Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Eastern European Comfort Food

The relatively young country of Belarus is squeezed in between the five countries of Russia, the Ukraine, Latvia, Poland, and Lithuania. This is my first Eastern European dinner and an introduction into the meat and potato (or just potato in Belarus's case) diet of the region. It used the be owned by Russia during its communist period, and you can still see socialism reflected in the economy. Over half of the people are employed by the government, and most companies are state run.

When researching Belarusian food, all I kept coming up with was soup and their national dish of potato pancakes called draniki. I already made draniki back when I did my breakfasts around the world project, so I did not want to repeat it. I consulted one of my friends who is a mk (missionary kid) from Belarus, and he confirmed that draniki makes up the typical Belarusian's diet. The people are pretty poor, so meat is not often served. It's a pretty cold country, so soup is another staple dish. I found a great solution for my draniki dilemma when I discovered a similar dish called kolduny. It is basically just draniki stuffed with mushrooms. Paired with a warm mushroom soup, this meal is perfect cold weather comfort food suitable for any Belarusian winter night.

Draniki's stuffed cousin kolduny takes the same method of making the potato pancakes, adding a filling and extra layer before flipping. They are typically served with dill and sour cream.
For the potato pancakes:
2 large potatoes (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled
½ an onion
1 egg
salt and pepper, to taste
oil, for frying

For the filling:
4 ounces chopped porcini mushrooms, either fresh or rehydrated in water
½ cup chopped onion
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tbsp oil

oil, for frying
sour cream and dill, to serve

To make the filling, heat a pan with a tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Add the onions and onion, season to taste, and cook until the onion is tender. Set it aside to cool.

To make the pancakes, grate the potato and onion into a large bowl. Toss in some salt, wait a few minutes, and drain out the excess water. Whisk in the egg.

Heat a skillet over medium heat with about ¼” of oil in it. Drop in tablespoonfuls of the potato mixture, top with some of the filling, and press another tablespoonful of the potato mixture on top. Cook both sides until golden brown. Drain off the excess oil on paper towels and hold the finished pancakes in a warm oven until serving. Continue this process with the rest of the potatoes and filling. Serve with dill and sour cream.




 Wheat does not grow in Belarus very well because of the cold, so grains like barley and millet. This soup features the latter grain in a delicious mushroom broth.

¼ cup millet, soaked overnight
2 cups broth (use the liquid leftover from soaking the mushrooms if you are using dried mushrooms)
1 turnip, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
½ a carrot, diced
4 ounces chopped porcini mushrooms, either fresh or rehydrated in water
1 tbsp oil
½ cup sour cream
salt and pepper, to taste

Bring the millet and broth to a boil in a small pot. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for an hour. Meanwhile, chop up all the vegetables and heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Sautee the vegetables until the onion is tender. Add the vegetable mixture to the simmering broth, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in the sour cream, season to taste, and remove the pot from the heat.

Since I am not much of a fan of potatoes, I was ready for the worst in this meal. I think that because I prepared myself, it turned out to not be all that bad. I did find out that I like turnips from the soup. I found it a little ironic that in Belarus they use a lot of mushrooms to replace meat because meat is too expensive. Here in the states a serving of meat is a lot cheaper than quality mushrooms. With all the vegetables and stuff that went into this meal, it turned out to be a little on the expensive side. (Well, more expensive than ramen and popcorn.) It's so interesting that something that is true in one part of the world is the complete opposite in another.


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