Kachka: A Return to Russian Cooking by Bonnie Frumkin Morales, EPUB, 1250087600

November 23, 2017

Kachka: A Return to Russian Cooking by Bonnie Frumkin Morales

  • Print Length: 400 Pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • Publication Date: November 14, 2017
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B06WLKS17B
  • ISBN-10: 1250087600
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250087607
  • File Format: EPUB

 

”Preview”

INTRODUCTION

WHAT IS RUSSIAN FOOD, ANYWAYS?

When most people think of Russian food, they go blank. They think of borsch—if they think of anything at all. But the real picture of Russian food?

Before its collapse, the Soviet Union covered a full sixth of the earth’s land mass with growing seasons ranging from pomegranates to permafrost. The resulting canon includes carefully composed bites full of briny-sharp pickles and smoked Baltic fish; the saffron-and-cilantro-scented Silk Road legacy of the easternmost republics; French-inflected holdovers from czarist palates; and fragrant wild berries and heady forest mushrooms preserved from too-brief summers. It’s far more than cabbage and beets—although if you know what you’re doing, you can also create beautiful dishes with these salt-of-the-earth ingredients. And no matter what the region, it’s not just hearty warm-you-in-winter dishes, but also garden-based summer feasts, and zakuski—the bright and varied little mezze-like bites that enliven any celebration, and come with their own ritualized etiquette of hosting and toasting. And it’s this food—and feeling—we bring to Kachka’s table.

YOU’RE OPENING WHAT KIND OF RESTAURANT?!?

This lavishly set table—the one I grew up around as a child of Soviet immigrants—is barely known in the New World. My husband and I learned this over and over again when, in 2013, we set out to open Kachka in Portland, Oregon. When you open a restaurant, you meet a lot of faces: contractors, city inspectors, financiers, vendors, potential employees, food writers, and on and on. And with each one, we had some variation of this same conversation:

STRANGER: So what’s your business?

ME: We’re opening a restaurant!

STRANGER: Oh, how great! What kind of food?

ME: Food from the former Soviet Union.

STRANGER: [blank]

ME: … like Russia, Belarus, Georgia, Latvia …

STRANGER: [long pause] Oh, is Belarus near Moscow?

ME: No, it’s a country west of Russia.

STRANGER: [confusion]

ME: Anyway, it’s basically Russian food with a lot of influence from countries surrounding it.

STRANGER: Huh. So what kind of food is that

ME: Well, that would be like asking someone to explain what French or Italian food is in just one sentence. It’s … well … I mean, there’s lots of cabbage …

STRANGER: [interjects] Look at the time! I’ve got that thing I need to go do. Uh, good luck with your restaurant …

Kachka opened its doors in April 2014. And although most diners were unfamiliar with Russian food, they gave us a shot—and keep coming back for more. Walking into Kachka is like walking into a party, pulling up a seat at the whole sprawling, eclectic, joyous table of the former Russian Empire. As Vladimir Vysotsky (aka Russian Bob Dylan) and post-Soviet rock alternate from the speakers, diners tear up over cabbage rolls that remind them of their long-departed grandmothers (be they from Ukraine, Poland, or Pittsburgh). Or they toast the night with spirituous cocktails and vodka infused with everything from sea buckthorn berries to dill flowers. Or they find themselves, to their great surprise, falling for beef tongue.

MY JOURNEY BACK TO RUSSIAN FOOD

Nowadays I can hold forth on the wonders of Russian cuisine for days and days, losing myself in Soviet-era culinary manuals and handwritten recipe cards. But growing up as a child of immigrants from the former

Soviet Union, I didn’t exactly extol the virtues of this food from the rooftops. I was born in suburban Chicago in 1981, a year after my parents immigrated. And like all good first-generation kids, I wanted nothing to do with my family’s rich culinary legacy—I wanted to be American. I was embarrassed by the jars of pickles fermenting in the basement and cold hot dogs snuck into lunch boxes. I wished for the standardized perfection of Lunchables. I wanted to go out to White Castle, not White Nights, the glitzy Russian banquet hall of my Chicago youth. I’d warn visiting friends before they came to dinner, and pray that my mom not make anything too foreign. And then I went through a period where I decided that Russian food was just broken—but I could fix it with healthy lashings of the French techniques I learned as an eager young culinary school graduate. Then I met my husband.

Clockwise from top left: My dad and I sing Russian songs after dinner with friends; The Iron Curtain falls in the late eighties, and our relatives start emigrating. Our American family grows!; The American dream realized—our first car (I’m the bundle)!; Israel joins the family and joins in the fun.

When I first took Israel home to meet my family during our early days, he wanted to make a good impression. And, in a Russian Jewish family, that means eating. It took a few family dinners before I realized he wasn’t just cleaning his plate to be polite. Juicy-yet-crunchy sauerkraut, lively sorrel soup, and braised short ribs—they were exciting yet approachable, familiar but like nothing he’d ever tasted. And not just that—there was the ritual of the table, the series of toasts, and the family who came together over long, food-filled evenings.

And slowly, I began to see things anew through his eyes. This was more than just getting reacquainted with childhood dishes—as Israel asked my mother questions, she began to tell stories, call up recipes, and unearth dishes she hadn’t made in decades. Machanka roasted in gravy, smoky-yet-lemony solyanka soup, little milk caramel oreshki cookies. At some point, it hit me: Russian food was never broken. Though I continued to work in professional kitchens, my long-term goal came into focus: reclaiming the food of my family.

As Israel and I fell in love with this food (and each other), we stayed up nights over satisfying bowls of Siberian dumplings, thinking about how to bring this cuisine—and this way of eating—to other people. And, with fingers crossed that even non-Russians could learn to love herring, we sketched out the menu and approach that would become our restaurant, made a business plan, and found financial backing. And after many awkward conversations with doubting strangers, we opened Kachka. It turned out that not only could non-Russians learn to love herring; they were clamoring for it. We struck a chord because Kachka is the story of my family, but also the experience of millions—told through food that is intoxicating, rich, and varied.

