I haven’t forgotten this project, it just got stuck on a different burner – a lot of my cooking stuff has gone that way over the last few months since we haven’t had gas (5 months now). Cooking on hot plates is getting really “old”.
When I was growing up, Belarus was called Byelorussia, or “White Russia” as it translates. Three of my four grandparents were born there in the early 1900s, in various small villages along the Pripyat river. As best I know, none of those villages remain, though I know approximately where they were. At one time a much larger state, it lost much of its land mass to Poland post WWI. Somewhat over 40% of Belarus is forested, and the cuisine is heavily influenced by that, with game and wild mushrooms playing a large role. The most common grains are barley and rye, and they, too, have a strong presence in the cooking.
For the soup, I selected what could easily be considered the country’s national one, and I think few would dispute it, Крупнікз Грыбамі і Мясам “Krupnik z Hrybami i Miasam”, or, Mushroom and Meat Soup.
Traditionally made with fresh wild mushrooms in season, and dried ones out of season, I wasn’t going to find either fresh or dried chanterelles, which are the most common from the area, but I did find some dried maitake and oyster mushrooms, and those will have to do. Chopped onion, carrot, and potato. Beef cut in small cubes. Barley (in this case pearled, though I imagine at its most traditional, whole grain barley is probably used).
Bring the mushrooms to a simmer in water for about 15-20 minutes until soft enough to cut into bite sized pieces. Save the mushroom cooking water.
In a little butter or oil, brown the meat, onions, and carrots.
Add the potatoes and barley. At this point I simply strained the mushroom water right into the pot, chopped up the mushrooms and added them, and then topped it off with water (if you want a meatier flavor, use beef stock). Add some salt and pepper.
Bring to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes, until the barley is soft but still has just a touch of chewiness to it. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.
On the “bread” side, I decided to head to something a little more tart-like, mostly because >Перепечы, “Perepechi”, literally “reprints”, are pretty much considered the national dish. They’re a small whole wheat or rye flour tart with an egg filling that’s mixed with cabbage, or onion, or mushrooms, or meat. And, they’re almost always eaten with soup, so, it was a natural match.
Half rye and half bread flour (100 gm each), a pinch of sugar, yeast, 25 gm butter, 75 ml milk, egg. For the filling, 1 small onion, 2 eggs, and 100 ml milk.
Melt the butter and warm the milk and mix all the ingredients together well, kneading it like a bread dough until it’s smooth and elastic, not just a short mixing together like a pastry. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. Brown the onions (or cabbage or mushrooms) in a little butter and then set aside to cool.
Knock down the dough and then divide into equal parts and roll out into discs about 2mm thick, they’ll be a little smaller than a typical tortilla or empanada dough. Oil or butter tart dishes and put the discs in them, pinching up the edges as you go around to form a sort of rough fluted pattern.
Cover again and let rise until puffy, about 10-15 minutes.
Whisk the eggs and milk together with a little salt and pepper and then mix in the browned onions.
Bake in a moderately hot oven for about 20 minutes until the centers are puffy and golden and the tart shell is cooked through. The egg “dome” will collapse within a minute or so of removing them from the oven, and you need to let them rest for a few minutes before serving them – it’s just the way of things.
Delicious! I can’t say it’s a memory of childhood or anything, my grandmother who was born in that region left when she was 2 or 3 years old and didn’t cook traditional Byelorussian food, so no heartstrings tugged.
Next time, it’s on to Belgium!