Beefless Stroganoff.

When I was growing up, I remember my mom making the best beef stroganoff. Of course, my mom makes the best everything, so it’s no great wonder that her beef stroganoff was also the best.

Today was one of those cold, dreary days in Seattle, the kind of day that becomes commonplace in the fall. It’s the kind of weather that makes the indoors cozy enough to make me crave comfort food – spaghetti, meatloaf, Chinese food, whatever. (Yes, Chinese food is comfort food in my world.) Tonight, while out for my post-work four-mile walk, I decided I would try to make beefless beef stroganoff. Mind you, I had never even tried to make beef stroganoff with the real thing, so there was an added challenge.

I creatively adapted the recipe from my family’s favorite Russian cookbook to suit my newly vegan needs. The book is cleverly titled Nothing Beets Borscht.

Beefless Stroganoff

Ingredients

For the sauce:
1 package Trader Joe’s Beefless Strips
Mushrooms, sliced (as many as you want – I used about 2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon scallions, chopped
2 tbsp vegan butter (I used Smart Balance Lite)
6 tbsp vegan sour cream (I used Vegan Gourmet)
1-2 tbsp dill
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1-2 tbsp dijon mustard
2 tbsp white wine

For the accompaniment:
1-2 tbsp vegan sour cream
1-2 tbsp dill
Cooked rice, cooked potatoes, or my current favorite, shredded, boiled zucchini pasta (or regular pasta, if you really want it – my mom used to serve this over bowtie pasta)

Directions

1. Cook the beefless strips as directed; set aside.

2. Over medium heat, melt 1 tbsp of the vegan butter in the skillet. When the butter is melted and bubbling, add the garlic and scallions; saute until the scallions are limp and translucent (don’t let them brown). Add the sliced mushrooms now, raising the heat a bit and constantly stirring for 3-4 minutes, or until the mushrooms are barely cooked through. You may need to add more butter if it starts looking too dry.

3. Add the vegetable stock, mustard, wine, sour cream and dill, mixing well to combine. Now add the beefless strips, again, mixing well. Let simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until sauce is thickened and looks right (you’ll know when that is if you’ve ever had stroganoff – if not, it’s when it’s no longer watery).

4. While the sauce is simmering, prepare your accompaniment. If you opt for the zucchini, like I did, just shred the zucchini, boil it for a minute, and drain it, rinsing with cold water.

5. Top the accompaniment of your choice with the sauce. If you’re so inclined, add a dollop of sour cream and some dill.

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Kulebiaka (кулебяка)

And now, for the pièce de résistance…

(For the record, my kulebiaka did not look like that at all, but to be fair, that’s not what I was going for, so it all worked out.)

I made a few changes to the original recipe to make it simpler and save myself some time, and I was impressed that the end result yielded no appreciable difference in taste or quality. In fact, aside from the puff pastry, it tasted exactly like the kulebiaka I got at my favorite St. Petersburg bakery. If this didn’t go against all the diet rules I’ve established for myself, I’d make it all the time. Seriously.

(Serves 8 really hungry people)

Ingredients

For the pastry:

2 packages (4 sheets) frozen puff pastry (I recommend Pepperidge Farm)
a little flour

For the salmon filling:

4 tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 cup sliced onion (about 1/4 of an onion)
2 tablespoons dill
1 1/4 lb fresh salmon
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 lb fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion (about 3/4 onion)
1/4 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/6 cup dill
2 hard-boiled eggs, finely chopped

Directions

To prepare the salmon filling:

Preheat oven to 400˚F. Prepare each salmon filet in parchment paper and drizzle with the wine, coarsely sliced onion, and dill (use more or less as desired – I used about 1-2 tablespoons of the wine per filet).

Close the parchment paper over the filets, creating sealed pockets. Once oven is preheated, bake for 20 minutes or until salmon is cooked through (it should easily flake when tested with a fork).

With a slotted spatula, transfer the cooked salmon (minus the onions) to a large bowl, remove the skin and bones (if necessary), and separate into small flakes with your fingers or a fork.

Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet over high heat. Add the mushrooms, reduce the heat to moderate and, stirring occasionally, cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft. With a slotted spoon, transfer the mushrooms to a small bowl and toss with lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and a few grindings of pepper.

Melt 2 more tablespoons of butter in the skillet over high heat and drop in all but 1 tablespoon of the finely chopped onions. Reduce the heat to moderate and, stirring occasionally, cook 3 to 5 minutes, until the onions are soft but not brown.

Stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper with a rubber spatula and scrape in the mushrooms.

Now melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in the skillet over high heat. Drop in the remaining tablespoon of chopped onion, reduce the heat to moderate and, stirring frequently, cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until soft but not brown. Stir in the rice and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring almost constantly, until each grain is coated with butter. Pour in the chicken stock, bring to a boil, and cover the pan tightly. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 12 minutes, or until the liquid is completely absorbed and the rice is tender and fluffy.

