First Trip to Kazan and Last Trip with My Job

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Before this gets any older and less relevant, this is my post on Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan Republic, Russia. The city counts no less than 1000 years of history. Felt a bit like traveling to another country – local language, narguilé places, women in foulards and long skirts… A true mixture!

Baumana Street

And now this is a double memory for me – my first trip to Tatarstan and my last job trip as University coordinator. Would you believe my dear reader that I’m unintentionally but very deeply sorrowfully unemployed? Oh yes. This time I was NOT the initiator, everything just went down unexpectedly, unjustly and … well, with lots of UN. No there’s one great company less in Russia, one place less to feel at home, understood and always welcome. Well, there’s this emptiness inside me as if I’ve lost a family, I just need to come back to life.

So let’s travel back to that week when I was still ‘over twenty and employed’. My already ex-job gave me lots of opportunities to see my own country, understand it better (although I really struggle to understand it anyway, especially now), see other ways and try to adjust to them. This last trip to Kazan was one of the longest in terms of duration and also very… talkative as I had to work three days in a row at the local educational fair plus communicate with my volunteer and people that I met there, so here lay quite a challenge for me : )

Chak-Chak

The first day (evening) when I got to Kazan I – quite not surprisingly – went straight away to the food place. My hotel was just opposite a large supermarket where there was a wall literally, shelves upon shelves of all sorts of chak-chak, the traditional Tatar fried honey dough treat (see explanation here). The thing you’re bound to take home for all you friends… which I did not. I don’t like deep-fried dough, sorry, no place for it in my luggage. Instead I bought some sunflower brittle bars, baklava (see first picture) and tea.

Kazan Village bread

Enormous Village Bread at the supermarket. It looks small on the photo but boy was it huge! Also spotted: milk and kefir of mostly 4% fat (in St Pete the most popular type is 2.5%), slabs of cheese worth 500 g minimum, lots of fried things – apparently the preferred way of cooking.

All the way during my trip I was listening to Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen (an audiobook read by some not very familiar with Russian language person). The book gets a bit too much at the end but it was also hilarious at times, sometimes really sad and very revealing – lots of things that I knew already got somehow linked into a picture. I know that anybody who has lived through that period has their own picture, but this one was quite close to what I imagine. I haven’t tried any of the recipes that come along with the book (mostly meat), but I would recommend you the book part if you REALLY interested in the USSR, otherwise you might get bored with the details of the Soviet byt if you don’t have a slightest idea about what that word means.

USSR museum

As if to complete the picture I also visited the Museum of the Socialist Way of Life (or as they put it the Soviet Lifestyle Museum, here), as I was strongly advised to do when I get to Kazan. Well, this is a place to go if you have time to look at every object on display and better still if you have some personal memories attached to these objects. Otherwise the museum will look like an attic of all things Soviet. Sometimes not smelling nicely : 0 I got some pictures of the Soviet kitchenware for you + just some Soviet stuff here:   

Rice Kasha

Canned baby food with rice. Developed by the Academy of Medical Science of the USSR. And yes, Soviet little girls wore dresses exactly THAT short plus those thick tights (not always very tight and not fitting you most of the times). Apparently they could buy things already at the age of consuming mostly baby food :D

famous glass bottles

The famous glass bottles for dairy products. The color of the foil cover told you what was inside – milk, kefir, ryazhenka. And that was the only part which was not recyclable! Cause the bottles, you returned them for a small fee, and that’s how they got used again.Yes, USSR lived almost without the problem of getting rid of all the waste as it was diligently recycled (reused) by the Soviet people themselves. BTW, the monkey at the bottom of the picture was a common toy, we had one too.

roly-poly toys

Talking about toys: these are the famous roly-poly toys every Soviet child had.

Matreshka

Though matreshkas were not that accessible for the children – I remember that our matreshka was to be played with only on special occasions when Grandma would take it out from the top shelf. Ours was a more … voluminous version of a matreshka.