THE WAR, THE GENERATIONS, AND A LITTLE DUCK

Kachka’s menu is firmly rooted in the Soviet era, with nods even further back to both czarist excess and traditional rustic foodways. But my own family’s story—and the restaurant itself—owes its very existence to a singular moment seventy-five years ago. In October 1941, in a little town called Bobr in Belarus, the Jews were rounded up into the ghetto, and forced to dig a large hole. The next steps were pretty clear. So my grandmother Rakhil Altshuler layered on all of her warmest clothes. Bundled up her three-month-old baby, kissed her parents goodbye, and slipped out under the barbed wire fence. A day later, all of Bobr’s 961 Jews were killed.

My grandmother Rakhil.

My grandmother spent two months on foot, traveling through forests from village to village, begging for something to eat or a place to sleep. Her baby starved, and she dug a hole with her hands to bury him in a field. Finally, she was stopped by a starosta—one of the Nazi-appointed town wardens. My grandmother repeated the story she’d been carrying: she was a Ukrainian woman on her way to her husband’s family. “If you’re from Ukraine,” he asked doubtfully, seeing the dark complexion of a Belarusian Jew, “How do you say ‘ootka’ [duck] in Ukrainian?”

My grandmother didn’t know Ukrainian. At home, she spoke Yiddish and Russian, a few words of Belarusian. So she crossed her fingers, took a deep breath, and pulled out the Belarusian/Yiddish word: kachka. And with this one little word, this little duck, the key slid in the lock and the gates fell open. My grandmother passed through, and went on to join the partizan resistance.

A generation later, her son—my father, Vyacheslav (Slava) Frumkin—would cross his fingers, take a deep breath, and say goodbye to his mother for the last time. He would leave the Soviet Union to move to Chicago with his wife, Lyubov, and young son, Simon, becoming part of the story of Soviet Jewish immigration to the New World. A year later, I was born. And when I took a deep breath and decided to open a Russian restaurant in Portland, there was no question what we would call it. The name Kachka is a shorthand for the courage of all of these journeys—my grandmother’s perseverance through those life-or-death wartime years; my parents’ chutzpah in leaving everything they knew to make a life in a new world that may as well have been a new planet; and my own mission to bring the food, stories, and feelings of all of these threads of the Russian experience to an entirely new table.

THIS IS NOT A RUSSIAN COOKBOOK

Yes, I know—I’ve just told the story of Russian food, my Russian family, and our Russian restaurant. But let me repeat: THIS IS NOT A RUSSIAN COOKBOOK.

When my parents emigrated in 1980, the word “Russia” was used interchangeably with “the Soviet Union.” All fifteen republics were part of Mother Russia. But my parents are not Russian. Technically, they’re Belarusian—although they never lived in a country called Belarus. Outside of a short-lived moment after the revolution, Belarus wasn’t even an independent country until 1990, a decade after my family left. And on my parents’ passports, their nationality was listed as “Jewish” (which is a whole other, far more loaded story).

But officially, on top of all of these identities, they spent their entire lives in the Soviet Union, which was very much its own thing—both culturally and culinarily. And that’s just one experience, from a country that was relatively well appropriated into the Soviet Union. And so the food that I make is inspired by a place, the Soviet Union, that no longer exists. And as much as we shudder at the portrait of Lenin above the kitchen stove, the food on the table beneath it was a direct result of the forces he put into play.

So, yes, to call something Russian is a bit of a loaded gloss, a term I’m still working through (and perhaps will never pin down). But it’s one that captures the wider picture of all of the regions, histories, and foods that spill out onto Kachka’s tables (in addition to being less of a mouthful than “foods of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics”). Just know that whenever you see the word “Russian” from here on in, it comes with a big fat asterisk implied.

Through these pages, you’ll find Latvian sprats and Georgian khachapuri, recipes inspired by both Soviet food ministers and beloved grandmothers. And, yes, vodka. And the very-much-alive souls of Chekhov and Dostoevsky, spilling out over silver samovars and folding tables. And the most heavenly yeasted blini, wrapped around caviar and cultured butter. Because this food, no matter how it’s defined, is a soulful celebration in the face of harshness—be it government apparatchiks or punishing winters—where all you can do is seize the bounty and the moment, look around at your nearest and dearest, and raise your glass.

HOW TO USE THIS BOOK

In these pages you’ll find not just Russian recipes, but a guide to the overall Russian way of eating—from showing proper hospitality with an epic spread of zakuski snacks (here), to preparing main dishes that range from slow-cooked humble homestyle staples (here) to czar-worthy creations (here). Learn what to stock your pantry with to be able to turn out a Russian meal on short notice (here), and have a handy guide should you choose to elbow a place on line amid the babushkas at your local Russian market (here).

Kachka tells the stories behind everything from filling your samovar (here) to raising your glass with a proper soul-baring toast (here), and why dumplings are so beloved that they merit their own chapter (here). Turning out a feast worthy of a tradition-bound babushka or a modern Muscovite can be easily accomplished with little more than supermarket staples and standard kitchen tools. Though we accept full blame if you end up obsessively seeking out sea buckthorn berries (here) or pelmenitsa molds (here)—not to mention shot glasses for your vodka.

A DISCLAIMER

Some of these recipes are (almost) straight from my mother’s smudged and stained files, and some feature the results of my own deliciously inauthentic tinkering with the ingredients of the region (Dungeness crab piroshki and beet-infused gin, I’m looking in your direction). I’d argue that both are equally authentic to the Russian experience. Invariably, it’s the recipes I have barely changed that diners will admonish me are not traditional—by which they mean are different from the way their own babushka made them. This is not an encyclopedia or field study, capturing every regional variation. The recipes here are shaped by my background as both Russian and American, chef and home cook—and true believer in Russian cuisine and the fuller Russian experience of which food is just one (very, very critical) part.