Turn off the heat and stir in the dill with a fork. Add the cooked mushrooms and onions, rice, and chopped hard-boiled eggs to the bowl of salmon and toss together lightly but thoroughly. Taste for seasoning.

To prepare the pastry:

Defrost the pastry dough in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. When defrosted, unfold and place dough on clean, lightly floured surface. If there are any cracks in the dough, use water to smooth it out.

Assembling the kulebiaka:

There are many ways to do this. Traditionally, kulebiaka is made as one large pastry, like this one:

My aunt made individual-sized square ones with rounded corners. I decided I’d do something different and make them triangular – smaller and easier to handle. They ended up being the perfect size for me and my guests, especially with all the other rich, heavy food I served.

First, cut the two pastry sheets into four equally sized squares.

Prepare egg wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon water, scrambled in a bowl). Fill half of each square with salmon filling, on a diagonal.

Brush seams and press together to seal; crimp sides with a fork.

When all the pies are formed, refrigerate for a few hours.

Remove from refrigerator and brush top with egg wash. Bake in preheated 400-degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until pastry is flaky and golden (I recommend keeping an eye on it after it’s baked for 15 minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn). Remove from oven, let cool for a few minutes and serve.

Serve with sour cream and dill. Careful, the inside will be hot when you first cut into it – sour cream helps with that, too!

Another warning: eat slowly, or you will want to eat all of them. Trust me, I know this from experience.

Borscht (борщ)

My aunt’s borscht is famous in our family. She makes it every Christmas; the brilliant red complements the holiday perfectly, in my opinion. She has spent many years honing and fine-tuning the recipe, which originated from one of her many cookbooks, and I finally took it upon myself to obtain this coveted family recipe.

She does add a secret ingredient, which can be substituted by another secret ingredient – both of which proved impossible to find at either Whole Foods or Safeway. I don’t think this recipe absolutely needs these things, so for now, her secret is safe with me.

Also, if you are like me and don’t own a car, it may be wise to either take multiple trips to the grocery store throughout the week or flag down a friend who can provide transportation. Root vegetables are heavy. My arms are sore from all the grocery-carrying.

And… last but not least… the amount of soup this generates could feed the Russian army, so feel free to halve the recipe. I should’ve. I had no idea.

Ingredients

1 medium onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
some butter or shortening (for sauteing)
2 small carrots or 1 large, peeled and sliced into small disks
1 peeled, diced turnip or parsnip
14-ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 pounds beets, cubed, making 5 cups
1 pound white, green, or red cabbage, shredded
1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced
2 quarts plus 2 cups chicken stock

Directions

Prepare all the ingredients as directed.

Heating the butter in a 10-12″ frying pan, saute the onion and garlic until they are limp and white. Add the carrots, turnip, tomatoes, salt, pepper, and vinegar to the pan and mix, then add 2 cups of stock to the frying pan.

Add the beets. Cover the pan and simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring the 2 quarts of stock to a boil, then add the shredded cabbage and diced potatoes and simmer for 15 minutes.

When the beets are ready, dump the entire contents of the pan into the stock. Simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes to combine flavors.

Season to taste with salt, pepper, sugar, and/or vinegar. Upon serving, garnish with a dollop of sour cream and a bit of dill.

My aunt’s tips: Always make the soup at least 1 day ahead – the flavors need time to mingle. The taste should be slightly sweet. You can add a tiny bit of sugar if need be. The cabbage and carrots also add sweetness.

Day 12.

Breakfast

On the menu: Scrambled eggs (3 egg whites and 1 yolk) with a little chopped onion and green bell pepper; 2 slices turkey bacon; 1/2 cup strawberries.

The reality: Scrambled eggs with a little chopped onion and green bell pepper; 2 slices turkey bacon; 1/2 cup strawberries.

Summary: This was fun. I kind of like chopping in the morning. I do wish I’d utilized less of the onion and green bell pepper, because there ended up being a high veggie-t0-egg ratio, but the flavor was still good. Lots of protein happening this morning! Hopefully it will help me stay awake at work today.

Lunch

On the menu: 3 to 5 ounces of chicken salad (made with 2 ounces chicken saved from last night’s dinner, mixed with chopped red onion and celery, and dressed with 1 tablespoon olive oil and lemon juice) served on a bed of romaine lettuce; sliced tomatoes; 1 cup chicken-vegetable soup.

The reality: 2 ounces Vietnamese-Style Caramel Braised Chicken (yep, still eating those leftovers); romaine lettuce salad with chopped red onion, celery, and sliced tomato, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice; 1 cup chicken-vegetable soup.

Summary: I like my protein warm. Also, the salad wouldn’t have been quite right with that particular chicken recipe.