Soviet pots

Two enameled pots from the 60s and the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.

school bag

Anti-glamour WOODEN school bag from the 1940s. Guess that was a hard job to go to school back then…

School chairs

And as if that was not enough you had to sit on these wooden school chairs (I remember sitting on such at school). Seeing these objects from the past made me shrug because just several days prior to visiting this museum I went to one of the best public schools in the city with obviously very generous funding (Moscow schools suck compared to that school!). I guess children will just not believe these used to be school things in several years. 

basketball mini game
And this is our our favourite game with my sis! I forgot to tell you about it in my Novosibirsk post – we went to the Soviet arcade game museum in Moscow on my way back home (here’s their website – you can even play on some of the machines online!). And this is a mini (baby) version of the famous basketball arcade game. It’s a pity I was alone in the museum – cause on of its perks is that you can touch any object on display.

from school menu

Well, from this picture one would assume that the Soviet school children were supposed to eat such luxurious treats at school. From the book School Food (Nutrition). I wonder what the Soviet children now grown up and full of memories would say when seeing this mystification .)

At a local canteen

I did not have a chance to try those treats from the ideal Soviet childhood but I did go twice to a local self-service canteen decorated – as many Soviet and post-Soviet cafes are – with artificial flowers. This is Dom Chaya (Tea House), a photo of which you can see right at the beginning of this post, a very democratic place to eat if you’re a student, an employee working nearby or just not afraid of somewhat canteen look inside.

At a local canteen

Yes, those are artificial peaches : ) And yes, most likely someone tried to chew on the second to last peach. The desiiiigner of the place should have been very imaginative when it came to the floor desiiiign. Artificial flowers, photo-wall papers – this is the choice for a post Soviet canteen.

There I tried two traditional Tatar (and Bashkir) dishes – Qistibi (pictured beneath) and Gubadia (a sweat pastry treat with traditionally cooked cottage cheese called kort, raisins and rice – they say the compete version contains… meat!). Qistibi is a deep-fried flat bread with mashed potatoes.

Kystymbyj

Well, to give you a more glamorous glance of what one of the Tatar and generally eastern treats you can try in Kazan, here’s a photo of baklava (pronounced in Russian as pakhlava), a very nutritious phyllo dough treat, the tradition of making which is shared with some other Eastern countries like Greece and Turkey, for example.

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Looks gorgeous. Lots of calories per milligram. But worth every one of them.

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One year agoCrostata and Challah, United

Two years agoNovgorod Borkannik or Carrot Pie

Heading on to the sunny future, aren’t we.

Just wait for more.

G.

Tea Muffins with Blueberry Jam

spring tulips

This overdue spring post just has to be published! I’ve already traveled to two Russian cities and have more recipes and impressions to share with you so let’s just move on : ) The only thing is that spring is still lingering here, being quite slow to come into force and say a definite goodbye to winter. So probably I’m not THAT very late with the tulips. This post will be short.

spring tulips

Here’s a version of a muffin recipe I have accidentally come up with after I bought a large jar of blueberry jam. It was so very … blueberry that jam that I thought I would love to bake something with it. You see, I usually bake with black currant jam or just black currants (usually frozen) since we have them in abundance at our dacha. But what I really love out of all the berries are the blueberries! So to make muffins which are really blueberry muffins and not a substitute was really joyful (baking people will understand : ). And yes, we’re almost finished with the last year harvest of black currents and the jam made with these!

Marmalade & Earl Grey Tea Cakes  from sugarcrafter.net

The original recipe Marmalade & Earl Grey Tea Cakes which can be found at sugarcrafter.net  got transformed into Tea Muffins with Blueberry Jam - the recipe will make smart looking muffins with soft jammy part inside.

My changes to the original recipe:

I used the blueberry jam I told you about and since it was quite runny (just sugar, water and berries) and well, very blue in color, I decided not to incorporate the jam inside the batter but rather add it as a middle layer or a filling. So I just filled the 1/3 of the muffin cup with the batter then added a bit of the jam and finally topped the jam with some more batter. I used muffin cups instead of the proposed mini loaf tins, thus getting ship-shape muffins as the result : )

I used the leftover tea from our breakfast, so it was not that famous bergamot tea but just plain black tea with fresh mint leaves.  The rest was the same.

