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Lamb Meatballs With Lemon-Dill Rice And Roast Tomato Salad

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Lamb Meatballs

2 lb lamb (do not trim the fat), coarsely ground or minced by hand

1 large Spanish onion, minced

salt and pepper to taste
vegetable oil

– Combine the meat with onions and mix well.

– Season with salt and generously with freshly ground black pepper. You can check the seasonings by cooking a teaspoonful of meat in the microwave.

– Separate the meat into baseball-sized portions and shape them into thick, slightly oblong patties (they will take on a more spherical shape as they cook).

– Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Brush the meatballs with oil and roast on a rack set over a pan of water for 1 hour 15 minutes, flipping them over after the first 45 minutes. Alternatively, you can grill the meatballs until the internal temperature registers 165 degrees.

Lemon-Dill Rice

2 cups medium or long-grain rice, cooked according to package directions (but still better if just slightly undercooked)

freshly squeezed juice of 1 large lemon
1/2 cup melted butter
3 tbsps minced fresh dill
salt and pepper to taste

– Stir the lemon juice, butter and dill into the rice. Adjust the seasonings.

– Sprinkle with additional dill before serving.

Roast tomato salad

1 beefsteak tomato, stem removed, sliced into thin wedges
1 small onion, halved and sliced
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
2 tbsp melted butter
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsps sunflower oil

– Place the sliced onions into a non-reactive bowl and pour vinegar over them. Cover and let marinade, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.

– Lightly oil a cookie sheet, and arrange the tomato slices on it in a single layer. Brush with melted butter, sprinkle with sugar and broil until the surface just begins to caramelize. Remove from the oven and let cool somewhat.

– Drain the onions. Transfer the still-warm tomatoes to a shallow serving dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrange the onions over them, sprinkle with garlic slices and drizzle with sunflower oil.

– Sprinkle with dill before serving, if desired.

Baked Haddock In Tomato-Cream Sauce

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This recipe works with any mild-flavored, firm-fleshed fish.

1 lb haddock fillet, cut into portions
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded and chopped (see notes at the end)
2 cups fish stock
1/2 cup cream
2 tbsp sour cream
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
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Svekolnik (Cold Beet Soup)

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This is a Russian summer favorite, perfect for lunch on a hot afternoon.

6 medium-sized beets
1 lemon, halved
1 large yellow potato, diced
1 hard-boiled egg, chopped
1 hardboiled egg yolk
2 tbsp pickled shredded horseradish
3 pickling cucumbers, peeled, quartered lengthwise and sliced
1/2 cup minced scallions
1/3 cup minced dill weed
3/4 lb bologna, diced (optional)
10 cups water
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream (optional)

– Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

– Clean and trim the beets. Take one of the beets, drizzle with vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt, wrap in aluminum foil and roast until tender, about 1 hour. Cool, peel and dice.

– Peel and shred the remaining five beets.

— Bring water to a boil, add a pinch of salt and the shredded beets. Squeeze juice from one lemon half. Cover, reduce heat and let simmer for 1 hour. Take off heat, let cool, and then chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight. Strain before serving and discard the shredded beets.

— Combine the egg yolk with a pinch of Kosher salt, the horseradish and the juice of the remaining half of the lemon. Mash until smooth and stir into the soup. Adjust the seasonings

— Add diced potatoes, diced beet, chopped egg and diced bologna (if using) to the soup and serve.

— Serve the cucumbers, scallions, dill and sour cream separately.

Potato and Sardine Salad

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4 medium-sized yellow potatoes
6 oz canned sardines or sauries preserved in water, drained, deboned and broken up into bite-size pieces
2 dill pickles, diced
1 small onion, quartered and sliced very thin
2/3 cup canned peas, drained
2 tbsp minced fresh dill
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup sunflower oil
salt and pepper to taste

– Boil the potatoes in lightly salted water with skin on until just cooked through but still firm enough for dicing, about 25 minutes. Drain, let cool until safe to handle, then peel quickly and dice. Dress the diced, still-warm potatoes with vinegar, cover and let cool to room temperature.

– Add the sardines, pickles, onion, peas and dill. Season to taste. Dress with sunflower oil and mix, taking care not to mash the potatoes or the fish.

This salad will keep in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours.

