Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Top Russian Eats … Found in New York!

I went to Russia to visit a friend who has been living in Moscow for six months. He hails from Boston himself, but his father is Russian, and so my buddy grew up speaking the language. I was excited to see him and to get an insider tour of the country and its cuisine. Between Solomon and his Russian girlfriend, Sasha, I knew I was in for a treat. A week of new food, from soda to salad, spoiled me silly. When I returned to New York, I arrived with cravings for caviar and marinated wild mushrooms as well as homemade Russian dumplings (Varenyky) and inexpensive Ukrainian cherries.
I headed out to Brighton Beach not even a week after I’d landed in JFK. Read below what I discovered in Russia and where you can get my finds in the Russian community that’s only a train ride away!

Black Bread.
Salmon Caviar.
Marinated mushrooms.
Cherrys for the Varenyky.
Kbac: You’ll read it in Cyrillic as kbac on the bottle, but pronounce it kvas to sound like a pro. The Russians grow up drinking this yeasty soda the same way we do with Coke. Kvas has an interesting taste that comes from the yeast and rye that composes it. The largest selection of kbac is at M & I International Foods (249 Brighton Beach Avenue).

Black Bread: M & I also has a wonderful selection of black bread, the mild rye bread that Russians eat as a staple with every meal. Whether it’s toast in the morning, slathered with butter and salmon caviar as a snack or an appetizer (or even at the airport!!), the bread is as common and irreplaceable as Wonderbread is in our food culture.

Salmon Caviar: And speaking of common, salmon caviar, called ikra, is so pedestrian that if you’ve grown up in Russia, you remember saying to mom, “no, not caviar for dinner again,” as my friend’s Russian girlfriend exhorted! I was wary about finding good salmon roe in the states, since it is now illegal to get it from the waters surrounding the motherland. However, at The Golden Label, at 281 Brighton Beach Avenue, my fears were put aside.

Displayed just as they do it in Russia—in a large bowl with a ladle—several types of roe were available by the pound. A quarter of a pound of the salmon roe was five dollars—a steal! And, of the caviar that I’d sampled since I’d returned (one jar from The Lobster Place and one from Gourmet Garage), this was certainly the freshest and tastiest.

Mushrooms: Mushroom hunting is a common sport for people during the spring and summer. At a dinner club (Royal Beach Club) in St. Petersburg, I sampled some delicious marinated mushrooms that I later discovered were a stand-by of Russian dinners. It was serendipitous to find a similar tangy medley at Food Heaven at 239 Brighton Beach Avenue.

Varenyky: I was lucky enough to have Sasha teach me her grandmother’s recipe for varenyky, Russian dumplings. We made potato and onion, cottage cheese, and fresh sour cherry versions that wowed Solomon. At Taste of Russia, 219 Brighton Beach Avenue, I found comparable nibbles. Though they didn’t have the homemade touch that Sasha had provided, they went over very well at a small gathering I had that evening.

Akcroshka: Sasha also taught me to make a traditional soup. I couldn’t find it in Brighton Beach, but I have the recipe. You’ll need to make the trek to Brooklyn for the Kbac, but otherwise, you should have all the ingredients in your own home.

3 hard-boiled eggs
1 cucumber
1 bunch radishes
3 small boiled potatoes
1/2 lbs cooked ham
1/4 cup chopped dill
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 liter kbac
sour cream

• Peel cucumber and cube. Do the same for the radishes and the potatoes.
• Cube the ham and dice the eggs.
• Mix everything into one bowl. Add the herbs and mix.
• Pour in the kbac until the vegetables have been almost covered.
• Dollop with a large spoonful of sour cream.

Serve, and for dessert, be sure to pick up some cherries at almost any fruit stand in Brighton Beach where, right now, a pound of plump Bings are only $2.99!

– Jill Donenfeld
Bings for only $2.99 a pound.
"When not scooping the latest for NYSD, Jill Donenfeld heads up The Dish's Dishes, a personal chef and catering company founded for those who crave delicious food without the hassle of making reservations, ordering in, or turning on the oven. For more information on how to get your first DISH, check out www.TheDishsDishes.com