Marmalade & Earl Grey Tea Cakes  from sugarcrafter.net

{with a mug from my favourite Aegina island}

A year agoTravelling Muffins and Wandering Bread and Crostata and Challah, United

Two years agoBOUGATSA!!! and Pies with Greek Flavours and Tough and Rakish 90s in USSR / Russia and Bring Some Artisan Bread to Your Life

Marmalade & Earl Grey Tea Cakes  from sugarcrafter.net

By the way yesterday (was it?) I listened to a radio program saying that Earl Grey tea is particularly beneficial to your health (although there’s caffeine of course) thanks to the bergamot oil added to the tea leaves. They say it lowers cholesterol level. So if you can get the bergamot tea for these muffins, do it : )

Marmalade & Earl Grey Tea Cakes  from sugarcrafter.net

Result: These spicy muffins keep shape, look nice and taste good! Use your favourite jam and decide for yourself whether it would taste and look better as a part of the batter or in between : ) Also the tea leaves that you’re supposed to add to the batter are not distinct very much, I even forgot that they were there when I was eating the muffins.

spring tulips

Special thanks to my sister for the flowers!

Will come back with more soon.

G.

Darnitskiy Bread

Since the day I first created this post and the actual ‘post’ day I have used this very easy and flexible recipe for the traditional Russian Darnitskiy bread I’m sharing with you here for so many times, that there will be photos of at least three versions =) Actually I’ve already adopted this recipe as my regular one, since I prefer sourdough rye bread to any other kind and have this insatiable sourdough culture in the fridge waiting to be used. When I get home I usually bake more sophisticated bread but for my own morning sandwiches this is the recipe I use almost every week now:

Darnitskiy Bread from breadgallery.wordpress.com

{two favourites of mine: black rye bread with soft Adygea cheese!}

Here’s an earlier edition of Darnitsky with this earthen Slavic-style mug purchased in Novosibirsk at the fair where I was working. Its author, a true craftsman, has his workshop in Tomsk, a very old city yet to be visited in Siberia. The sign on the mug is an ancient Slavic symbol which was as is known, used in its inverted version by Hitler and transformed into a sign of a very different power:

Darnitskiy Bread from breadgallery.wordpress.com

Drinking from this mug is like drinking from… an earthen teapot :) I wish I could substitute all my kitchen ware with earthen and wooden stuff. Since I was a child I have this soft spot for wooden spoons and earthen jugs (even used to go to a kid’s center to make my own)… Oh, there were those jars and jugs and bowls at the fair, I wish I could have them all!

Darnitskiy Bread from breadgallery.wordpress.com

The teapot, by the way, though Chinese:

Darnitskiy Bread from breadgallery.wordpress.com

The crust is nice, chewy and keeps well even when frozen and then defrosted:

Darnitskiy Bread from breadgallery.wordpress.com

The crumb depends on the amount of rye flour: I prefer to increase it and so the crumb is dense though with small air pockets. This is yet another edition, shot with the early daylight:

Darnitskiy Bread from breadgallery.wordpress.com

 I made an ‘experiment’ by splashing some water on the top of the just-from-the-oven bread and then returning it back to oven (already switched off but still hot). And this is the golden effect it made on the top crust:

Darnitskiy Bread from breadgallery.wordpress.com

Two years ago - Some St. Petersburg Shots and Breadsticks and Oh Mon Dieu, Ces Baguettes!.. and Pane al CioccolatoSenza Cioccolato

Darnitskiy Bread adapted from breadgallery.wordpress.com will become your daily bread recipe, adjust it to your liking or bake it as it is!

Go to Abel’s blog to find this and lots of other great bread recipes! Here are my changes to the ingredients:

I usually mix rye flour with rye bran and use it both for the sourdough and the dough itself, increasing the amount of rye up to 200 g and decreasing the amount of regular flour. I use less water in the dough as I pour boiling water onto some rye malt to make this bread even more authentic.

I omit salt by the way as the cheese is already salty and I also sometimes eat this bread with homemade jam (as a true Russian).

To vary the bread each time I make it, I sometimes add cardamom, caraway seeds, ground coriander or seeds to the bread. Traditional Darnitsky bread does not contain any of these but why not.

Remarks on the procedure:

It’s also a very useful recipe for those who cannot spend lots of time on baking but still want to make sourdough bread.

