Venison and Root Vegetable Tourtière

Some readers may remember the tourtière du lac from M. Wells Steakhouse, a debauchery of game meat encased in pie crust that fits quite well with my somewhat idealized conception of Eastern European cuisine — the one wherein everyone hunts for their own food, and then spends their days making excessive yet elaborate recipes overflowing with meat, root vegetables, rich sauces, and pie crust.

As much as I loved the idea, I was a little disappointed that the various meats in M. Wells’ version were hard to distinguish from one another and suggested offering fewer meats, with variations on texture instead. Putting my money where my mouth is, I started working on my own venison-centric version.

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Venison and Beet Sausages

I’ve already posted recipes for goose sausageslake trout sausages, salmon sausages (with beef fat). With two deer in the freezer, venison sausages were the natural thing to do next, and I might very well come up with more than one version. Today’s venison sausages are made with beets.

Beets contain a flavor compound called geosmin that’s responsible for their earthy taste. In fact, the word geosmin comes from “earthy smell” in Greek. This is the same compound that you find in red wine with earthy notes, and fish with a muddy taste (more on this here). I couldn’t find a list of the flavor compounds in venison, but in my sausages, the smell from the beets serves as a subtle reminder of the deer’s natural habitat. While you can’t really pinpoint the beet flavor in the final product, you do taste something that complements the flavorful venison meat.

Venison Sausages

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Venison and Potato Latke Burgers with Vodka-Battered Vegetables

A whole deer, even if you keep the backstraps and legs whole, yields a lot of ground meat, mostly from the neck and the belly. This is nothing to worry about: these are the perfect cuts to make burgers. All you need is a good repertoire of burger recipes. And of course, if you don’t like venison, ground beef from your favorite butcher or CSA (what, you don’t have a CSA???) will do.

Venison and Potato Latke Burger

I’ve already blogged about Bohemian Venison Burgers and Hungarian Lángos Goulash Burgers. This time, I’m doing a Polish / Belarusian / Ukrainian version. Hey, with enough deer meat, I might post one burger recipe for each country of the Eastern Bloc!

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Abkhazian Venison Loin with Blackberry Sauce and Cheese Polenta

Back when I wrote of my adventures in wild Abkhazia, I talked about shashlyk, spices, cheese, honey, and wine. And of course lodochka (aka Adjaran khachapuri). But there can be more to Abkhazian cuisine. Some time ago, I published a recipe for Honey Cake Gagra with Mandarin and Black Tea. Here is another original recipe that combines many local flavors into a more elaborate dish.

  • Yes, there are deer in Abkhazia. I even remember that the driver who picked us up at the Ingur border was a hunter. I suppose that people have got to find a use for all their guns, now that they’ve (sort of) got their independence!
  • The idea for a blackberry sauce comes from a sadly unidentified Abkhazian cookbook, though the recipe below is mostly adapted from Michel Roux’s Sauces. I believe the Abkhazian version contained garlic and adjika; I’m keeping it for another time.
  • The cheese polenta is called abista in Abkhazian. In Georgian it would be called elardji (it’s particularly popular in Mingrelia). The cornmeal is traditionally white, but yellow polenta works just as well. If you don’t have the courage to make your own cheese, and don’t have a Russian supermarket in your area, you can substitute mozzarella for the sulguni.

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Deer Hunting, and Eastern European Venison Cheese Steak Sandwich

Pulaski - Deer Creek Motel

After the debacle of 2012′s deer hunting season, when I spent 3 days on a tree stand and 3 nights in a tent in the middle of the Adirondacks without seeing a single deer or bear, and eventually rushed back home to NYC on deserted roads moments before Superstorm Sandy hit the shores… I needed a better plan for 2013.

I thought I was all set once I convinced huntsman Wayne to take me to a property on the Finger Lakes, a top deer-producing area in New York State, but fate decided otherwise. Only two months away from opening weekend, I suddenly found myself with no plans, no doe permits, and limited options…

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Vepřo-Knedlo-Zelo, a Czech Classic with a Twist

Vepřo-knedlo-zelo — literally “pork-dumpling-cabbage” — is Czech Republic’s national dish, but you’ve probably never heard of it. Maybe because the dish name contains one of the most difficult to pronounce letters known to mankind (the ř, affectionately called a raised alveolar non-sonorant trill in linguistics circles, is apparently shared only with the Kobon language of Papua New Guinea). 

