3 Great June Hikes Near Vancouver

June is a tricky month for hiking – usually snow still lingers in the mountains, making many higher-elevation trails inaccessible/dangerous/unpleasant to hike on. These 3 trails are great moderate-difficulty trails open for hiking in June.   1. Mt. Elphinstone Trailhead location: near Langdale on Sunshine Coast, BC Trail stats: 18 km (26 km if walking from the […]

Cabbage Rolls (Golubtsy)

  This is a classic Russian recipe for cabbage rolls (called golubtsy), which consists of ground beef and rice wrapped in a fresh cabbage leaf and then simmered in a tomato/sour cream sauce. There are countless variations of the recipe, including the use of other meats, addition of mushrooms, buckwheat, or even vegetarian versions. Feel […]

Myra Canyon (KVR trail)

Myra Canyon is part of the Kettle Valley Railway trail, an abandoned railway that was converted for recreational use. A feat of engineering in its heyday, the railway was constructed over steep mountain terrain using the route of the least resistance, meaning that the grades were never more than 2.2%. Between 1920s and 1950s, the KVR allowed heavy […]

Baked Eggs with Broccoli and Shiitake

baked egg shiitake mushroom broccoli

This is a great way to use leftover steak or any other meat in a breakfast dish, or omit the meat altogether making this a vegetarian dish. I love the combination of crispy garlicky croutons, broccoli, mushrooms, and runny yolks. Broccoli works particularly well with shiitake mushrooms, but any other type of mushroom will do. You will need oven-proof ceramic ramekins to bake this dish in.

The Easiest Crusty Homemade Bread in Cast Iron Pot

I love the ease of using a breadmaker, but I find that the one thing I’m missing is the crust on my white bread. After experimenting for while, I discovered baking the bread in my trusty cast iron pot produces a wonderful loaf, soft on on the inside with a wonderful golden trust. The dough is made in the breadmaker first, then transferred to preheated pot and baked in the oven. That’s it! Just let the pot work its magic.

Oyster Stew

I made this stew after I bought a dozen of fresh oysters at Goose Point Oyster Farm in Washington State. They were much bigger than the usual medium size and therefore were not easy to be opened and eaten raw, which is the best way to eat oysters of course. I’m not adding any bacon or other smokey, greasy meats, but instead keeping this stew light and aromatic with the addition of white wine and saffron.

Fast Salt-Brined Cucumbers (Malossol Pickles)

malossol cucumber pickle

Malossol literally means “little salt” in Russian. These tasty pickles are quickly cured in salt – there is no vinegar in the recipe. These are especially great in July when fresh pickling cucumbers are available. The smallest cukes have the most crunch. If you can’t find pickling cukes, Japanese cucumbers can be used, or even regular English cucumbers (quartered). I’m using a lot of aromatics in this recipe, including Russian garlic, horseradish root, black peppercorns, dill heads/seeds, and blackcurrant and cherry leaves. They can be found at farmers markets during summer (except for the leaves, which you will have to harvest yourself if you want to use them).

Russian Crepes (Blinchiki)

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Crepes, or blinchiki, is a favorite breakfast food of many Russians. They are so easy to make, and are meant to bring the whole family together for breakfast. Kids love them! The best blinchiki are paper-thin with slightly crisp edges. They can be eaten with honey, sour cream, jams, or wrapped around various delicious sweet or savory fillings. My favorite fillings are meat (ground beef fried with onions), rice, egg and dill, and mushroom. For the ultimate decadency, some Russians eat blinchiki with caviar.

Spicy Stir-Fried Shrimp

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This recipe makes perhaps the tastiest spicy shrimp I ‘ve ever had, and I’m proud to say that I came up with it all by myself 🙂 It only takes about 15 minutes to make. When I created this recipe, I was striving to achieve a classic balance of flavors – salty-sour-savoury-sweet. I added Sriracha for heat and a touch of curry for complexity and aroma. I hope you enjoy it too.

There is a “special ingredient” in the stir-fry sauce that may be not as familiar as the rest. Mirin is a sweet Japanese cooking sauce made from rice wine. It adds a touch of sweetness and a subtle fruity aroma. Mirin may be sold in an Asian food section of your supermarket, or Chinese or Japanese ethnic food stores. Here in Vancouver, I get it from T&T Supermarket. If you can’t find this sauce, a sweet sherry makes a good substitute. In a pinch, dissolve 1 teaspoon of sugar in 2 tablespoons of white wine.

Salmon Caviar (Ikra)

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Salmon caviar is good for you. It’s almost all protein, which is used by the body to make muscle tissue. The famous Russian figure skater and Olympic champion Ekaterina Gordeeva mentions in her autobiography that Soviet athletes were given salmon caviar during training to boost strength. Caviar also has all the healthy omega fatty acids normally found in fish. It is very filling, so if you eat those 4 little pieces of bread with caviar in the cover picture for breakfast, and it can easily take you through half a day! Not to mention a sensational gustatory experience when those vibrant salty granules pop against your tongue!

