The Cookbook Club - first meeting
Updated: May 15, 2019
I can’t remember whether I mentioned it in my last letter -or not-, that recently, my friends and I started a Cookbook club, here in Beijing. Having been craving new flavors that would gives us a break from the delicious but often eaten Chinese food, our inaugural pick fell on the popular book “Mamushka: A Cookbook, Recipes from Ukraine & Eastern Europe”, written by Ukrainian chef and storyteller-foodwriter Olia Hercules. I suppose we all were drawn by the wide variety of recipes the book features, from Ukrainian beet broth borsch and stuffed cabbage rolls holubtsi -reminiscent of the Polish flavors I myself grew up with-, to a Moldovan giant cheese twist vertuta, Georgian kidney bean salad lobio, Soviet goose noodles lapsha z guskoyu, or Azerbaiani rice & fruity lamb plov – a course that celebrates the use of spices and bolder flavors. There are quick and easy recipes (like the ones you prefer), and more time-consuming and complex ones (like the ones you tend to avoid). There are light and summery options and then also hearty and nourishing dishes more suitable for winter or cold days. A multifarious array of choices for different palates.
Our lunch menu first started with an appetizer of “Tomatoes stuffed with cheese and herbs”, a fresh, light and colorful dish prepared by my friend X. Props to her for making her curd cheese from scratch which elevated this simple dish to a higher level. Every mouthful was the ideal mix of the delicate flavor of the creamy slightly sweet cheese with the aromatic punch of dill. And is there anything that doesn’t taste great with dill? It was followed by my dish – “Spicy Georgian beef soup”, also known as kharcho, a rather substantial option packed with the aromas of black pepper, toasted coriander seeds, chiles, saffron, garlic, cilantro, basil and walnuts. Although I enjoyed it, I think that if I was to prepare it again I would rather start by making a long-simmered deeper stock with roasted beef ribs and vegetables and then slowly start building up on it with the rest of the ingredients. I know you are probably going to agree with my husband who constantly criticizes my overcomplicating of things, but I do believe a good stock is the point of departure for any good soup or sauce.
“Azerbaijani chicken with prunes & walnuts” or kurka levengi, was the third course of the meal, prepared by my friend M. The combination of prunes, lemon juice, lemon zest, onions and toasted walnuts for the stuffing with the acidic sumac with which the chicken was sprinkled resulted in a beautiful, eye-catching and definitely not forgettable entrée.
Finally, we finished our meal with a dessert prepared by my friend A.: “Apple sponge” or biskvit. A cinnamony, sweet and sour treat that was very much appreciated by everybody but that I personally dare to say, falls a bit behind the Polish szarlotka that is made with a shortcake base, packed with sour apple slices and finished with a lattice crust, then served warm with an airy whipped cream. A New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc from the Ant Moore Estate was our wine of choice.
The book got great reviews and was highly graded with a 9/10, as we all agreed the recipes were appealing and rather easy to follow (and even translate to foreign languages), making it a cookbook also apt for beginners. You should get the book as I am sure you would love all the bread & pastries recipes. Any of them would definitely be a show-stopper in any of the dinner parties you so often host.
Dear friend, I leave you now and hope I will get news from you soon. With all my love,