When we think of Russia, we think frozen tundra, right? Fur muffs, velvet, vodka to stay warm, mushrooms, ice fishing, big bearlike men with frost in their beards, hunkering down in a sleigh, etc. But Russia in the summer flowers open and bloom, just as Oregon does, and Russians swiftly adjust to a lighter palate in the heat, just as we do.
Thus, it should be no surprise that there are wonderful specialties, all inflected with that particularly Russian kaleidoscope of assertive flavors. One of these is okroshka, a mixed-vegetable cold soup based on the fermented rye beverage called kvass (pictured below). There are as many version of okroshka as there are Russians; after making kvass earlier this month, I knew I’d have to try an adaptation of Sandor Katz’s recipe in Wild Fermentation, with apple, new potatoes, baby turnips, spring onion, cucumber, carrot and dill (above).
So what better way than to have a casual zakuski party? Zakuski are small plates, served up as a buffet, usually as a prelude to a larger meal. Pickled and fermented foods are crucial: sweet-sour beets, sauerkraut salad, marinated herring, half-sour pickles, caviar. And it’s not a Russian party if there isn’t sour cream — I made do with my homemade crème fraîche. We suffer. There are usually hot and cold dishes among the variety. But it was a summer night and time was short, so we went with cold salads, smoked fish, and the lovely okroshka. Vodka cocktails and a dense chocolate cake with brandied cherries made by my fabulous neighbor bookended the meal.
Zakuski Party Menu
- Black Cherry Vodka Shrub Spritzers
- Half sour cucumber pickles and California wine-marinated kalamata olives
- Okroshka cold kvass soup with apple
- Dilled tiny new potato salad
- Sweet-sour marinated beets
- Sauerkraut and carrot salad
- Creamy marinated herring
- Crab and roe spread (thanks, Ikea!)
- Bread from Noisette Pastry Kitchen
- White Bordeaux, French rosé of some sort, Beaujolais, another bottle of red? It grows hazy at this point.
- Chocolate cake with brandied cherries