Top row: Lithuanian cured meats at a market in Vilnius; plombir sandwich. Middle row: slabs of cured salo at a market in Minsk; foraged porcini mushrooms, painstakingly hand-threaded together; kvas truck and attendant. Bottom row: hot-smoked mackerel at a beach-side smoke shack on the Baltic Sea; various herbal remedies; mountains and mountains of beautiful berries in Minsk.

A NOTE ABOUT SALT

Most of the recipes in this book (and really most cookbooks out there) call for “salting to taste”—this isn’t meant to be a cop-out so much as a way of empowering you to respond to your own ingredients and palate. But seasoning food correctly is frankly the most important element to making it taste good. It is at once easy to attain and yet elusive. Properly salted food does not taste salty, but instead just has an amplified flavor. You’d be surprised how paying mindful attention to this one little step can take a dish from forgettable to phenomenal.

In cases where I do call for specific measurements (generally in marinades, meats, and doughs where you might not want to taste the unfinished product), recipe measurements have been developed using Diamond kosher salt, which I favor for its large flakes and clean, neutral taste. This is important to note because the shape and size of salt crystals can vary tremendously from brand to brand (for example, Morton kosher salt is at least twice as salty by volume as Diamond). If you are using any other salt (kosher or otherwise), adjust accordingly.

WHEN TO USE A SCALE

Most measurements are given by volume, but I have included weights in a few spots where useful for more consistent results. A digital scale is one of the handiest additions to any home kitchen, and worth the twenty-dollar-or-so investment. If you aren’t in the mood, just ignore the weights and use the volume equivalents.

My mother’s childhood home in Borisov, Belarus.

Even if you can source most ingredients at your local grocery store, it’s still worth checking out the Russian markets for some inspiration (and surprising finds). Every market varies in its selection, quality (check labels!*), and use of English (be prepared to point and smile). Consult my guide to stocking your pantry (here) for more specific product details, but this overview should help orient you to the overall shopping experience.

Also note that in many smaller markets, the deli case is at the same counter as the register. In these setups, you’re expected to pay for your entire basket after ordering from the case. If you plan to buy anything in the aisles, make the case your last stop.

HELPFUL PHRASES

PLEASE: пожалуйста (pa-ZHA-lu-sta)

THANK YOU: спасибо (spa-SI-ba)

CAN I TRY A PIECE?: можно мне попробовать кусочек?

(MO-zhna mnye pa-PRO-ba-vat ku-SO-chek?)

SLICE THINLY (AS A COMMAND): тонко порезать (TON-ka pa-REH-zat)

HALF A POUND: пол паунда (pol pOWn-da)

WHICH IS BEST?: какое лучше? (ka-KO-ye LUCH-shea?)

THE SMOKED FISH COUNTER

Not all cured fish deli cases are created equal—they vary depending upon the part of the country and makeup of the clientele, making it hard to predict the availability of specific products. If there’s a robust selection, look for cold-smoked syomga (salmon) pieces (rather than slices), kapitan (a type of rich white-fleshed fish), or ugor (hot-smoked eel). If not, ask the clerk for recommendations, and look for smoked fish that are either vacuum-packed or sold whole, as they tend to be more sochny (juicy).

THE HERRING COOLER

Of course you would expect to find herring at a Russian market. But the sheer number of options can be a bit mind-numbing. There might be a few pickled varieties, but Russians aren’t really into the sweet stuff (that’s more Scandinavian)—salt-cured and stored in oil is what you’re looking for. Gold Star and Haifa brands are typically good bets.

BREADS

To me, there is just no substitute for a good chorni khleb (black bread). And it is next to impossible to find a real loaf of black bread pretty much anywhere but a Russian store. Look for Litkovsky (dense, dark, and slightly sweet) or Borodinsky (similar, with coriander seeds), and pick up an extra loaf to stash in your freezer. These denser breads take to freezing particularly well, needing just a little wake-me-up in the oven before serving. Also check out Armenian lavash, lepyoshki (flatbreads), and all forms of lighter sour ryes.

THE CURED MEAT CASE

Holy moly—there are a lot of options here. But in general, you can’t go too wrong, and you’re totally allowed (encouraged, even) to ask for a taste before buying. Not all stores will automatically slice your meat for you, so be sure to ask—and watch that they remove any plastic casings before starting! I tend to stick with salamis made under the Alef label, which are consistently good. Try a sampling of styles:

Moskovskaya (Moscow-style salami)

Yevreyskaya (Jewish-style salami)

Basturma (whole, air-dried beef loin)

Hot-smoked salo (pork belly)

Salt-cured salo (pork fatback—look for thick slabs, fully opaque)

Okhotnichya kolbasa (skinny dried hunter’s sausages)

Telyachiy rulet (hot-smoked veal roll)

THE PICKLE AISLE

I’m not just talking cucumbers—everything from apples to squash to garlic scapes can be found on these shelves. In a good store, you’ll find more species of mushrooms available than you probably knew existed. Larger markets may also have pickles fermented in-house available at the deli counter (sometimes with garlic cloves or scraps of horseradish leaves still bobbing in the brine).

THE PELMENI FREEZER

Making your own pelmeni is really worth tackling (beginning here). But buying a bag of these guys from the freezer section is nothing to shy away from. There will likely be several dozen options to choose from—pork, chicken, cheese, sauerkraut—and they make for an easy I’m-too-exhausted-to-cook dinner.

BOXED CHOCOLATES

DO NOT ACTUALLY BUY ANY OF THESE CHOCOLATES. They are generally stale and of poor quality (the chocolates available in bulk bins—see photo here and section here—are usually a better bet). But do stare in awe of the size and variety of boxes available. This speaks to the importance Russians place on bringing gifts when visiting someone.

MINERAL WATERS

Glacier spring mineral waters from southern Russia and Georgia are a must-try. Full of many naturally occurring minerals (each with its own flavor profile), they make for a surprising sip. Narzan is a good starter water—the most subdued. Borjomi, from Georgia, has a nice fine bubble and a briny, mineral taste. Essentuki #4 is the most intense experience, like a glass of ocean spray.