I have already experimented with letting the pre-mix (sourdough) rise for more than 6 hours and even for less time. I think you should judge from your own sourdough culture, if it’s active and strong, you shouldn’t worry about the time. I normally mix the culture with flour+water in the morning then leave the rest of the procedure for the evening. The bread then is left to cool down and get even more infused with the rye aroma overnight. The following morning I freeze or use it right away=)

I’ve also tried various timing for the first and second rising, usually increasing it. Just be careful when handling the dough: if you fold it too much after the first rise (before putting it into the loaf pan – here I also use parchment paper) you might end up with a rather flat bread with dense crumb like in the photo with the mug above.

Handle the dough with wet hands – this really helps!

I tried baking the bread without loaf pan, just placing it on parchment paper and then a hot rack, but it turned out very flat.

Keep an eye on the bread while it’s baking – it sometimes gets too dark before the required minimum 45!

Result:

Do I need to tell you more? =) When you cut the bread it slices up nicely and keeps long. Makes great sandwiches and goes well with jam too! Freezes well.

G.

2,800 km of Russia Seen from Above

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This is my 2,800 km journey above Russia in brief – from Novosibirsk in Siberia over the Urals and on to Moscow. I often hear from people who has never been to Russia that they would love to take the Trans-Siberian railway (mind you, there will be more than one train for the 9,289 km and MIND YOU these trains will be sometimes really tough) and see everything from their window. Well, here’s what you will see at least during the first 2,800 km of your journey if you happen to do it in March: Moscow. Snow. Snow. Plains covered with snow. Snow, snow. Mountains. SNOW and SNOW and SNOW! =)

Some of the photos were taken within just a couple of minutes one from the other but you can hardly tell the difference, ahaha.

Novosibirsk, the ‘capital of Siberia’ turned out to be dull and dull. Really. I thought I’d be more impressed. Ah, well, what would you expect from a city where you can hardly find local kefir and tasty baked goods?! =) These are my universal criteria for any city (plus 2 more points to look for: nice postcards which are just nonexistent there and noisy markets which is actually a row of kiosks…). And the city failed the test unfortunately. I was lucky to find only one nice bun there – plain kalach… Lots of products from the Altay region (like honey, for example, which is good). The local things that I brought from the city were several packages of various bran (oat, wheat and rye with blueberries), rye malt and oat biscuits. At lest these were local and good (although I usually buy Novosibirsk bran here in St Pete anyway).

Next week is my first time in Kazan – let’s hope for the best!

A year agoWhat a Peach! Sunny Cake and a Zesty Cranberry Cake

Two years agoDouble Citrusy Heaven and Crackers + Pesto

More culinary posts to come, I promise.

G.

No-Fuss Russian Blini from Old Recipe Book

Although a bit late for Maslenitsa (Carnival period in Russia), here is a recipe of easy Russian blini we’ve been using in my family for quite a while. Russian blini are larger and thinner than American pancakes, rather like French crepes. They are baked at the end of winter to welcome spring because blin is as round and shiny as the sun. Also blini are quite a greasy job, so this is what we gorge on all through the last week before the Lent (haha, and way beyond that for those who prefer to follow their own ‘diet’). People bake blini and invite each other to drink tea and eat blini with lots of various condiments. Blini vary from house to house, some of us prefer them thick and fluffy, some thin and sour, some medium. A lot relies on the ingredients: the type of grain and flour quality, the use of milk or buttermilk, the amount of eggs and sugar which make the batter richer, as well as on the procedure, cause some of the traditional Russian recipes require yeast with a poolish or sourdough (like these sourdough blini), mind you!

I know that pancakes can be found anywhere on Earth and are claimed by lots of nations to be their invention, so I’m sure you’ll enjoy these Blini na skoruyu ruku (Quick Blini, literary Blini with a Quick Hand), from a book most of women used to have and probably still have at home in Russia – Vegeterianskaya Kuhnya (Vegetarian Cuisine, 1993). This post-Soviet book is actually a compilation of early 20th century recipes (!) collected by Zelenkova, also known as Vegeterianka, populist of vegetarian cuisine in tsarist Russia, which were published in 1906 under the ‘Ya Nikogo ne Yem‘ title (‘I Don’t Eat Anyone‘). So this blini recipe might as well be titled Easy Russian Old-Recipe Blini!

