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.
Print-friendly version of briciole's recipe for Mushroom and egg salad
- 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.
1 The book's page on the publisher's site
2 Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook by Anya Von Bremzen, John Welchman
3 My post and recipe for eggplant caviar (ikra) / caviale di melanzane
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].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
This is my contribution to the current selection of our Cook the Books hosted by Simona of briciole. (You can find the guidelines for participating in the event on this page.)
This is my second contribution to the 30th edition of Novel Food, the literary/culinary event that Lisa of Champaign Taste and I started some time ago and that I continue to host.
I am contributing my salad also to Souper (Soup, Salad & Sammies) Sundays, a weekly event created by Cook the Books club co-host Deb of Kahakai Kitchen.
I am slogging through the book now. I think once I get passed her retelling of family events, I will enjoy it more. Love this dish. I definitely haven't got to it yet.
Posted by: Debra Eliotseats | July 09, 2017 at 11:42 AM
I am just getting started on the book this week but looking forward to it. This salad looks delicious. I like the changes you made with reducing the mayo and adding in the greens.
Thanks for sharing it with Souper Sundays this week too. ;-)
Posted by: Deb in Hawaii | July 09, 2017 at 08:16 PM
Thank you, Debra. The story about mayonnaise jars is so funny that I had to make something with that condiment. Indeed the book becomes more focused on her personal experiences as it moves forward.
Posted by: Simona Carini | July 10, 2017 at 11:59 AM
It's always a pleasure to participate in Souper Sundays, Deb. I hope you'll enjoy the book :)
Posted by: Simona Carini | July 10, 2017 at 12:00 PM
I spent some time in Russia in the early to mid 1990s. I remember well their obsession with mayonnaise...
Posted by: Frank | July 16, 2017 at 04:45 AM
Wow, what an experience, Frank, to be there at a time of big political changes. The book gives an interesting perspective of events that I saw from the outside.
Posted by: Simona Carini | July 16, 2017 at 02:38 PM
Loved the book and just posted my contribution. Not what I expected at all but I enjoyed learning so much about Soviet history. And this is a great recipe, yes totally fun part where she talks about the beloved mayonnaise jar. But homemade is way better :-)
Posted by: Evelyne CulturEatz | July 28, 2017 at 05:38 AM
Thank you Evelyne. I am glad you enjoyed reading the book. I agree that the title did not prepare the reader for its rich historical and social stories. I'll remember the part about the mayonnaise jar for a long time :)
Posted by: Simona Carini | July 29, 2017 at 11:25 AM
Thanks for your contribution Simona, looks like you stretched everyone's reading zone. I want to try this salad, and am looking forward to getting her book, Please to the Table as well.
Posted by: Claudia | August 02, 2017 at 10:03 AM
Thanks so much for hosting this month Simona. There was so much great food inspiration in this memoir and I couldn't have been more pleased with the recipe I chose. I think her cookbook would be amazing.
Posted by: Wendy Klik | August 03, 2017 at 05:08 AM
You are welcome, Claudia. I love the cookbook: it has great recipes, but also information on the culture of the various Soviet republics.
Posted by: Simona Carini | August 03, 2017 at 06:45 PM
You are welcome, Wendy. I was moved by the story you shared. Her Soviet cookbook is great.
Posted by: Simona Carini | August 03, 2017 at 06:52 PM
Thanks for hosting Simona -- Plus we are in the heart of mushroom country here in nearby southeast PA so I will have to try
Posted by: cathy branciaroli | August 05, 2017 at 06:48 AM
Please, do, Cathy. It's a lovely salad.
Posted by: Simona Carini | August 05, 2017 at 02:29 PM