CONDIMENTS

Satsebeli. Narsharab. Tkemali. Adjika. And so on. There’s a wide range of interesting and tasty condiments to explore from all over the former Soviet Union. Quail egg mayo, anyone? Even the ketchups and mustards are a little different here. (PS: The good mustard is in the refrigerator—get the Zakuson brand.)

While we’re on the subject, find the spice aisle and snag a few seasoning packets to experiment with the next time you roast a chicken. Khmeli suneli, plov mix, adjika spices, et cetera—all quick, easy ways to get familiar with the flavors of the cuisine.

THE TVOROG AND SMETANA FRIDGE

For a region of the world that loves its dairy (even the caramel is made from milk sugars!), there really isn’t a tradition of Russian aged cheeses. Instead, you will find DOZENS of different brands and styles of tvorog (fresh farmer’s cheese), kefirs, and smetana (sour cream). Spend some time poring over the options with the same gusto you would the cheese counter in Paris.

* Some translation apps will actually read labels and signs in other languages and translate them for you—try it on those mystery cans!

CHAPTER 1

INFUSIONS, COCKTAILS, AND OTHER DRINKS

настойки, коктейли,

и другие напитки

It’s not an accident that beverages are at the front of this book. Drinking and eating are two sides of the same coin in Russia, so to prepare for a proper Russian feast, we must prepare the drinks.

Absolut Vodka first introduced the idea of flavored vodka to the American public in 1986, with their Absolut Peppar. But infusing vodkas (or, in many cases, samogon—moonshine) has been a regular part of life for millions of people all through the “vodka belt” of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Northern Europe for hundreds of years. These started as medicinal tonics, or ways to process and preserve fleeting ingredients (or soften the blow of rough-around-the-edges samogon), but have evolved into complex, balanced libations.

Making a good infusion (marshmallow or cinnamon bun vodka aside) is a serious task, deeply rooted in geography and tradition. Alcohol is the perfect vehicle to both preserve and amplify delicate flavors—especially when done well. My husband, Israel, has taken on the task of creating a thoughtful infusion program at Kachka that gives a nod to this storied Slavic practice—but also reflects our geography and our traditions.

Though well-made infusions require little other than a few bites of zakuski (see “Slava’s Guide to Drinking and the Pyanka,” here) to accompany them, we also honor modern drinking convention by using them to craft cocktails—because while horseradish-infused vodka is stellar on its own, a horseradish-infused vodka Bloody Mary is not too shabby either.

A few general notes:

FOLLOW THE PRESCRIBED STEEPING TIMES

There is an almost parabolic curve to infusing, and you need to time things out depending on where on that curve you want to land. Sometimes you want to infuse well past the peak of flavor to let time mellow things out, while other ingredients require you to stop infusing before volatile or bitter compounds take over. In other words, longer does not always equal better—follow the infusion times provided.

CHEAP AND NEUTRAL ARE YOUR FRIENDS

Don’t reach for that pricey you-can-really-taste-the-hand-harvested-wheat bottle of craft vodka if you’re going to toss in a few aromatic heads of flowering dill. Clean, bottom-shelf brands, like Taaka or Gordon’s, work best.

CONSIDER SHELF LIFE

No, an infused spirit will not go bad in a make-you-sick sort of way. However, you are introducing volatile compounds into an otherwise inert liquid. This means that the product will change as it sits, and not always in a tasty way. Infusions shouldn’t typically hang out on your back bar for more than a few months, collecting dust—so drink up!

VODKA INFUSIONS AND COCKTAILS

Tarragon—Laika

Horseradish—Bloody Masha

Chamomile—Baba Yaga

Cacao Nib—Black/White Russian

Hunter’s—Chervona Wine

Lime—Moscow Mule

Dill Flower

Sea Buckthorn Berry

Zubrovka—M. Bison

Cranberry—Kosmos-Politan

Strawberry

Rowanberry—Thor’s Salvation

INFUSIONS AND COCKTAILS FROM OTHER SPIRITS

Orange Vermouth—From Russia with Love

Earl Grey Tea Brandy—Baba Sima’s Tonic

Beet Gin—Red Heering

Grapefruit Gin—Pinko Commie Bastard

Lemon Aquavit—Nasha Dama

Caraway Rye Whiskey—Jewish Rye

OTHER DRINKS

Summer Kompot (Steeped Fresh Fruit Punch)

Blackberry Nalivka (Liqueur)

Kvas (Lightly Fermented Bread Soda)

Cranberry Mors (Juice)

Tarragon Soda

Slava’s Guide to Drinking and the Pyanka

Babushka’s Remedies

VODKA

INFUSIONS

AND

COCKTAILS

TARRAGON VODKA

настойка из тархуне

When you talk about tarragon in Russian cuisine, you’re usually talking soda—bright green Georgian soda. But infuse the clean, anise-y flavor into vodka, and you get an herbaceous complement for fish-focused zakuski—and it also marries beautifully with grapefruit, making for an out-of-this-world greyhound cocktail. We call ours Laika, after the first dog in space (also an out-of-this-world dog).

4 sprigs fresh tarragon

1 750-milliliter bottle of vodka

1 teaspoon simple syrup

Place the tarragon sprigs in a quart-sized mason jar and pour the vodka over them. Reserve the vodka bottle for the finished product. Screw on the lid and let steep for 24 hours in a dark, cool place.

After steeping, carefully pour the simple syrup into the reserved bottle. Strain the vodka from the tarragon into the bottle using a fine-mesh strainer and funnel. Discard the tarragon. Close the bottle and shake to combine. Freeze for at least 1 hour before serving.

LAIKA

лайка

YIELDS 1 DRINK

1½ ounces tarragon vodka

1½ ounces fresh grapefruit juice

1 teaspoon simple syrup (optional—some grapefruits are sweet enough on their own)

Tonic water (we use Fentimans)

Grapefruit twist (use a vegetable peeler to take off one big strip)

Pour the vodka, grapefruit juice, and simple syrup (if using) into an ice-filled shaker, and shake to combine. Strain into an ice-filled double old-fashioned glass, and top off with tonic water. Squeeze the grapefruit twist over the drink to express the oils, and place the twist in the drink.