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These no-fuss blini are just what I think proper blini should be – not over thick, not over sweet, perfect for smetana (sour cream), honey or berry jams:

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…but just plain butter as well:

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Also my Mom (who actually uses her own recipe for thin sour blini) used the leftover blini the next day to make blini s tvorogomblini with cottage cheese. The ‘recipe’ is simple – take a blin and  add some cottage cheese in the middle (you can mix in some sugar if you want), than fold the blin as you would a letter (creating an envelope around the filling) and then reheat the ‘parcels’ on a pan. This creates a sort of a caramelized crust as the cottage cheese tends to ooze a bit (be careful not to urn your blini!) and the fillings stays soft as long as the blin is warm. Nice way to reuse the leftovers!

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Did you know that leftover blini can also be used in a more elaborate dishes, like a blinnij tort -  a sort of multi-layer cake from blini with really just about any filling between them (savoury as well)? Blini can be rolled into a tube with the filling or just plunged into smetana, they can be folded in a triangle…

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Two years ago – a more sophisticated way to bale your blini: Sourdough Pancakes, as Promised

One year ago – experimenting with sprouted grains in bread: Sprouted Grains and Welcome Spring! and baking some Sourdough Bread for Maslenitsa

But before you get to know if there is ANYTHING left for tomorrow, let’s bake the batch and mount up a hole stack of warm shiny blini buttering each one:

No-Fuss Quick Russian Blini from Vegeterianskaya Kuhnya (but most likely from a 1906 Ya Nikogo ne Yem vegeterian recipe book by O. Zelenkova) – will make a large stash of multi-purpose blini that you can eat with your favourite jam / honey / sour cream / or just plain butter (caviar is too trivial, haha). ATTENTION: The recipe uses the most common measure in Russia – a stakan (glass) which contains 200 ml of water or 250 g of flour.

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 glasses of warm milk
  • 2 glasses of warm water
  • 2 glasses of all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbs of oil
  • some sugar and salt, to taste
  • butter, to brush blini

 Procedure:

Beat 2 eggs, add warm milk and warm water, oil, salt and sugar. Gradually mix in the flour. Mix well. Pour a thin layer on a hot greased pan and bake on each side. Brush with butter.

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Remarks: I usually pre-mix hot water with milk cause I’m lazy enough to heat the milk separately. I also adjust the amount of flour so that the mixture is more like thin sour cream (I’m lazy to use the stakan measure and use the cups instead). As the batter already contains oil my teflon pancake pan works just fine without any additional greasing. Just wait till the unbaked layer on top gets bubbly, flip the blin over and wait some more. Lift the blin, brush with butter and place each blin you bake on top. Thus they will keep the heat and also will easily separate from each other because of the butter.

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Result: Crispy on the edges, moderately thick and almost neutral in taste, these traditional Russian blini are easy and fast! Best eaten while hot / warm but can be easily re-heated or reused later. The recipe is very simple to remember as everything here is 2-2-2-2! I’m quite reluctant to fry things and prefer to bake things (oven seems to me much much easier than using the stove!) but blini is at least something I can ‘fry’ thanks to this recipe.

Enjoy your sunny blini!

P.S. Will see Siberia already this week!

G.

Sunflower Seed Rye Sourdough or We Need Sun Here

Sunflower seed rye sourdough from www.savesourdough.com

Once it starts getting so really windy but not piercingly cold windy – it’s the surest sign spring is coming to St Pete. As trivial as it might sound – you can feel spring in the air! And that’s exciting and a bit deranging at the same time.

It’s amazing how you re-live each year with renewed interest the coming of spring, all these changes it brings in the length of day, in the light, the colours, the way you feel. I don’t like the fading and the decadence in the weather (although I do like all these old towns and decrepit houses with long history and narrow winding streets) but I do like this drastic and at the same time progressive change that the spring induces in the world outside and inside me.

Sunflower seed rye sourdough from www.savesourdough.com

Sun! We desperately need sun here in St Petersburg. And something green and nice, no more of these ergostasia mprosta kai ta skoupidia plai! (slightly changed lyrics of a Greek song – factories in front and garbage on the side). This first stage of spring when all the brrr things come out of the melting dirty snow is kind of demoralizing a bit, making you to crave for this stage to be over the faster the better. So, sunflower seed bread for the early torturous spring. Let’s hope it won’t reverse to winter again just like this unstable period is known to do so often.

