What do we really know about Russia? What do we know of its food? And do we want to cook it?
Within the first couple of paragraphs of a superbly written introduction, debut author Alissa Timoshkina quietly and effectively curtails any negative or prejudging responses to those questions that you (I?) might have. This is personal. This is about her childhood memories — at the crossroads of Eastern European and Central Asian cuisine — and how they translate into a contemporary culinary repertoire. This is not without her own cynicism towards the traditional foods and current politics of a vast nation.
The focus is on Siberian cuisine, though unsurprisingly that’s a fertile and wide ranging topic: “due to its complex history of exile and other forms of resettlement, Siberia has become a melting pot of culinary traditions from Ukraine and the Caucasus to Central Asia, Mongolia and Korea“.
I suppose I was expecting some of the soups; the use of beetroot, horseradish, cabbage, pickles and ferments; the radishes, soft cheese and herbs on rye bread; and, because Olia Hercules has given us a glimpse of Ukrainian food, some of the dumplings, buns and filled pies. But there’s a great deal of content here that surprises — I think perhaps because of Alissa’s light touch — and the ‘expected’ food is in itself still intriguing.
The book begins with starters and snacks, including a lighter alternative to a classic Russian lmonlad and chicken pate filled choux buns, which sit alongside soused and marinaded fish dishes, open sandwiches, courgette dips and fried patties. We’re encouraged to make and eat many things at once. Seems sensible to me.
These are followed by a number of soups and broths, all rather more interesting than the puréed and watered down root veg we’re used to in the West.
Some of the main courses are extraordinary (a salmon and caviar blini cake), though things like plov, squid poached in smetana sauce, and Siberian Pelmeni dumplings draw my eye and demand a sticky tab. Pickles and ferments feel like they’ve a modern twist (apple, fennel and dill in the sauerkraut, honey pickled mooli, Soviet-Korean pickles), as do the desserts, cakes and drinks which, frankly all appeal (lots of honey involved)
I wasn’t expecting the Korean influence on Siberian cuisine, but I’m particularly drawn to things like mushroom soba noodle broth with khrenovina, a fermented tomato and horseradish salsa, and a Soviet-Korean ceviche — khe — where there’s fish sauce, cayenne pepper and white wine vinegar in the marinade, and a carrot and coriander seed garnish. I also think these are a good example of how so many of the recipes in Salt & Time hit the sweet spot where surprise and temptation meet.
This is a book to read, to sink into and to fawn over. But it’s also one I envisage often cooking from; for simple supper nights, though I also feel an urge for a Siberian-themed feasts or two too.
Format and design
Classic crown quarto shape (so it’ll fit on your shelf). Really, really beautiful photography — of both landscape and food. There’s plenty of white space so we can pause and appreciate the layout. It’s not interspersed with particularly long essays, but you’ll want to take it to a comfy chair/bed/the loo to read (as well as cook from it).
Recipes that tempt
Soviet-Korean ceviche; squid poached in smetana sauce; okroshka summer soup.