HORSERADISH VODKA

настойка из xреновуха

So common is horseradish-infused alcohol that it has its own name—khren-a-VOO-kha. But often horseradish vodkas are too harsh, or just plain weak. On a trip to St. Petersburg in 2013, we tasted a horseradish vodka that was head and shoulders above the rest. So my dad charmed some tips out of our server, and when we got home, Israel got to work experimenting. The resulting infusion grew so quickly to cult status at Kachka that we’ve since started bottling it.

Amazingly, there is no Bloody Mary tradition in Russia—despite a well-demonstrated supply of vodka, hangovers, horseradish, and all sorts of pickled accoutrements. Clearly this was long overdue. In creating this Bloody Mary recipe, I turned to my brother, Simon, who is the king of Bloody Marys (and margaritas, but that’s a different book).

1¼ ounces peeled horseradish root, cut into 2-inch chunks

1 750-milliliter bottle of vodka

1½ teaspoons honey

Place the horseradish root in a quart-sized mason jar and pour the vodka over it. Reserve the vodka bottle for the finished product. Screw on the lid and let steep for 1 week in a dark, cool place.

After steeping, carefully pour the honey into the reserved bottle. Strain the vodka from the horseradish into the bottle using a fine-mesh strainer and funnel. Discard the horseradish. Close the bottle and shake to combine. Freeze for at least 1 hour before serving.

BLOODY MASHA

YIELDS 1 PINT

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds

6 ounces Campbell’s tomato juice*

2¼ ounces horseradish vodka

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon chopped fresh dill

½ teaspoon prepared horseradish

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Garnishes of your choice†

Heat a small skillet over medium heat, and toast the caraway seeds, black peppercorns, coriander seeds, and mustard seeds, stirring until aromatic (a minute or two). Pulverize in a spice grinder and toss the ground spices into a mixing bowl along with the remaining ingredients. Whisk until combined, and taste to adjust seasonings.

Fill a glass (or two) with ice, and pour in the drink. Top with skewered garnishes of your choice.

* If using a different brand, you may need to add more salt.

†Pickles (green tomatoes and beets are especially nice), chunks or slices of cured meats, smoked fish, cheese, fresh herbs (dill, celery hearts, etc.)

CHAMOMILE VODKA

настойка на ромашке

Russian grandmothers will administer chamomile infusions for ulcers, gas, and pretty much any complaint. Unlike chamomile tisane (which I’ve always found disappointingly one-note), an alcohol extraction pulls out different elements, leaving an infusion with strong honey and floral notes. Those flavors play nicely in the Baba Yaga cocktail.

Baba Yaga is a witchy grandma in Russian folklore, who lives in a house built on chicken legs and might occasionally eat a lost child or two. So what better to name a cocktail inspired by this medicinal grandma potion? Plus we slip in some Strega, a liqueur named for an Italian grandmotherly witch, so we couldn’t resist. The resulting cocktail is basically a sour, but with a not-too-sweet floral element from the infusion.

½ cup loose-leaf chamomile tisane (flowers)*

1 750-milliliter bottle of vodka

1 teaspoon simple syrup

Place the chamomile in a quart-sized mason jar and pour the vodka over it. Reserve the vodka bottle for the finished product. Screw on the lid and let steep for 24 hours in a dark, cool place.

After steeping, carefully pour the simple syrup into the reserved bottle. Strain the vodka from the chamomile into the bottle using a fine-mesh strainer and funnel. Discard the chamomile. Close the bottle and shake to combine. Freeze for at least 1 hour before serving.

BABA YAGA

баба яга

YIELDS 1 DRINK

2 ounces chamomile vodka

¾ ounce fresh lemon juice

½ ounce simple syrup

¼ ounce Liquore Strega (if unavailable, substitute Yellow Chartreuse)

Lemon twist (use a vegetable peeler to take off one big strip)

Pour the vodka, lemon juice, simple syrup, and Liquore Strega into an ice-filled shaker, and shake to combine. Double strain into a coupe or martini glass. Squeeze the lemon twist over the drink to express the oils, and discard.

*Available in tea shops or natural-food markets

CACAO NIB VODKA

настойка на какао

When you hear “chocolate vodka,” you think sickly sweet kids’ stuff. Which is why we initially resisted it. But we worked out a version that manages to be deep, rich, and bittersweetly balanced. Not surprisingly, it makes for a superior Black or White Russian.

2 tablespoons cacao nibs

1 750-milliliter bottle of vodka

1 tablespoon simple syrup

Preheat your oven to 375°F. Place the nibs on a rimmed baking sheet, and toast them for 5 minutes (they’ll begin to smell delicious). Remove from the oven and let cool slightly, then place them in a quart-sized mason jar and pour the vodka over them. Reserve the vodka bottle for the finished product. Screw on the lid and let steep for 1 week in a dark, cool place.

After steeping, carefully pour the simple syrup into the reserved bottle. Strain the vodka from the nibs into the bottle using a fine-mesh strainer and funnel. Discard the nibs. Close the bottle and shake to combine. Freeze for at least 1 hour before serving.

BLACK/WHITE RUSSIAN

YIELDS 1 DRINK

1½ ounces cacao nib vodka

¾ ounce coffee liqueur (we use Portland’s New Deal Coffee Liqueur)

5 drops Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters (these are worth seeking out for the full effect)

FOR WHITE RUSSIAN ADD:

½ ounce simple syrup

2 ounces half-and-half

For Black Russian: Pour the vodka, coffee liqueur, and bitters into an ice-filled mixing glass, and stir for 5 seconds. Strain into an old-fashioned glass, then add ice. Serve with bar straws for stirring.

For White Russian: Follow directions above for Black Russian, but add the simple syrup to the stirred ingredients. After straining and adding ice, gently top with the half-and-half.

HUNTER’S VODKA

настойка охотничья

Although the ingredients in this traditional infusion vary from house to house, you’ll always find a mix of hard spices, creating a woodsy, wintery vibe. Which is why it works so well in the Chervona Wine cocktail.