Sunflower seed rye sourdough from www.savesourdough.com

2 years ago - Mangoes and Rye to Welcome Spring

1 year ago - a post on  Thessaloniki with some typical Greek food

Sunflower Seed Rye Sourdough Bread adapted from www.savesourdough.com will make a giant! chewy! nutty! nutritious! bread. ATTENTION: requires quite a bit of time to prepare the sourdough and some time for the soaker.

Go to the  website to see the original recipe, here are just my changes and remarks:

As for the soaker ingredients I did not have the required amount of rye flakes but a mixture of four cereals – rye, wheat, oats and barley – that we use to make the famous Russian kasha in the morning. These are hard stuff flakes so I poured boiling water over them as the author suggests and left them for a couple of hours. The water was not enough for this amount of flakes so they soaked it in really fast.

For the dough I used honey instead of molasses, fine salt instead of coarse sea salt and certainly less toasted sunflower seeds, although I can assure you that using even a third of the indicated 150 g will be already a considerable chewy enhancement! I also added less water. 

As for the procedure, I left the dough to ferment for 3 hours with 3 stretch & folds, then proofing of about 5 hours in the fridge. When I took the bread out of the fridge, I almost did not give it any time to warm up before baking. I baked the bread with steam about minutes.

The crust is great in this bread, adding to the overall chewiness:

Sunflower seed rye sourdough from www.savesourdough.com

Well, the crumb is super too!

Sunflower seed rye sourdough from www.savesourdough.com

All these nuts and flakes make this bread so much … a substantial meal rather than what you would expect from a baked product! Very truly chewy.

Sunflower seed rye sourdough from www.savesourdough.com

Result: This bread is gigantic and really tasty, moist, chewy, with all these seeds & flakes which make it so much bread-ier =) And although it is really big, you shouldn’t worry, 45 minutes in the oven and it’s done!

Greece suddenly (or much-expected-ly…) changed to France! See you in May, Strasbourg!

G.

Two Spinach Pies and Spinach…Rice

And finally – I would like to share with you two recipes from the Balkan cuisine, don’t ask me how long I’ve been meaning to do that!

Back in December 2013 I was planning a Bulgarian party (which never happened) and before I knew no one was coming I made an imitation of Banitsa with spinach, sort of Spanakopita (Greek Spinach pie). Banitsa is a traditional Bulgarian pie with fresh cheese which also exists in spinach ‘edition’. In my version of the pie I used two recipes – the phyllo pastry recipe from a blog on Mediterranean diet and the filling from some ski resort website : )  I should have posted this recipe a long ago cause it might be used for the New Year’s meal, when you make wishes for the upcoming year… For the lack of guests to eat the pie and read the wishes hidden inside each bite of the pie, I took my Banitsa to work and here’s the only surviving photo of it:

Banitsa

Two years agoTwo Rrrrrye Breads (Raisin and Riga)

A year agoPolenta, Sempre Polenta and Broccoli

So let’s reconstruct the Spinach Banitsa as I did it: 

Spanachena Banitsa (Bulgarian Spinach Cheese Pie) with pastry adapted from www.hestiaskitchen.com and filling + preparation from www.villastresov.com will make a truly savoury pie with a wish hidden in every bite!

The phyllo pastry recipe is one of those times when I have this recipe copied long ago into my to-do-bi-do-bi-do collection and since then the website has moved or changed names. Sometimes I fail to find those recipes online…

Follow the links above to see the recipes, to which I made these changes:

Pastry: I followed the recipe but did not add sourdough because mine is from rye flour. But without any sourdough culture the pastry turned out just fine! I rolled out two very thin layers for the bottom and 2 layers for the top, thus imitating the phyllo pastry which usually has several layers of very thin pastry sheets.

Filling: I defrosted 400 g of finely chopped spinach (the only sort I could find here), drained it and mixed with crumbled Adygea cheese (you can substitute with some fresh cottage cheese) + added some really salted Bulgarian white cheese (drained from brine and soaked in cold water for some time). I did not add any salt as this Bulgarian brynza is very salted. I just chopped in some fresh basil. Mixed everything well.

