As a graduate student in an American government-sponsored program in Moscow in the 1970s, Darra Goldstein had the privilege of shopping for groceries at a well-stocked market for diplomats. She rarely used it. She and her husband were there to immerse themselves in Soviet life, even when it meant standing in endless lines at state-run stores to purchase basic goods before those disappeared from near-empty shelves.
Yet they ate well, thanks to the hospitality of friends who were adept at transforming meager supplies into sumptuous feasts. Along with borscht and cabbage soups, that meant kasha sautéed with onions or freshly foraged mushrooms, savory pies in myriad shapes, wild game stews flavored with horseradish and juniper berries, pancakes topped with home-cultured sour cream, pickles and preserves made from the bounty of their own garden plots, and ample rounds of vodka.
The granddaughter of Russian Jews, Goldstein now teaches Russian studies at Williams College and has written numerous articles and books on the cuisine and culture of her heritage. In researching her latest volume, “Beyond the North Wind: Russia in Recipes and Lore” (Ten Speed, $37.50), she traverses the rugged arctic landscapes of its northernmost region to reveal the honest and complex flavors currently being coaxed from the austerity by a younger generation of enterprising artisans and home cooks.
The enthralling storytelling and gorgeous photography makes great bedtime reading, and the tantalizing recipe descriptions spurred me to get cooking. Dried Mushroom and Barley Soup, Cucumbers in Sour Cream, and a Beet Salad enlivened with grated carrot, apple and horseradish were all delicious. But the recipe that truly transported me to another world was the Scallion Pie: buttery sautéed green onions and fresh dill mixed with chopped hard-boiled eggs and encased in a free-form rye flour and sour cream crust. I was amazed at how easy it came together, and so pleased with the presentation that I invited my neighbor to share it with me.
She obliged, thoughtfully bearing a bottle of well-chilled vodka to toast my culinary accomplishment, and get a taste of a place defined not by politics, but by the simple pleasures of the table.
Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.
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