Czech Cuisine - Vepro-Knedlo-Zelo

Or it could just be that most of the time, there’s really nothing about this dish to wax lyrical about. In many restaurants, you’re likely to receive dry slices of roasted pork, a heap of plain, soupy cabbage, and enough bread dumplings to smother you to death, even when there’s no sauce to mop up with them.

Let’s try to make things a little bit more interesting…

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Buuzy, Buryat Meat Dumplings

Buryat Cuisine - BuuzyOn my way to Moldova this past summer, I decided to brave the Russian bureaucracy (the eternal visa schemes) and traffic jams (2 hours from Sheremetyevo Airport) to spend one evening in Moscow. To make it count, I looked for restaurants serving cuisine that I was unlikely to eat anywhere else in the foreseeable future — this excluded the many Georgian and Uzbek joints. I found a small handful of Kazakh and Tatar restaurants, but the place that captured my attention served Buryat cuisine.

Buryat Cuisine in Moscow - Selenge Restaurant

Located in the former space of an iconic Soviet jazz club, restaurant Selenge calls itself a Buryat-Mongolian restaurant. The Republic of Buryatia is an area of Russia that borders Mongolia, and indeed their two cuisines are very similar  — one difference being that Buryats prepare several dishes with Baikal omul. The food at Selenge was a bit uneven, but one of the better dishes we tried was the buuzy, a local variation on Mongolia’s national dumpling. 

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Traditional Uzbek Plov

Although I’ve already posted plov recipes here and here, I wanted to go back to a more canonical version that I could submit on Ingredient Matcher. A plov that’s very traditional in its ingredients, and at the same time easy enough to prepare. No sous-vide lamb, no need to kill your own turkey, and no useless rituals à la Stalik.

Uzbek Cuisine - PlovA cousin of pilaf and pulao, plov (also called osh) is the national dish of Uzbekistan, and to a certain degree, Tajikistan. Almost every region has its own version, even if the differences can be quite subtle sometimes. Tashkent plov, for example, is made with yellow carrots, and can be served with kazy, horse sausage. The bases are more or less invariable, though. Expect all or a subset of the following: carrots, onions, garlic, currants, chickpeas, lamb, and a fair amount of animal fat. And of course, the essential Uzbek spices, cumin and coriander.

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Qurutob, Tajikistan’s National Dish

Tajikistan claims mainly two national dishes: plov (aka osh), and qurutob. While plov is more famous and is also the national dish of neighboring Uzbekistan, qurutob is specifically Tajik.

Tajik Cuisine - Qurutob

Tajik culinary literature is pretty scarce. Pan-Soviet cookbooks typically included a short section about Tajikistan, a handful of booklets must have been published with very small circulations in Dushanbe in the early 1990′s, and a few bloggers have posted recipes here and there. But overall, with Tajikistan being one of the poorest countries in the world — and with its independence immediately followed by many years of civil war — circumstances haven’t encouraged such recreational endeavors as cookbooks.

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Shashlyk Po-Karski, Döner Kebab, and Gyro

Shashlyk po-karski (Kars-style shashlyk) is a rather mysterious dish. Every time I’ve ordered it in restaurants, I’ve been served either a rack of lamb or individual grilled lamb chops. What made either version specifically from Kars, a Turkish town that once belonged to medieval Armenia? Why not call it chalakhach, another dish of mysterious origins that seems to consist of grilled lamb chops?

Armenian Cuisine - Shashlyk Po-KarskiPokhlebkin sheds some light and gives a pretty different definition of the dish — and unlike Brighton Beach restaurant owners, he was a food historian. In his essential Cookbook of the Soviet Peoples, he explains what distinguishes a shashlyk po-karski from other kebabs:

  • The dish requires round chunks of lamb loin of similar shapes, each weighing about a pound.
  • The marinade is different from what you use in Georgian mtsvadi (Georgian kebabs tend to be minimally marinated).
  • The shashlyk is cooked progressively, and thin pieces are cut off the outside while the rest keeps grilling.

This still doesn’t explain why Kars Armenians decided all of a sudden to invent this  Turkish-sounding dish, but I think I have a theory.

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