The cocktail is based on a sangaree, basically a cold mulled wine (and a natural friend to these wintery spices). “Chervona” means red in Ukrainian (in addition to being the name of a great Portland band), and this cocktail is a perfect way to use up last night’s red wine.

1½ teaspoons whole allspice berries

1½ teaspoons juniper berries

½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns

½ teaspoon whole coriander seeds

½ teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds

1 stick cinnamon

1 slice dried star anise

1 whole clove

1 750-milliliter bottle of vodka

1 tablespoon maple syrup

Heat a small skillet over medium heat, and toast the allspice and juniper berries, black peppercorns, coriander and fenugreek seeds, cinnamon, star anise, and clove, stirring until aromatic (a minute or two). Place the spices in a quart-sized mason jar and pour the vodka over them. Reserve the vodka bottle for the finished product. Screw on the lid and let steep for 4 days in a dark, cool place.

After steeping, carefully pour the maple syrup into the reserved bottle. Strain the vodka from the spices into the bottle using a fine-mesh strainer and funnel. Discard the spices. Close the bottle and shake to combine. Freeze for at least 1 hour before serving.

CHERVONA WINE

YIELDS 1 DRINK

1½ ounces hunter’s vodka

1½ ounces dry red wine

½ ounce Dolin Rouge sweet vermouth

½ ounce simple syrup

Orange twist (use a vegetable peeler to take off one big strip)

Whole nutmeg

Pour the vodka, wine, vermouth, and simple syrup into an ice-filled shaker, and shake to combine. Strain into an ice-filled double old-fashioned glass. Squeeze the orange twist over the drink to express the oils, place the twist in the drink, and grate nutmeg over the top to finish.

LIME VODKA

настойка на лайме

A Moscow mule is not a Russian cocktail. At all. But everyone expects us to make one—and so we’ve figured out how to make a pretty mean mule. The difference between ours and the standard bar offering? Lime-infused vodka. Infusing citrus carries deeper, more complex notes of lime than you can get from juice alone—it’s got a nice snap on its own, and is strong enough to stand up to a stubborn mule’s ginger and vodka.

2 whole limes

1 750-milliliter bottle of vodka

Place the limes in a quart-sized mason jar and pour the vodka over them. Reserve the vodka bottle for the finished product. Screw on the lid and let steep for 24 hours in a dark, cool place.

After steeping, remove and discard the limes. Using a funnel, transfer the vodka to the reserved bottle. Freeze for at least 1 hour before serving.

MOSCOW MULE

YIELDS 1 DRINK

2 ounces lime vodka

¾ ounce fresh lime juice

¼ ounce ginger syrup (we like Ginger People, or make your own by shaking together equal parts fresh ginger juice and granulated sugar)

Ginger beer (we use Fever-Tree)

Lime wheel

Pour the vodka, lime juice, and ginger syrup into an ice-filled shaker, and shake to combine. Strain into an ice-filled double old-fashioned glass (if you don’t have a copper mug, that is), and top off with ginger beer. Garnish with a lime wheel.

DILL FLOWER VODKA

настойка на зонтиках укропа

When you use dill flowers, you get so much more complexity than from the fronds alone.

The clean, almost minty flavor is a natural fit for the zakuski table, especially paired

with pickled green tomatoes (here).

1 fresh head flowering dill

1 750-milliliter bottle of vodka

1 teaspoon simple syrup

Place the dill in a quart-sized mason jar and pour the vodka over it. Reserve the vodka bottle for the finished product. Screw on the lid and let steep for 24 hours in a dark, cool place.

After steeping, carefully pour the simple syrup into the reserved bottle. Strain the vodka from the dill flowers into the bottle using a fine-mesh strainer and funnel. Discard the dill. Close the bottle and shake to combine. Freeze for at least 1 hour before serving.

SEA BUCKTHORN BERRY VODKA

настойка из облепихи

Sea buckthorn is one of the common infusions you see steeping on a babushka’s kitchen shelf. Usually taken as a get-your-vitamin-C tonic, these tiny Siberian berries are not just good

for you—they carry an alluring mix of apricot, peach, and passionfruit flavors.

1 pound (about 3 cups) frozen sea buckthorn berries, thawed

4 ounces simple syrup

1 750-milliliter bottle of vodka

Toss the berries in a mixing bowl, and use a potato masher to smash them. Transfer to a quart-sized mason jar with the simple syrup. Add the vodka. Reserve the vodka bottle for the finished product. Screw on the lid and let steep for 1 month in a dark, cool place.

After steeping, line a fine-mesh strainer with several layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter, and pour the vodka through the strainer and a funnel into the reserved bottle. Refrigerate before serving. Do not freeze.

ZUBROVKA VODKA

зубровка

Zubrovka, also known as bison grass, is a sweet grass that grows throughout parts of Europe and North America. It has an intoxicating scent—like a clean whiff of hay mixed with vanilla. Commercially available zubrovka vodkas are made with an extract, which just doesn’t capture the same heady harvest notes. Find braids of dried and cured zubrovka online, usually labeled sweetgrass, and infuse it for the real deal.

If you want to be like the cool kids in Belarus, mix zubrovka with Sprite or apple juice. If you want a more grown-up drink, make the M. Bison. Just like the Street Fighter video game character, it’s bold yet light on its feet.

4 grams dried bison grass (this is strong stuff, so best to go by weight)

1 750-milliliter bottle of vodka

1 tablespoon simple syrup

Place the bison grass in a quart-sized mason jar and pour the vodka over it. Reserve the vodka bottle for the finished product. Screw on the lid and let steep for 24 hours in a dark, cool place.

After steeping, carefully pour the simple syrup into the reserved bottle. Strain the vodka from the bison grass into the bottle using a fine-mesh strainer and funnel. Discard the bison grass. Close the bottle and shake to combine. Freeze for at least 1 hour before serving.