Optional: Traditionally this pie is eaten for Easter and there are these tiny bits of paper with wishes written on them. I made 6 wishes, folded and wrapped them in aluminum foil but sure enough the juices from the cheese got inside, however you could read the wishes OK. Just try not to forget to warn your guests to chew carefully on this pie =)

Assembling the pie: So, 2 layers on the bottom then the filling then two top layers (although a more authentic way will be to make more layers with filling), pinched the edges, decorated the top with check board pattern (without actually cutting through) and made some holes in the top (I would suggest to make even more because the pastry puffs up a lot!). I used baking paper which helped lift the pie later. I did not brush oil in between the layers, just forgot about that.

Baking: Just about 40 minutes at 180 ‘C, be careful the pie gets really brown quickly.

For a plain Banitsa pie with just cheese and eggs, see the link above.

Result: This was my first time trying to create a Bulgarian dish + the first time baking with spinach! We do not eat it almost at all here, you can find it frozen not in every supermarket and I just used to skip recipes with spinach before. The pie is nice, haha, interactive with these little wishes that even you forget where you placed them and that you actually did place them there ; ) A very much like a big Spanakopita, well, Greece and Bulgaria are neighbors!

BTW, let’s visit the neighbors and see what they make of their Greek spinach:

Spinach pie from www.toarkoudi.gr

Hortopita me Spanaki (Greek Spinach Pie) adapted from and translated from Greek with the kind permission of www.toarkoudi.gr - will make pretty spinach snails =) The dough ingredients can be cut in half and yet you will get 6 pies, although the filling is definitely not enough even for this half. My remarks are in italics.

Ingredients:

To make the pastry:

  • 1 kg flour – I cut the ingredients in half and still got a lot of dough!
  • 0.5 l water
  • vinegar - I skipped it
  • salt

To make the filling:

  • 2 eggs
  • 0.5 kg spinach – I defrosted 400 g of finely chopped spinach
  • 0.5 bunch of fennel, chopped – I had no fennel… also one of those things we hardly eat here in Russia
  • 2 onions, chopped – I chopped one red and one yellow + some spring onions
  • salt & pepper + I added some herbs
  • 0.5 cup milk – skipped that
  • 250 g grated feta cheese – for the lack of which I used a mixture of Bulgarian brynza + Adygea cheese, and considerably more
  • 1 cup sunflower oil – I just brushed pies with olive oil

Procedure:

1. To make the pastry: put all of the ingredients in a bowl and knead until you get soft dough. You might need to adjust the amount of flour or water. Leave the dough to rest.

2. To make the filling: Really easy, just mix all the ingredients in a bowl, but make sure that you have drained the greens really well so that the filling is thick enough and does not contain too much water. My filling got a bit velvetish because of the red onion:

Spinach pie from www.toarkoudi.gr

3. To assemble the pie and bake: The original – not halved – dough recipe will make 10 sheets of pastry. Roll out each of the dough parts, put some filling on the edge and roll up into a cigar, then create a snail-like shape. Place the ‘snails’ on a greased baking sheet (I used baking paper, really helps to avoid all the cleaning!) and bake for 40 minutes at 180 ‘C. The pies will get brown (mine did not). 

Result: Crunchy snails with soft filling=) Well, I’m vegetarian but the similarity is not just in the appearance! I froze a part of the pies once they cooled down and my parents reheated them afterwards.

spanakorizo

IDEA: You can use leftover spinach / spinach water left from draining spinach to make a lighter version of spanakorizo (σπανακόριζο, literary spinach rice), one of the dishes Greeks serve during Lent and, well, anytime. I just cooked a mixture of wild + regular rice in this spinach water as I would do with any rice, and as a result it gets all green and… well, green : ) The real σπανακόριζο is a rather soup-like dish with equal amounts of spinach & rice, so it’s even greener .)

Fouf, I did it! ; )

Enjoy the pies and let us all hope for the spring to come!

P.S. Going to Novosibirsk in a month! Finally will get that far in my own country… Siberia, I’m coming!

G.

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