A Primer on Pelmeni and Vareniki: How to Make, Cook and Serve

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Dumplings with filling (called “pelmeni” if they are filled with meat, “vareniki” if the filling is cheese or some vegetable) came to Russia from Central Asia. It’s the perfect fast food for a region with long, intensely cold winters. Making pelmeni — which is how I will collectively refer to them from now on — making pelmeni from scratch is a time-consuming and laborious task, as you shall see shortly, but once you’ve made a bunch, you can always have a hot, tasty and filling meal in mere minutes. As long you take simple precautions against freezer burn, pelmeni will keep indefinitely in subzero temperatures. And so it became a tradition in Siberia and northern Russia for women to make thousands of pelmeni for the long winter as soon as temperatures fell reliably below freezing sometime in mid-November. A day or two of hard work paid off, for the family would have a good source of quick hot meals all winter long. Pelmeni and vareniki would be kept in canvas bags in unheated sheds or barns. If you needed to make dinner, you could just scoop a bunch of dumplings out of a bag with a bowl and take them to the kitchen to be prepared.

Nowadays, there is little reason to make pelmeni from scratch. Frozen pelmeni of very good quality are mass-produced, and given that the process of making them yourself IS quite time-consuming and labor-intensive, most Russians opt to get them from the freezer section of their market. Store pelmeni typically come in three varieties: “Siberian”, filled with a combination of beef, pork and onions; veal, which have a somewhat milder flavor than Siberian; and chicken, whose chief recommendation is that they are lower in calories. Sometimes you can also find “farmer” or “peasant” pelmeni, where the meat filling is stretched with cabbage; they produce a pungent odor with cooked. Farmer pelmeni are traditionally considered inferior (after all, poverty would be the only reason to cut the meat with cabbage), and I don’t recommend them. Central Asian cousins of pelmeni — manty (large dumplings filled with lamb and raw onion) and khenkali (manty’s rough Georgian equivalent) — are also widely available in Russian markets.

The very few people who make pelmeni themselves falls into the following categories: (1) culinary purists with entirely too much time on their hands (guilty as charged); (2) people who are preparing pelmeni with unusual fillings, such as fish or duck; (3) people who follow dietary laws or rules that render industrially produced pelmeni unacceptable; and (4) people who are honing their skills for the impending zombie apocalypse. These days, I don’t, in fact, have much time on my hands, and I think making pelmeni from scratch is more trouble than it’s worth, but since I am writing this long entry already, what the hell, I’ll include a recipe. A word of advice: spread this project over two days. Prepare your filling and put it in the refrigerator overnight, then prepare the dough and form the dumplings the next day. And, before you decide to do this, something to think about: your standard family of four — mom, dad and two kids — can easily put away FIFTY pelmeni in one sitting.

Making pelmeni from scratch: Assuming you already have your filling (more on that later), start with a cup of tepid water, one large egg and a teaspoon of salt. Whisk it all together in a large bowl until slightly foamy, then begin sifting flour in the liquid about ½ cup at a time. Keep adding and whisking in flour until it becomes too thick to whisk, at which point turn the dough out onto a large floured surface and start kneading. Add flour in smaller and smaller increments until you end up with dough that is elastic, but does not stick to your fingers.

Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for one hour. Then, take out of the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature (still wrapped) for at least 45 minutes.

Turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead some more. Cover your ball of dough with a moist towel.

Break off a tennis-ball-sized piece of the dough and roll it out until no more than 1/16 inch thick. (The thinner the skins, the tastier and more tender your pelmeni will be.) Use a glass or a cup with approximately a 2-3 inch diameter to cut rounds from your sheet of dough.

Now for the fun part.

Take one round skin and lay it flat on the palm of your hand. Put 1 teaspoon of filling in the center. Fold over the skin and pinch it together, as if you were making an empanada. Make sure to seal the edges well. At this point, you have a half-moon. Now take the two corners of the half-moon, bring them together towards the middle, and pinch to seal. You now should have something that looks like this:

If you are making vareniki, do not merge the corners, leave them in the shape of tiny empanadas.

Continue making more skins and filling them as described above. Arrange shaped pelmeni in a single layer on a shallow, lightly floured tray, cover, and freeze promptly. (Unfrozen pelmeni should not touch each other on the tray, or they will stick together.) Once pelmeni are completely frozen, you can pack them into sealable bags. They will keep in the freezer for a couple of years before the skins begin cracking and disintegrating.

