Food

Springtime recipes: 3 delicious Russian dishes to cook at home

Looking for some springtime recipe inspiration? From Siberian pelmeni dumplings to zesty crayfish crabcakes, these mouthwatering recipes are sure to satisfy all of your cravings.

We often need distance and time both to see things better and to feel closer to them. This is certainly true of the food of my home country, Russia – or Siberia, to be exact. When I think of that place, I can immediately hear the sound of fresh snow crunching beneath my feet. Having lived in the UK half my life, this is what I miss the most about Russia: the clarity and stillness of the fresh fallen snow.

It’s a bit like a blank page on to which a new day can be drawn. Today, whenever I crush sea salt flakes between my fingers as I cook in my London kitchen, I think of that sound.

For many, Russian food remains a mystery, tinted with the stereotypes of the Cold War and obscured by the complexities of contemporary Russian politics. I often find that Russian cuisine is trapped somewhere between two very opposing ideas: the romanticized notion of Russians eating blinis with caviar every morning, or a stark image of the Soviets gazing at bare market shelves to the soundtrack of their rumbling stomachs. So I feel it is finally time to paint a more authentic portrait. Below, I would like to invite you to sit next to me at my Russian table, to share my memories of growing up in Siberia and to accompany me on a journey across the vast country as well as into its fascinating history.

Crayfish & Spinach Savoury Rice Pudding

crayfish and spinach rice pudding recipe

A dish so decadent and rich that it could only belong to the pre-Soviet era of Russian culinary history. I came across this main course when delving into a classic cookbook of the Tsarist era, written by Elena Molokhovets in 1861. While I struggled to understand the exact method (my Imperial-era Russian is a bit rusty), the name alone immediately evoked a beautifully simple and delicate dish, as well as bringing to mind the creamy taste of rice pudding and spinach. So this recipe is a result of my guesswork and culinary improvisation, which led to a rather delicious crossbreed between an Italian risotto and a British rice pudding. This is the perfect dish for a Sunday lunch in spring and would taste even better accompanied by some chilled white wine.

Ingredients  serves 4

30g unsalted butter

1/2 onion, diced

1 celery stick, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, grated

100g pudding rice

500ml vegetable stock

150ml milk

50g double cream

250g cooked peeled

crayfish tails

200g spinach, chopped

finely grated zest and juice

of 1/4 lemon

salt and freshly ground

black pepper

Method

Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan and fry the onion, celery and garlic over a medium heat for 8–10 minutes until they become soft and translucent but not caramelized. Next, add all the rice and stir through for a minute or so, allowing it to absorb the butter. Pour in the stock and cook, uncovered, over a medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the stock you are using is already sufficiently seasoned, there is no need to add salt, but otherwise adjust the seasoning to taste. Add the milk and cream, stir through and cook for a further 10 minutes over a low heat.

Finally, add the crayfish tails and spinach, season with salt and pepper to taste and dress with the lemon zest and juice. Turn off the heat, mix thoroughly and leave to rest under a lid for 5 minutes before serving. This dish looks so vibrant and delicate on a pared back, plain white plate that I would encourage you to opt for an elegantly understated piece of dinnerware.

Spring fishcakes

spring fishcake recipe

This recipe came to me almost immediately when I was jotting down ideas for dishes. Convinced that I had enjoyed these fishcakes when I still lived in Russia, I asked my mum and gran for our family recipe. Turns out they had never heard of the dish. Yet I could easily recall the wonderfully juicy, tender and crunchy texture of the fishcakes. Having no idea where I got the memory of that taste from, I have searched the Russian internet for clues. My research hasn’t returned any satisfying results, instead releasing myriad different fishcake recipes, some called ‘Monastery Fishcakes’, while others bear the more appropriate name of ‘Tenderness’. 

Taking the best from all versions, I’ve conjured up my own recipe, which, when tested, has succeeded in bringing back that wonderful taste that I mysteriously remember so well. This wonderfully refreshing, juicy and crunchy dish would work really well as part of an alfresco feast and can be enjoyed alongside a simple cucumber and radish salad.

Ingredients  makes 8-10

1/3 white cabbage

3–4 spring onions,

finely sliced

bunch of dill, chopped

1 carrot, peeled and grated

1/2 tablespoon salt

250–260g skinless cod loin

from a sustainable source

2 eggs, lightly beaten

4 tablespoons cornflour

zest and juice of 1 lemon

sunflower oil, for shallow-frying

pinch of sea salt flakes

Method

Finely shred the cabbage. You can do that by quickly pulsing it in a food processor, or by using a mandolin first and then roughly chopping it with a knife. Mix the cabbage with the spring onions, dill, carrot and salt in a bowl for a few minutes so that the cabbage releases its juices. Those are essential to make the fish cakes stick together and also to give you a lovely juicy crunch when you are consuming them.

