I simply loved Anya von Bremzen's Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food & Longing1, the current selection of our Cook the Books Club. The story is interesting: von Bremzen describes her and her family's life in the context of the political changes in Russia, the Soviet Union, then Russia again. Her style of writing is engaging — with the right balance of humor and seriousness. The food she describes is intriguing: even when we don't feel like we want to taste it, the emotional context comes alive in her words. I remember the more recent historical events von Bremzen describes, but I was looking at the Soviet Union from outside. Her account describes the perspective and experience of one living on the other side of the Iron Curtain (cortina di ferro).
Towards the end of the book, von Bremzen talks about writing Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook2 together with her then partner, John Welchman. I had already put that book in my wish list, after browsing it in search of the recipe for a Russian dish3. At this point, I was ready to get it. Now, when I read a recipe titled "my mother's Salad Olivier" I know something about the person she refers to. While Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking considers Soviet history also through the lens of food, Please to the Table considers more closely its geography and culinary culture. It's a pleasure to read through it.
One dish caught my attention immediately: Salat iz Yaits i Gribov (page 120-121). It uses mayonnaise (maionese), a condiment that has a special place in Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking and one I liked as a child, in part because I ate it rarely. Nowadays I make my own and can have it whenever I want. I halved the original recipe to make a smaller salad. I also changed some of the quantities because, while I like mayonnaise, I do so in moderation. Finally, I added a mix of baby spinach and arugula to the mushrooms, to create some flavor variety.
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 ounces / 225 g white button or cremini mushrooms or a mix of the two kinds, cleaned and sliced
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup / 2 ounces / 55 g minced fresh red onion
- 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill (aneto)
- 2 hard-boiled eggs (uova sode), roughly diced
- 1/4 cup / 60 ml mayonnaise, possibly homemade
- 2 teaspoons yellow mustard (the original recipe has Dijon mustard)
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 ounce / 30 g baby spinach
- 1 ounce / 30 g arugula
Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, until browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet and add the onion. Cook on gentle heat, stirring often, until soft and slightly caramelized, about 12 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the mushrooms. Add the dill and the eggs.
In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard and lemon juice. Add to the mushroom and egg mixture and toss until evenly distributed; season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Line a serving bowl with the baby spinach and arugula. Spoon the mushroom and egg salad on the bed of greens. Before plating, toss to mix in the greens.
I loved the book, which I recommend, in particular if you like history mixed in with personal stories. I loved the salad, which I have made several times, using ingredients I get at the farmers' market.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the insalata di funghi e uova audio file [mp3].
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