Fillings: In addition to not having much time these days, I am no longer a culinary purist, either. Fill your pelmeni with whatever you want, be creative. A few caveats, though:

First, for meat-filled dumplings, use fatty cuts and a coarse grind. Filling made from lean meats or meats that have been ground at regular grind tend to lose moisture and shrivel during cooking, producing noticeably inferior pelmeni. So don’t trim (and don’t use chicken, unless you are on a diet) and either use the sausage grind on your grinder or mince the meat by hand. Adding raw onions helps to retain moisture, hence the manty filling recipe — 1 part lamb, 1 part lamb fat, 2 parts raw onions — is ideal. The Jewish version of dumplings, known as “kreplach” contains previously cooked and ground beef mixed with brown onions. Although this is a good way to use leftover roast or brisket, kreplach tend to be dry, which is why the traditional way to serve them is by adding them to soup.

Second, for vegetable vareniki, the main problem is the excess of moisture that you usually have in vegetables. In fact, moisture creates TWO problems. For one, soupy fillings retain heat longer than the outer skin, with the result that such dumplings will burn your mouth when you bite into them. Second, soupy fillings tend to taste bland and unseal the skin. So use starchy vegetables and do not add any liquids to them. Take potatoes, for example, the most common ingredient in vareniki. Regular mashed potatoes do not work as filling. You need to make special, very thick mashed potatoes, which do not incorporate milk, cream, or any other liquid. Boil the potatoes with skin on (or better yet, bake them in salt), peel and mash with butter. Season generously with salt and pepper, and that’s your filling. You may add browned onions for extra flavor, and grated cheese would serve as a further thickening and binding agent. Vegetables and legumes that either contain a lot of water or absorb it readily do not work in vareniki. Mashed beans and chickpeas simply do not work (believe me, I’ve tried).

Classic Siberian pelmeni consist of equal parts beef (I suggest you use short rib) and pork, with a generous addition of onions. There is some degree of disagreement as to whether the onions should be browned beforehand. I prefer adding raw onions, as in my experience, they are better at keeping the filling tender and moist.

Cooking pelmeni: Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add salt, peppercorns and bay leaf. Add frozen pelmeni and run a spoon along the bottom and sides of the pot, to prevent sticking. When all the pelmeni float to the surface, reduce heat and let simmer for 5-8 minutes. Drain and serve.

Serving pelmeni: The traditional way to eat pelmeni is to dress them with vinegar and sour cream. Typically, pelmeni are served undressed, and individual diners add whatever they want to them. The addition of mustard to vinegar and sour cream is common. Another, more rustic way to eat pelmeni is to serve them in their own cooking liquid, with a dollop of butter. Some people pan-fry cooked pelmeni, although this is more common in southwestern parts of Russia, closer to Moldova and Poland, less so in other regions.

In an Afghan restaurant one day, I was served meat-filled dumplings dressed with pureed fresh tomato and sour cream. Although this would not be traditional in Russian cuisine, I thought the flavors were fabulous.

Cooking and serving potato vareniki (“pierogi”): Simmer vareniki in salted water for no more than 2 minutes. Drain and pan-fry on both sides until golden-brown. Serve with browned onions and sour cream.

Basic Tomato Salad

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4 medium tomatoes, halved vertically, stems removed
2 small cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced across
2 tbsp thinly sliced purple onion and shallot
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 tbsp minced fresh herbs, such as dill, parsley, cilantro, or a combination of the three
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
⅓ cup sunflower oil
salt and pepper to taste

– Slice the tomatoes crosswise into edges with a base about ⅓ inch wide.

– Toss the vegetables together with the herbs, season with salt and pepper, and dress with lemon juice and sunflower oil.

The ingredients can be sliced up to an hour ahead of serving. Cover them and chill in the refrigerator. Once you add salt and dressing, the vegetables will begin to give off their juice, so do it just before serving.

Russian Salads

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Traditional Russian salads consist of ingredients that are chopped or sliced fairly small, bound in dressing and mixed to create something uniform. A more Western type of salad — that is to say, green leafy vegetables, either whole leaves or torn into large pieces, with some other ingredients arranged or piled on top — was virtually unknown when I was growing up and is not traditional in Russian cuisine, although lettuces are sometimes used.

Whenever oil is used in a dressing, it is sunflower oil, which gives Russian salads their distinctive, incomparable aroma. But don’t bother with sunflower oil at your local supermarket — those have been processed to death, so that they lack any distinctive smell or flavor. What you need for salads is “unrefined” sunflower oil, and that is only available at Russian and Ukrainian grocery stores. Even better is “unfiltered” sunflower oil — dark yellow, cloudy, with a sediment, and possessing especially intense flavor — but it is imported in small quantities and rarely available in the United States. Whenever I see it at my local Russian market, I always buy several bottles, because it is a rarity.

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