Tuesday, October 27, 2009

80 Plates: From Russia With Love

My family on my father's side is half-Russian. Specifically we are from Belarus, and interestingly, when Michael met a few Russian people when we were living in Boston and told them my last name/maiden name (for those who don't know, it's Cherepon), they immediately knew Belarus! I find that fascinating, because if someone in the US says their last name is Smith, we wouldn't know that all Smiths live in Texas. So I was really fascinated by this.

Anyway, I'm pretty good with Eastern European and Russian cooking. Every year, my sister and I put on a big feast in January and do a lot of traditional cooking. I could certainly have counted that towards 80 Plates, but I felt like doing something from my family's countries of origin that I hadn't done before. Recently, the Fredericksburg Library had its semi-annual book sale and I went to the preview show and found a Russian cookbook. Inside was a recipe for beef stroganov and I decided that's what I'd make.

But wait a minute, those of you who have attended may ask. Haven't I eaten beef stroganov at your house before? Why yes you have, my fine friends, but you've eaten it the way my mom taught me to make it, which is quick, easy, and fool proof! To make that beef stroganov, all you do is add one pound of stew beef, one envelope of onion soup mix, and one can of cream of mushroom soup to your slow cooker and let it cook all day. It's quick, easy, and yummy, but not what I'd call "authentic".

According to my cookbook:

Created in the late 19th Century for a Russian count, "bef Stroganov" has become one of the world's most famous dishes. The recipe that follows is the classic Russian version. The numerous European and American variations called beef Stroganov do not in any sense reproduce the dish as it was originally made.

So there.

I gathered up my ingredients and you can see the fairly dismal looking picture in the cookbook in my ingredient picture. This cookbook was published in 1969 and has not exactly aged to perfection. Looking through it, I had to laugh at the photo of a Ukranian family sitting down to have their Easter breakfast, with two bottles of vodka on the table right in front of the kids' places at the table. Hilarious. Anyway, the only thing I did that varied from the directions was to buy the beef already cut into strips by the good people at Wegman's. I didn't want to stand around slicing beef all day.

To start, you combine dry mustard, sugar, salt, and just a dash of hot water to make a paste. I added about a tablespoon of hot water and wound up with more of a slurry than a paste. So my guess is that maybe even a teaspoon or water would do the trick.

Then it was time to slice up some onions. I needed four cups, which is about four onions' worth. I love this picture of the onion slices stacked in my grandma's measuring cup. The onions are very strong indeed, but I once read in the Old Farmer's Almanac that if you slice onions while keeping a piece of bread in your mouth, you won't cry, and I swear to God it works. At least for me. So there's your tip of the day.

As you can see, I bought the mushrooms pre-sliced, one pound of them. It would have been cheaper to buy the mushrooms in bulk and slice them myself, but I was feeling lazy so I let someone else do the work.

Now the first real part of the cooking made me nervous--you place some oil in a pan, turn the heat on high, and let the oil sit in there till it starts to smoke. Um, no thanks. I let it get good and hot till it was kind of running around the pan and kicking up bubbles, but I didn't wait to see smoke before I threw the mushrooms and onions in there. Then all you do is reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and stir the veggies around from time to time for the next 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, it was time to cook the beef. You cook it in two batches, since you use two pounds. This time the directions say to let the oil get hot but not smoke. Well, I just let it get to the same temperature as before with the onions and mushrooms and then threw in the beef. It got kind of bubbly and funny looking, but I guess that's what was supposed to happen! It cooked up just fine and then I got to add it to the mushrooms and onions, which I had drained off and returned to their happy pan.

From there on, it's pretty basic. You add in the mustard paste and some salt and pepper. Unfortunately, this did not photograph real well, but you can sort of see it there?

And then you add a dollop of sour cream at a time, mix it in, and wait for it to make a nice kind of sauce. I used fat free sour cream, and I do think the sauce might have been a bit thicker had I used regular, but I was willing to sacrifice a heavier gravy for a healthier option.

And then it was time to eat! I had mine over egg noodles and Mike had his with mashed potatoes (I had to pick the beef out of the mushrooms and onions for him!). I also had a nice side of steamed veggies and he did not.


I love making beef stroganov the quick and easy way, but man was it good to eat it the traditional way as well! Apparently it is traditional to serve it with crisp potato straws over the top of it, but I liked it our way just fine and dandy.

And I have to say, as I was making it, I was thinking it was one of the easier dishes I have made as part of this experiment. There were very few dishes created, unlike the usual sinkful of dishes I usually have to do, and since I was able to buy a couple ingredients pre-prepped, it made it even faster!

I really enjoyed this taste of the motherland. Yum! Maybe someday I'll eat it at the Kremlin with other heads of state. haha

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