M. BISON

YIELDS 1 DRINK

2 ounces zubrovka vodka

¾ ounce fresh lemon juice

½ ounce sour cherry syrup (available at Russian markets—you can substitute grenadine, or sour cherry juice plus some simple syrup)

½ ounce Bäska Snaps Med Malört (if unavailable, substitute Lillet Blanc or Cocchi Americano)

Club soda (use tonic water if substituting Lillet or Cocchi)

Amarena cherry

Pour the vodka, lemon juice, cherry syrup, and Bäska Snaps into an ice-filled shaker, and shake to combine. Strain into an ice-filled collins glass, top with club soda (tonic water if using Lillet or Cocchi), and garnish with an amarena cherry.

CRANBERRY VODKA

клюковка

Many people think of cranberries as totally Thanksgiving-table America, but they are an important part of Russian cuisine year-round. Klyukva are a thinner-skinned and sweeter variety of cranberry, but the flavors are one and the same—and they happen to make for a lovely garnet vodka.

When it comes to vodka cocktails, the cosmopolitan is one of the classics. But why use cranberry juice when you can use cranberry vodka? Add some cranberry bitters, and the cranberry flavor is as big as the kosmos. Admittedly, this is a variation on the daisy cocktail rather than a true cosmo template—but really all that matters is it’s out-of-this-world delicious.

12 ounces (about 3 cups) frozen cranberries, thawed

2 ounces simple syrup

1 750-milliliter bottle of vodka

Toss the berries in a mixing bowl and use a potato masher to smash them. Transfer to a quart-sized mason jar with the simple syrup, then add the vodka. Reserve the vodka bottle for the finished product. Screw on the lid and let steep for 2 weeks in a dark, cool place.

After steeping, line a fine-mesh strainer with several layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter, and pour the vodka through the strainer and a funnel into the reserved bottle. Refrigerate before serving. Do not freeze.

KOSMOS-POLITAN

YIELDS 1 DRINK

1½ ounces cranberry vodka

¾ ounce fresh lime juice

½ ounce St. Germain

¼ ounce Giffard Crème de Pêche de Vigne

3 dashes Fee’s cranberry bitters

1 ounce club soda

Pour the vodka, lime juice, St. Germain, Crème de Pêche, and bitters into an ice-filled shaker, and shake to combine. Double strain into a coupe or martini glass and top off with club soda.

STRAWBERRY VODKA

настойка на клубнике

Strawberry vodka is like a time capsule in a shot glass, capturing a bowl of berries at their absolute peak ripeness. And somehow amplifying the flavors, making them even more than they are. One of our best regulars is so enamored of this infusion that he’s been known to drop everything and come running when this highly seasonal infusion is ready. And he’s not alone—it’s something of a religious event around here.

1 cup whole strawberries (we use Oregon’s Hood strawberries, but any peak-of-season variety will do)

1 750-milliliter bottle of vodka

2 tablespoons sugar

Thoroughly wash the strawberries and remove the stems. Place the whole strawberries in a quart-sized mason jar and pour the vodka over them. Reserve the vodka bottle for the finished product. Screw on the lid and let steep for 1 week in a dark, cool place.

After steeping, strain the vodka from the strawberries into the bottle using a fine-mesh strainer and funnel. Discard the strawberries. Add the sugar, close the bottle, and shake to combine. Freeze for at least 1 hour before serving.

ROWANBERRY VODKA

рябиновка

Known as ryabina, rowanberry (or mountain ashberry) is a very traditional infusion. This tree is typically viewed as purely ornamental in the United States, which has led to some embarrassing grandma-stealing-from-the-neighbors moments (don’t ask). Once you know what you’re looking for, you’ll find mountain ash shrubs everywhere you look. Rowanberries need to be picked after a frost for their full sweetness to develop—but you can fake it by tossing them in your freezer overnight.

In Norse mythology, the rowan is called “the salvation of Thor,” because its branches saved the thunder god from drowning. Our play on a daiquiri is crisp and refreshing (while packing a wallop). We serve it with a large ice cube to symbolize Thor’s hammer.

2 pounds frozen rowanberries, thawed

⅓ cup simple syrup

1 750-milliliter bottle of vodka

Toss the berries in a mixing bowl, and use a potato masher to smash them. Transfer into a half-gallon mason jar with the simple syrup, then add the vodka. Reserve the vodka bottle for the finished product. Screw on the lid and let steep for 1 month in a dark, cool place.

After steeping, line a fine-mesh strainer with several layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter, and pour the vodka through the strainer and a funnel into the reserved bottle. Freeze for at least 1 hour before serving.

THOR’S SALVATION

YIELDS 1 DRINK

2 ounces rowanberry vodka

¾ ounce Falernum

½ ounce fresh lime juice

½ teaspoon Fernet-Branca

Pour all the ingredients into an ice-filled shaker, and shake to combine. Double strain into an old-fashioned glass with one big ice cube.

SLAVA’S GUIDE TO DRINKING AND THE PYANKA

There is a Russian word that has no English equivalent: PYANKA (пьянка)

A pyanka essentially translates as a party where drinking is the main objective. But it’s not really about the alcohol—it’s about the experience. About opening your heart when you open the bottle (and, of course, filling your plate as you fill your glass). At the center of a pyanka—of Russian drinking in general—are three guiding principles:

1. NEVER DRINK ALONE.

This doesn’t just mean making sure you have a compatriot at your side (although that’s part of it)—it means literally drinking in unison. Everyone fills up their shot glasses together, and then drinks their measure in tandem. At a pyanka, a tamada (host) serves as a sort of ringmaster for the unfolding group drinks and toasts.

2. ALWAYS DRINK FOR A REASON.

Each shot requires a reason—laid out in a toast. And a simple “cheers” just doesn’t cut it. A drink requires some thoughtfulness. Raising a glass in honor of the host, reading a scrap of poetry for a loved one—this is why we drink.

3. NEVER DRINK WITHOUT EATING.

Eating means EATING. I’m talking breaking bread, not beer nuts. To a Russian, all parties are dinner parties—and having something in your stomach means you can keep toasting for the next several hours.

