussian way, feel free to experiment with the flavor.

Ava’s Corner

Ava is getting her two top teeth (hurrah), but the poor thing is in a great deal of pain (boo). I’m blaming teething on her poor reaction to the borshch. Right? I mean, what child doesn’t love beets? Ok, maybe I’m delusional. She did enjoy a few crumbs of the rye bread, but she took a while to eat it. The texture really throws her off. I can’t wait to tell her how she didn’t like bread when she was a baby. 🙂


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