Chop the cod into small cubes and add it to the bowl, along with the eggs, cornflour and lemon zest and juice. Work the ingredients thoroughly with your hands to obtain a mixture that sticks together. Heat up enough sunflower oil in a frying pan to shallow-fry the fishcakes – the exact amount depends on the size of your pan, but usually around 4 tablespoons for a medium-small pan will suffice. Use a heaped tablespoon of the mixture to form each fishcake and fry for about 4 minutes on each side or until golden and crispy.

Place the cakes on kitchen paper to absorb any excess fat and sprinkle with the sea salt flakes for an added salty bite.

Siberian Pelmeni Dumplings

siberian pelmeni dumpling recipe

There is something universal about dumplings – we all connect over our shared love of boiled dough stuffed with a filling of sorts. While there are so many types of dumplings native to different parts of the former Soviet Union, Siberia’s claim to fame is its own signature type called Siberian pelmeni. These tiny round dumplings stuffed with a blend of minced pork and beef are consumed with a generous chunk of butter, black pepper and soured cream or – and this is my family’s favourite – in their own richly flavoured cooking broth, with plenty of black pepper, of course! 

My dad would often have these (as well as pretty much anything else) with soy sauce that his mother would send us from his home town of Khabarovsk way before it became widely available in shops all over Russia. As pelmeni were usually eaten in winter when no fresh herbs were available, adding fresh dill was not common practice, but I would highly recommend this to you these days, as well as experimenting with other non-Russian herbs.

Pelmeni in sage butter, anyone?

Ingredients - makes about 200 dumplings

For the dough

700g ‘00’ flour, plus extra for dusting

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

200ml water

For the meat filling

500g mixed minced pork and beef (in equal measure)

1 onion, very finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground

black pepper

For the fish filling

500g mixed skinless trout, salmon and cod fillet (in equal measure), cut into small pieces

1 onion, very finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, grated

1 bunch of chives, finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the mushroom filling

400g mixed mushrooms (wild mushrooms or white and chestnut mushrooms)

1 onion, quartered

2 garlic cloves

1 small bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

2 tablespoons sunflower oil

dash of soy sauce

150g pine nuts

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the cooking broth

1 bay leaf

1 vegetable, fish or meat stock cube, according to your filling

To serve

chopped fresh herbs

soured cream

freshly ground black pepper

unsalted butter (if serving without the cooking broth)

cooking siberian pelmeni dumplings

Method

To make the dough, sift the flour onto a clean, dry work surface. Make a well in the middle and add the salt, eggs and measured water, gradually mixing the flour into it with your hands to form a firm dough. Knead well for 5–7 minutes. Cover with clingfilm and let it rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. In the meantime prepare your fillings.

To make both meat and fish fillings, thoroughly mix the ingredients together in separate large bowls. To make the vegetable filling, finely chop the mushrooms, onion, garlic and parsley in a food processor. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the vegetable mixture with the soy sauce for 5 minutes.

Turn off the heat and stir through the pine nuts and seasoning. Let the mixture cool before handling. The dough should be ready by this point. Take it out of the refrigerator and roll it out on a lightly floured work surface. For best results, use a pasta machine, as you need to make sheets that are about 1.5mm thick, which you will get by using the number 7 setting on the pasta machine.

Using a shot glass, cut out discs about 4–6cm in diameter from the dough. Place a teaspoon of the filling in the middle of each disc and fold in half to make a half-moon shape, then fold again so that the edges of the half-moon are stuck together. The dumplings can be cooked immediately or frozen to be cooked at a later date using the same method as below, increasing the cooking time as necessary.

To cook, bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, adding the bay leaf and stock cube. Add the pelmeni, in batches, to the boiling broth and cook for 5 minutes. You know they are ready when they float up to the surface. Ladle your pelmeni into soup bowls with the cooking broth, topping them with fresh herbs, soured cream and black pepper. If you prefer to have them without the broth, use a slotted spoon and add a generous dollop of butter as well as the rest of the ingredients to the bowl. 

There should be around 10 servings of dumplings, but if that’s more than the number of mouths that you have to feed, they freeze well kept in flat layers in a freezer bag.

Salt Time cover

Salt & Time by Alissa Timoshkina is published by Mitchell Beazley, £25 (octopusbooks.co.uk)

Photography by Lizzie Mayson

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