Rye bread is particularly popular in Belarus, mainly because its cold and wet climate limits which grains can work within its environment. Spices are used minimally, mostly herbs like marjoram, chives, bay leaves, parsley, and others. Many foods are flavored by salt and pepper, onions and garlic, and sour cream or milk.
Earlier this week, I had found a recipe for Belarusian meatballs from a book called “The Belarusian Cookbook” by Alexander Bely. I did add a few herbs that weren’t listed in the recipe (namely marjoram, chives, thyme, parsley). I actually had made some penne with an alfredo sauce and I added some fresh chard from my cousin’s garden into the sauce. This is one recipe that I’ll definitely keep.
|Belarusian meatballs with penne alfredo with homegrown chard.|
Today, I made the rye bread. The recipe I had actually called for the dough to be made in a bread machine. But I don’t own one, nor want one. So, I made it by hand and let it rest for an hour and a half. It never did rise very much. I formed it into a ball, and covered it in caraway seeds, which to me, is the one thing that really gives it that “rye bread” smell. After baking it for 45 minutes, it came out of the oven smelling wonderful. I’ll have enough to eat on and give away, since my husband really (and I mean REALLY) doesn’t like rye bread, or any bread with seeds on it (or as he calls it, “debris” or sometimes “rocks and sticks.”)
|Rye bread with caraway seeds on top; or, my husband's demise.|
One popular dish that I kept coming across on many different sites was called draniki. It’s made of grated potatoes mixed with a few other ingredients and fried. While it was always described as a potato pancake, what I made seemed more like hash browns. And it could possibly be the style that I grated the potatoes. After frying it up, it turned out really well. But the topper, the apex, the kicker: I took some chopped garlic, added a little vegetable oil, some salt and whipped it in a blender, then added a couple dollops of sour cream in it and blended it some more, and THEN placed a little on top of the draniki. It made good even better.
|Draniki. I could eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and midnight snack.|
Now for the main dish. I chose Kotleta Pokrestyansky. It’s basically pork cutlets browned in some butter. Then you pour in a simmered mixture of mushrooms (I used baby bellas), some butter, some dry sherry and chicken broth and let the whole thing simmer for a while. I did add some extra salt and pepper to the mixture. It turned out pretty well. I can see how some might think it’s not as flavorful, but if you close your eyes and concentrate on what you’re tasting, the flavors are there; it’s just that it’s subtle.
|Rye bread, draniki, and kotleta pokrestyansky.|
Overall, this meal was really good. The thing that really got me about these recipes was that many of these recipes only use a few ingredients (ok, like less than 10). Many of these recipes that are considered “national dishes” (and this goes for almost every country) are directly from the kitchens of the families that are simply trying to survive the leaner times. The amazing thing about people is that we’ve always found ways to add flavor to our food by using what was available: like cream and local herbs and the styles that we choose to cook it. It’s a great lesson in thinking of ways to flavor food during those non-pay weeks: a small way to trick your mind to think that things really aren’t that tough when you’re eating well.
Oh, and I finally made myself an apron. To me, it’s the most fabulous apron ever. Definitely classy.
|Best. Apron. Ever. Mostly because I made it myself. Even though you can't see it sparkle in the picture.|
Up next: Belgium