With these three guiding principles, a sort of cadence emerges. A toast to bring everyone together, the clinking of glasses, throwing back your drink, and eating a few zakuski. And this repeats itself over and over.

Toast, clink, drink, eat, repeat.

Toast, clink, drink, eat, repeat.

It’s such a beautiful way to spend time together. And that is what a pyanka really is.

Didn’t grow up pouring out your Soviet soul over shots of vodka? Here’s a guide to the true Russian pyanka, according to my dad.

ON DRINKING IN GOOD COMPANY

“For me the drinking starts with the company. Great company is the key. As far as what does great company mean: obviously it’s a conversation. I mean, if you sitting and keep quiet, this is not great company. You need to have respect for the people you are drinking with. Conversation is running like a rechiyok—how you say—a river?”

ON BEING AT THE READY

“Best parties happen spontaneous. No phones, people just show up. Pull out from refrigerator salo [cured fatback or pork belly], and kapusta [cabbage] from the pogreb [cellar]. Basically, you have to have at home permanent readiness. Always prepared for a party. We can’t be caught with nothing to put on the table. If someone opens your door, you can hug your friend and start a party.”

ON BEING IN THE MOMENT

“Americans need to understand. It’s not just a long meal, it’s a long process. Be prepared—kak eto—it’s not a sprinter, it’s a marathon. It’s a whole-night event. Take your time. Enjoy yourself. Relax. Follow the crowd. You have a toast. You clink the glasses, drink, eat. And the next toast is not too far away.”

ON THE TAMADA

“You elect a tamada—like a chairman of the drinking party. Tamada makes sure no one is passed over. Tamada is leading the conversation, unites all the individuals into one conversation and appoints the next toaster.”

ON TOASTS

“Toasts are born. Toasts are like a punch line for what you are talking about. Like every time you go to a party, just in case, you should have something to say. Often people will write poems or speeches to prepare in advance for a party [or a] quick and sharp phrase.”

ON FAUX PAS

“Never clink glass with your spouse (you will not have money). Never clink glasses when toasting to a departed. Always drink to the bottom—do d’na. Do not put down your shot glass after clinking without drinking—it’s like you’re ignoring the toast. To show respect, sometimes you get up and walk over to a specific person at the table to clink glasses.”

ON COCKTAILING

“It’s hard to change the habits in one night. Americans, they drink usually standing up before the meal, and then the dinner comes and that’s it. This is not right. I would say to try it and see if you like it [the Russian way]. Try this system of sitting and eating and drinking instead of this standing up. Let me put it this way: I’ve seen some Americans in our parties, and it seems to me they enjoyed it. You should try. You know what, put my phone number—I will join the party.”*

ON KNOWING HOW TO PACE YOURSELF

“Typically, I’m a good driver for a party. I know what’s the menu and what rhythm or pace to take. In the beginning with the zakuski we are getting a little boom boom boom—more frequent. Slow down as the party progresses. Main and dessert. And by dessert the time is late. Comes to a natural end.”

A NOTE ON DRINKING FROM THE AUTHOR

I find it helpful as the host of a party to set really small shot glasses to help control consumption (and allow more toasting before reaching capacity). And, of course, do drink responsibly: don’t just elect a tamada; elect a designated driver, too!

If serving vodka, freeze it first. Also, know that you do not need to drink vodka—or really any alcohol—to “drink like a Russian.” My babushka drinks Manischewitz. I often pour wine into my shot glass, and my six-year-old shoots with water (his favorite toast to give is “to the family!”). The important thing isn’t what’s in your glass—it’s to give sincere toasts, and gather together around a bountiful spread.

PYANKA CRIB SHEET

Use really small shot glasses (or don’t fill larger ones all the way).

You don’t need to drink alcohol to “drink like a Russian.” Pour juice or seltzer or anything you want in your shot glass.

Don’t cocktail first.

Elect a tamada.

Have enough food—and eat it!

Drink in unison (and don’t go rogue and drink alone between rounds).

Toast, clink, drink, eat, repeat.

Have a toast in your back pocket

(see below).

Don’t keep drinking after dinner.

Try a shot in the morning and some

sauerkraut juice to cure a hangover.

Slava’s Fallback Toasts

(if you’re short on inspiration)

“For everything that joins us.”

“To the host and/or hostess.”

“To our friendship [or to the mothers, the wives, the children, the family, et cetera].”

“To America.” (Because it is a great country!)

“Boodim [we will].”

“Za dam [to the ladies].” (I don’t like this toast, usually because you are getting in trouble with the ladies—happens a lot.)

“Za oodachu [to good fortune].”

*Much to my dad’s disappointment, I chose not to list his phone number.

 

Celebrated Portland chef Bonnie Frumkin Morales brings her acclaimed Portland restaurant Kachka into your home kitchen with a debut cookbook enlivening Russian cuisine with an emphasis on vibrant, locally sourced ingredients.

“With Kachka, Bonnie Morales has done something amazing: thoroughly update and modernize Russian cuisine while steadfastly holding to its traditions and spirit. Thank you comrade!”
Alton Brown

From bright pickles to pillowy dumplings, ingenious vodka infusions to traditional homestyle dishes, and varied zakuski to satisfying sweets, Kachka the cookbook covers the vivid world of Russian cuisine. More than 100 recipes show how easy it is to eat, drink, and open your heart in Soviet-inspired style, from the celebrated restaurant that is changing how America thinks about Russian food.

The recipes in this book set a communal table with nostalgic Eastern European dishes like Caucasus-inspired meatballs, Porcini Barley Soup, and Cauliflower Schnitzel, and give new and exciting twists to current food trends like pickling, fermentation, and bone broths.

Kachka’s recipes and narratives show how Russia’s storied tradition of smoked fish, cultured dairy, and a shot of vodka can be celebratory, elegant, and as easy as meat and potatoes. The food is clear and inviting, rooted in the past yet not at all afraid to play around and wear its punk rock heart on its sleeve.

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