Tag Archives: russia

World Cooking – Russia

Here we are christening this new list and, despite being a Brit, I thought it would be cool to start off with Russia. There are two Russian things in the 1001 foods list that I have wanted to make for a while and I thought that this would provide me with the perfect opportunity.

List Item:  Cook something from every countryCountry: Russia
Progress:
1/193

Russian cuisine, like the country, is vast. If it was not for the 1001 foods list providing me some focus I would have had a lot of trouble narrowing it down to one or two dishes. I might have made some of things in GentleWhispering’s ASMR video on traditional Russian cuisine, although there is no way I could have made as pretty a block of gingerbread as Maria did.

This huge variation in dishes does bleed into a lot of the surrounding countries, which means I have somewhere to start from when I plan my meals for the likes of Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. For example, I know I am going to make plov at some point – it’s just that I need to assign a country.

So… what did I make?

Main Dish: Kulebiaka

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 723/751Food item: Kulebiaka

Kulebiaka (or coulibiac) is one of those things that I have wanted to make ever since I first saw the recipe for it in my copy of the Samarkand cookbook. On the surface of it, kulebiaka looks like it would be a difficult thing to make. However, once you decide to get premade puff pastry instead of making your own, it is deceptively easy to make.

What we essentially have here is two layers of a rice mix (containing mushrooms, rice, onion and various herbs and spices), one layer of sliced hard-boiled eggs and a layer of flaked salmon. All this is wrapped in puff pastry and then baked in the oven after giving it a good eggwash.

I cannot begin to describe how proud I am of this and it tasted so good. I did wonder about the inclusion of three hard-boiled eggs, but they really took on the flavours (and colours) of the turmeric, cardamom and cumin – so I shouldn’t have worried. The smell as we cut this open was something else as well.

This will not be the only thing I end up making from the Samarkand cookbook and it probably won’t be the last time I make a Kulebiaka. Now that I have the confidence to make it, I think I might start experimenting with flavours to see how I can pull it in different cultural directions.

Dessert: Pashka

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 724/751Food item: Pashka

As we were eating this for lunch on Easter Sunday (yup, I’m more than 6 months ahead now) I thought that this would be the perfect time to try and make pashka. This is a creation traditionally made for Easter to be served with kulich (a pannetone-style Russian loaf) and is made from curd cheese, dried fruit and cream.

Technically, this dessert is meant to be turned out of the dish and decorated with dried fruit, but I didn’t trust this enough to not completely collapse over the table. So, I took this picture and just went to town on it with a spoon and spread it on chunks of kulich that I had bought from a Russian bakery in Borough Market.

I got the recipe for this from Great British Chefs and, aside from my blender breaking halfway through, this was really simple to make and taste delicious. It’s incredibly rich and, the version I made, really reminded me of the filling of a rum-raisin cheesecake. Again, this is something that I would want to make again and, maybe, have the nerve to turn it out and decorate it in the traditional style before eating it.

Extras

Being the first country (and as we did this for Easter), we thought it would be cool to also have a Russian style appetiser and what’s more Russian than caviar and blini. This is my first time eating something labelled as caviar (please note that this is lumpfish caviar because I am not made of money) and I really liked it. Especially with the blini and creme fraiche.

List Item: Try caviar
Progress: Completed

The next country will probably not be as extravagant as this, but I had to start this list off with a bang. At the moment I have no plans for what the next country will be, so I guess I need to see where the recipe searches take me.

So, until next time, prijatnogo appetita!

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Around The World In 100 Films – Russia

100WorldFilms - RussiaList Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 28/100

The films of the former Soviet Union were always going to cause some trouble if I were to watch one for this list. It is true that since the split Russia has made a number of successful films but none really match their output before the end of the Cold War.

I have wanted to see The Cranes Are Flying for years but it is one of those films I never managed to get around to watch. I know that the director of the film was born in modern day Georgia but apparently this film was the subject of discussion when the Russian Guild of Film Critics were producing a list of the Best Russian Films from 1908-1957 and whilst some films were removed and assigned elsewhere this remained in place.

thecranesareflyingCountry: Soviet Union (since assigned to Russia)
Title: Летят журавли (The Cranes Are Flying)
Director: Mikhail Kalatozov
Year: 1957

I am a serial IMDB rater. I have rated every feature length film, miniseries and short film that I have ever seen. Of the nearly 1500 features I have seen only 17 have gotten a perfect 10 rating from me and The Cranes Are Flying is number 18.

So, what does it take for me to give a film a 9 or 10? Well, looking through the films that have attained these ratings (e.g. Sunset Boulevard, Fargo, Spirited Away, Gone With The Wind and All About My Mother) there is something that jumps out. Most of the films I really love has an exceptional performance from a central actress and The Cranes Are Flying may have the best performance I have seen in years by the beautiful Tatyana Samoylova.

The Cranes Are Flying is a film that feels like an epic despite a runtime of little over an hour and a half where we see the life of Veronika (Samoylova) as she becomes separated from Boris (the man who is basically her fiancée) she loves after he volunteers to serve on the front in World War Two. Left behind in civilian territory Veronika serves as a conduit for the film-maker to pour all the pain, loss and other psychological tortures that were experienced by the Soviet populace. It is also interesting to note the utter comempt that a major character has towards the communist system with his derision of the known slogans of meeting and exceeding quotas.

As you would expect this is not a film that sat well with the Soviet government but it captured the imaginations of the critics and audiences in both the USSR and around the world. In Veronika’s sufferings and the brave face she puts on through sheer force of will was created an incredibly well rounded and developed character which any actress would kill to have a chance to play. It truly re-opened the doors of Soviet cinema to the world after the then-recent death of Stalin.

The Cranes Are Flying is in many ways a story about how humans have an innate need to subscribe meaning to atrocity otherwise what is the point of living. This is the only thing that keeps Veronika going through the majority of the film and goes a long way to explain the final scene of the film where she smiles through despair and distributes flowers to the joyous people upon the wars end.

Aside from the outstanding central performance the thing that really stands out about this film is the extraordinary camera work. Tracking shots through war-torn streets and the victory scene in the finale serve to provide insights into the emotions felt by the populace during their brief appearances on screen. The use of a crane at opportune moments such as Veronika walking away from Mark when he confesses her love for her despite his cousin Boris being the one she is with again serves to heighten the distance between them. The best shots in this film make use of a mobile camera; a chase up a spiral staircase, the merging of two spinning images as a soldier dyes and imagines being married and the quick cuts and sped-up shots when there is a fake-out leading us to believe Veronika is about to throw herself in front of a train.

What makes this film all the more tragic, despite the subject content, was the fate of the lead actress. Forced by the Soviet government to refuse jobs outside of the USSR (which came flooding in after the film won the Palme d’Or and she secured a Special Mention at Cannes) her career just floundered. She secured roles here and there but none reached the heights of The Cranes Are Flying although she did take the lead in the 1967 adaptation of Anna Karenina.I just wonder what her career could have been like otherwise, especially after her death only a few weeks ago.