Thursday, March 1, 2012

Russian Beet Salad

I wish I were a better updater of this blog. It has, as far as I can tell, twelve whole readers -- why can't I think of them, and of their need for Romanian food?

Well, several factors stand in my way:

1. Most of the time, I don't cook Romanian food. I have a huge collection of cookbooks, and love to experiment either with a variety of world cuisines, with recipes I find online, or with dishes made-up of leftovers and whatever's in the fridge.

2. I do almost all of my cooking in the evening -- after all, I work during the day. And since I don't have some kind of complicated photo setup, the pictures are bound to look pretty shoddy -- food shots taken by flash are never all that appetizing. Does anyone want recipes without the food porn?

3. When I follow cookbook recipes pretty closely, I'm uncomfortable reproducing them on the blog. I know people do this -- some pretty much fill their blogs with published recipes -- and I know one can acknowledge their sources and stay on the generally right side of blogger ethics. I don't mind doing this with Romanian cookbooks, as their instructions tend to be pretty vague anyway, and I figure most of them will not be available this side of the ocean.

Well, today is the day of exceptions to all three, and this is because I've discovered a Russian beet salad recipe so delicious, I've made it twice in less than a week and a half. Then I saw this recipe for Romanian beet salad on Romanian Food Blog, and it seems the stars had aligned. We need more beets!

The recipe is from literature prof and cookbook author (and general well-known foodie) Darra Goldstein's A Taste of Russia: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality. It's super-simple, and the first time I did it I used a shortcut that was just fine. Here's what you do, with some small variations from Goldstein's version:

Clean a pound of beets and roast them at 375 F for an hour or more. Let them cool, peel, and chop them into little cubes. (Goldstein has you shred them, but I love how jewel-like they are cubed.)

Then mix in three chopped cloves of garlic, three tablespoons of mayo, 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, and 1/4 chopped prunes. Plus salt to taste, of course.

Let the salad cool, then serve. I like the result on crackers, as in the picture here. It's quite sweet and rich, unlike the beet salads I usually make, and you can't eat a lot of it -- this is basically beet-based candy.

My shortcut? Well, roasting and peeling beets is a painstaking and messy job. And yes, the result is tasty, but you can also make this recipe as part of a weeknight dinner by just using canned beets and chopping them small. Now, that takes less than half an hour. I've prepared this salad once the "proper" way and once the shortcut way, and both are satisfying. I suspect I'll make it again before too long, though next time I'll add a bit of Bulgarian yoghurt to balance the sweetness.