Afternoon Snack

On the menu: 1/2 cup plain yogurt; 1/2 cup blueberries; 3 almonds.

The reality: 1/2 cup plain yogurt with cinnamon and Splenda; 1/2 apple; 3 wasabi soy almonds.

Summary: Due to the sudden lack of blueberries, I had to do some substituting. The only fruit at the little convenience store in my work building consisted of fresh apples and canned peaches, so I went for the former. The apple was fairly large, so I chopped it in half and cut it into little pieces (with a plastic knife, I might add). I ended up adding a little more cinnamon and Splenda to the apple pieces and mixing them up with the yogurt. The result was reminiscent of an apple crisp, minus the just-out-of-the-oven part.

Dinner

On the menu: 6 ounces grilled salmon; salad of romaine lettuce, sliced tomato, and avocado, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice; grilled zucchini and mushroom kebabs.

The reality: 6 ounces baked sesame salmon; salad of romaine lettuce, sliced tomato, and avocado, dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic; zucchini and mushrooms sauteed in olive oil and garlic.

Summary: The sesame salmon is from Safeway, and it was delicious! They have these individually packed frozen salmon portions (they have lots of other fish, too – I swear, I stared at the freezer case for ten minutes in overwhelmed awe trying to decide how much I could carry home). I don’t have a grill, aside from the George Foreman, so I decided to try a saute, which was also a success.

Bedtime Snack

On the menu: 2 ounces tuna salad (water-packed tuna mixed with onion, celery, pepper, and a touch of mayonnaise); 4 almonds; 1 pear.

The reality: 2 ounces tuna salad; 4 Tuscan almonds; 1 pear.

Summary: I was more in the mood for a cottage cheese dessert, but this ended up being yummy. I probably added too much mayo to the tuna salad, but oh well… it was delicious anyway.

Today’s Exercise

I walked to and from work, then I walked to and from Safeway – two miles round trip, one of which is uphill, the other of which was while carrying at least 10 pounds’ worth of groceries. True story. Then I got back and made that ikra, which required chopping and standing.

Summary

I may have snuck a little bit of ikra while I was cooking… and maybe a little parmesan cheese while I was making my lunch for tomorrow… and maybe a little more ikra. It’s going to be a tasty batch, I can tell.

I loved dinner tonight. I was surprised the saute turned out so well, considering I was improvising and that’s usually when my cooking goes awry. I was very pleased with the salmon as well. Definitely a happy food day. I think I’ve been feeling so tired because of the cold, because it often hits me after my walk to work. I wish it would get warm here already. It’s springtime… maybe Seattle didn’t get the memo.

Aubergine caviar (баклаженная икра/baklazhennaya ikra)

My mom makes the best ikra. She’s known for it in our small family. She’s made it for every holiday for as long as I can remember. The mere thought of it makes me homesick. Before I picked up this cooking hobby (which, I might add, was quite recently), she’d tried to teach me how to make it, but I was more interested in eating it than creating my own version of it, so her attempts were largely unsuccessful.

I decided I would finally experiment with my mom’s recipe for the Easter gathering on Sunday. Since it needs to sit in the refrigerator for a few days to let the flavors meld, I decided to make it tonight.

Ingredients

1 2-lb eggplant (or 2 1-lb eggplants)
1 medium onion (1 cup), finely chopped
2 small cloves of garlic (1 teaspoon), minced
1 small can of chopped black olives
3 tbsp of olive oil
1/4 cup tomato paste or puree
1 teaspoon lemon juice
salt and pepper

Directions

Bake the eggplant in a 400 degree oven for about an hour until the skin is charred and wrinkled (I cut the end off before baking, place it on a foil lined baking sheet, and spread a little oil on the foil to avoid sticking).

Meanwhile, chop the onion, garlic, and saute the onions in 3 tablespoons of the olive oil until they are soft and yellow, not browned.  Stir often.

Add garlic and keep cooking until soft. Remove pan from the heat.

When the eggplant’s skin is charred, remove from the oven and let it cool so you can handle it. Then, peel the skin and it should come off easily. Be sure to avoid taking the meat of the eggplant with the skin. There will be a lot of liquid, so keep it on the pan while you do it.

Chop the eggplant into fine pieces and add to the frying pan with the rest. Then add the tomato paste.

Replace the pan back on the burner and thoroughly combine ingredients by stirring while they cook. The pieces of the eggplant will get mushy and that’s a good thing.  Cook until the mixture is very thick, on a low heat, for about 10 minutes and stir often so it doesn’t burn. Add the olives and a little salt and pepper; stir and remove from heat.

Add the lemon juice once the mixture has cooled for a minute or two.

Refrigerate at least a day before adding additional salt and pepper (the taste will be different once the flavors have had a chance to mingle). Ikra is best after marinating in the refrigerator for a few days, and can keep for up to a week.