Cooking At Home: Russian sides

I don't call him Mr. Borscht for nothing, my husband hails from Russia and sometimes his Russian taste-buds gets kick'n and I find myself whipping away in the kitchen to get those Russian dishes on the table.  First, let's get one thing straight, I only know how to make a handful of Russian dishes, some I find easier than others and some dishes are more along the lines of being Russian-inspired rather than actual Russian dishes, but I try and Mr. Borscht seems to like them, he'll often comment on my Russian-inspired dishes, "this is kind of like a Russian salad I used to have back..." <You get the drift, right?

On my latest home cooking endeavor I prepared a faux-Russian dinner for Mr. Borscht consisting of a few sides, today's post covers two of the Russian sides that I think you'll be able to appreciate.

The Traditional Russian Beet Salad

                     Salt & Pepper
                     1/2 c mayonnaise
                     1 c chopped walnuts
                     2 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
                     5-6 sm-med red beets

You will also need.... A grater with large holes

STEP 1 Boil the beets by putting cleaned beets (not yet peeled) into a pot large enough to hold the beets along with water that covers the beets fully.  Bring the water to a boil then lower the heat to medium and allow it to simmer for 20 minutes.  In 20 minutes check with a fork if the beets can be pierced easily with the fork tines, if not, continue to boil until the fork can easily pierce the beets.

I find that boiling beets is the simplest way of cooking them and peeling them although probably not the most delicious way to cook them, I find that boiling often diminishes the flavor of the beets considerably.  However, if you're willing to go balls out for that full beet flavor here's how you do it...

1.  Pre-heat the oven to 360 degrees F
2.  Trim and scrub beets (but do not peel)
3.  Rub them in olive oil and arrange the beets on a baking sheet in a single layer
4.  Roast the beets in the pre-heated oven for 1-2 hours (beets are ready when easily pierced with a fork)

STEP 2 Once the beets are done boiling (or roasting), allow them to cool down.

STEP 3 Once the beets are cooled enough to handle with your hands, peel the beets.  If you've boiled the beets you should be able to easily peel away the skin with your hand.  If you're finding this hard to do use a speed-peeler.

STEP 4 Grate the peeled beets on the largest hole available on your grater.

STEP 5 Once all your beets are grated add the 1/2 c of mayonnaise, black pepper to taste, 2-3 pinches of salt and garlic cloves (minced or squished).  Mix this all together thoroughly and watch as the mixture becomes a pretty pink.

I like to add the mayonnaise in slowly starting with just a heaping spoonful, call me crazy but I don't like the idea of just dumping a 1/2 cup of mayonnaise into my food, I keep adding the mayonnaise until fulfilled which is usually a little less than 1/2 cup, but put however much mayonnaise you find tasty.

STEP 6 Fold in the chopped walnuts.  

Some people like more walnuts, some people like less, I like more so I add about a cup of chopped walnuts into my beet salad, but use less or none if you like!  You can always get creative and add a different type of nut instead if that's your thing, perhaps golden raisins might be nice for a touch of sweetness.

STEP 7 Lastly, taste test and season to taste if needed.

The Roasted Eggplant Dip, inspired by other Russian dips

                        1 med eggplant
                        2 bell peppers
                        1 red onion
                        Olive oil
                        Salt & Pepper
                        1 clove of garlic (minced or squished)
                        1-2 Tbsp tomato paste

You will also need... A food processor fitted with a steel blade

STEP 1 Chop into 1 inch cubes the red onion, bell peppers, and eggplant.  Place the chopped vegetables all together in a bake pan large enough to hold the vegetables in a single layer.

As you can see from the above picture I don't have a bake pan large enough to hold all the vegetables in a single layer and so had to use two smaller bake pans instead.  If the bake pan is not large enough to hold vegetables in a single layer the vegetables will not brown properly (as mine failed to do, as seen in the picture below- it still tasted great though! )

STEP 2 Coat the chopped vegetable with olive oil until they are moderately coated (about 4 Tbsp), and toss the vegetables with 2-3 pinches salt and 1-2 tsp pepper.

STEP 3 Roast the vegetables in a 350 degree F preheated oven for 45 minutes, toss once midway through.  Once the vegetables are done roasting allow them too cool for easier handling.

As you can see from the picture above I used yellow onions instead of red onion. Do try to use red onions, the end result will have a natural sweetness from the red onions that you cannot get with yellow onions.  And as for bell peppers, in my experience red and green bell peppers have the best flavor for this recipe.

STEP 4 Once the roasted vegetables are cool enough to handle, put them into the food processor and process away into the consistence that you like best.

I like Roasted Eggplant Dip that is a bit smoother with just a little bit of chunkiness, I find this texture to be more easily spread on bread, but if chunkier is the texture you like best then by all means go for chunkier.

STEP 5 Add the garlic (minced or squished), tomato paste, salt and pepper and incorporate thoroughly.

Once again let your taste buds do the talking, taste a little bit and if you want to add more tomato paste, do so.  If you want to add a bit more salt, do so.  And if you desire a lot more garlic kick than add a second clove of garlic.

When I serve the Roasted Eggplant Dip I like to top it off with a bit of Hungarian Paprika which I find adds a pleasant smokey flavor and with a side of toast points, but if you like freshly cut baguettes instead... go for it.

And there you have it.  Two Russian sides you can try out.  Enjoy!

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