Zakuski is a spread of Russian appetizers, little dishes that, rather like Mediterranean mezze, can either start a meal or constitute the entire thing. I suppose they're a kind of Russian smörgåsbord. The flavors used are indeed very Scandinavian, and Georgian dishes and ingredients, which Russians love, are prominent as well.
You don't need many zakuski to make a meal, especially as the idea is to supplement them with foods you can buy. Bread is obligatory. Middle Eastern flatbread is good with Georgian flavors; rye is better with more Russian ones, so have a little of both. Radishes—especially the long, white-tipped French breakfast variety, if you're able to find them—make perfect, slightly peppery little dippers, and fingers of cucumber are good, too. Cured herring and good smoked fish are an easy way to extend the range, and Georgian cheese pies are always served with the zakuski spread in Georgian restaurants in Russia. Spicy sausage and cured ham give you your protein fix, and olives and pickled chilies (available in Middle Eastern shops or grocery store speciality sections) are a must. For extra glamour, add hard-boiled eggs—either quails' or hens'—warm waxy potatoes, little bowls of sour cream, and salmon caviar. Provide bottles of viscous ice-cold vodka and get ready to dispense a bit of Russian hospitality. “Prosim k stolu!” as they say there, or “Please, to the table.”
2 tbsp butter
1lb (450g) mushrooms, cleaned and finely chopped
3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
4 scallions, chopped
Salt and pepper
Good squeeze lemon
3/4 cup sour cream
Chopped fresh dill
Smoked Fish and Horseradish Butter:
7oz (200g) smoked fish* (see introduction for types)
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
yolks of 2 hard-boiled eggs
Good squeeze of lemon
1/2 tsp creamed horseradish, or to taste
7oz (200g) feta cheese
2/3 cup sour cream*
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tbsp chopped fresh dill or a mixture fresh dill and tarragon
handful black olives in olive oil, to serve
Georgian beans in Plum Sauce:
9oz (250g) cooked kidney beans (drained weight)
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
good squeeze of lemon
For the Plum Sauce:
5 1/2 oz (150g) plums
2oz (50g) pitted prunes
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
frac tsp cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp mixture fresh cilantro and mint, roughly chopped
1. Heat the butter in a frying pan and, once it's foaming, add the mushrooms. Sauté briskly so that the mushrooms get some color, then add the cayenne and scallions and seasoning of salt and pepper. Cook until the mushrooms have exuded their liquid and this has evaporated. Add a good squeeze of lemon and the sour cream. Turn the heat down and let the sour cream combine with the mushroom flavors, but don't let the mixture boil.
2. Take the pan off the heat, add the dill, and check the seasoning. You can serve this lukewarm or at room temperature. The dish doesn't taste so good if it's been in the fridge, so cook it near to the time you want it serve it.
Smoked Fish and Horseradish Butter
*You can use mackerel, smoked herring, or smoked salmon trimmings for this butter.
1. If you are using fish that has skin, remove it. Either mash the fish with the butter and egg using a fork or roughly purée it in a food processor using the pulse button. The texture depends on how coarse or smooth you like it, but you don't want baby food. Add lemon, pepper, and creamed horseradish to taste.
*Use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream if you prefer.
1. Simply mash together all the ingredients (except the olives). Put some olives, drained of their oil, on top before serving.
Georgian beans in Plum Sauce:
This dish, lobio tkemali, combines two great Georgian loves, beans and plum sauce. The recipe makes rather more plum sauce than you need, but it's hard to deal with smaller quantities and it's also great with fried chicken or lamb kebobs.
1. For the plum sauce, halve the plums and remove the pits. Put all the ingredients for the plum sauce, except the herbs, with 1/4 cup water into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Immediately turn down to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. Purée the mixture and add the chopped herbs, keeping some back for scattering on top of the dish.
2. Mix the cooked beans with the olive oil, season, add the lemon juice, and slightly mash the mixture so that some beans are broken up and others remain whole. Mix with 4 tbsp of the plum sauce. Check the seasoning, put into a bowl, and scatter with herbs.
Reprinted with permission from Roast Figs, Sugar Snow, Winter Food to Warm the Soul by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley, 2005). © 2005 by Diana Henry.
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