Crunchy Spicy Green Beans

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I did not used to like green beans because they always turned out bland and limp, but this recipe changed it all! It’s an amalgamation of several Internet recipes which I tweaked to my liking. It was amazing to discover how well the classic Asian flavour combination of sesame oil and soy sauce complements green beans. I usually make the stir-fry sauce taste quite hot with two (sometimes two and a half) teaspoons of Chili Garlic sauce similar to Sriracha (and in fact produced by the same company, Huy Fong Foods). When plating, I sprinkle the beans liberally with coarse sea salt for extra crunch and visual appeal. Yum!

Hungarian Red Lentil and Smokie Soup

hungarian red lentil smokie soup

The warm spiciness of red lentils and the smoky flavour of the sausage – there is something about this flavor combination that makes this soup so comforting it’s simply irresistible! I also add just a touch of paprika and cumin seeds to give it a bit more complexity. And it’s so fast and easy to make – you can be eating your soup in under 30 minutes. It’s quite thick and almost stew-like in consistency and makes a hearty and delicious supper!

Red Cabbage Coleslaw with Maple Glazed Pecans

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By accident, I stumbled upon a wonderful ingredient that just makes veggie salads (and particularly cabbage salads) so much better. I’m sure it’s not a secret and may even be commonly used by other cooks, but for me it was a revelation. This ingredient is pecans (or walnuts) toasted with maple syrup and a pinch of salt. Salt, I find, is very important here as it counteracts and balances the sweetness of the maple syrup. Combined with tangy coleslaw sauce made with a simple combination of mayo and mustard, the taste is just incredible.

Uzbek Plov with Pomegranate Seeds

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Plov (aka Pilaf, Pilau, etc) is a prominent feature in the regional cuisines of the former Soviet Republics of Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan, all located in the region called Middle Asia. Each country has its own variation of plov and different methods of preparation. Plov’s main ingredients are meat, rice, carrots, and onions with occasional addition of other goodies like raisins, dried apricots, pomegranate seeds, garlic, and various spices. In Middle Asia, plov is cooked in a thick-walled cast iron pot called kazan, which can sometimes be so huge that it is kept outside and is heated over a fire pit. In Russia, plov is a very popular dish, although an Uzbek or an Azerbaijani will almost certainly complain that Russian plov is bland, lacks authenticity, and is generally prepared without due diligence. Yet I heard so many times that a Middle Asian plov prepared in a traditional way is an amazing dish seen as a symbol of prosperity and is often served on festive occasions like weddings. They even have a saying in Middle Asia: “If you are poor, you eat plov. If you are rich, you eat only plov.”
I was so keen on the idea of making proper plov that I started researching various recipes and experimenting. Finally I arrived at a recipe that worked very well – my plov turned out moist, aromatic, and very tasty. It’s an Uzbek-style plov, which means that meat and rice are cooked together in the same pot.

Cast Iron Cookware

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My cast iron pot is my favorite cookware item in the kitchen. I got it about 8 years ago from Zellers and cured it myself since it wasn’t enameled. Curing means rubbing the pot with oil and baking it to produce a black non-stick finish. After that’s repeated a number of times, the pot is cured and ready for use. It must be treated as gently as any other non-stick pot – no metal utensils, no washing in dishwasher, etc.

Classic Borscht

borscht russian cabbage soup borsht

Borscht is the quintessential Eastern European soup that is most often associated with Russian and Ukrainian cuisine. There are many variations: it can be made with beef or with pork, and with or without tomatoes or tomato paste. The two ingredients borscht always has are beets and cabbage. Beets give this soup its striking rich crimson color. In North America, borscht is somehow regarded as a meatless or even a vegetarian soup. Even though borscht can be made without meat, the taste would not be the same. Meat gives this soup its rich flavor and makes the vegetables taste more mellow. In fact, using pork or beef gives borscht a different taste. Ukrainian borscht is generally made with pork and is richer and fattier, whereas Russian borscht can be made either with pork or with beef, which tends to be leaner. It also helps to have meat with a bone since it makes more flavorful stock. I was always taught that vegetables for borscht should be diced/shredded finely, and in practice, it makes borscht taste more mellow and less cabbage-like. And remember – borscht, like most cabbage-based dishes, tastes better on the next day. Borscht is often served with a dollop of sour cream and a slice of Borodinskiy bread.

Borodinskiy Bread – Dark Russian Rye Bread (Breadmaker Recipe)

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orodinskiy is a famous dark Russian bread with a dense, slightly crumbly texture and tangy taste. Since it’s made with 50% rye flour and 50% whole wheat flour, it has less gluten than regular all-wheat bread and is digested more easily. Sometimes it’s spiced with coriander and/or caraway seeds. The secret to Borodinskiy bread is malt or malt extract. For a while I could not find malt at any grocery store, so I got creative and used instead a canned mixture for making dark beer at home. Malt is the main ingredient in that beer kit, but it also contains hops which added an interesting slightly bitter note to the taste of my bread. Then one day I spotted a jar of barley malt at Save-On-Foods and could make Borodinsky bread using the original recipe. It turns out malt extract is not actually that difficult to find – it’s sold at many health and nutrition stores. It is a very sticky semi-solid dark brown substance similar to molasses, but thicker.

Recently I bought “Dark Russian Rye Bread” that is now sold at many local grocery stores here in Vancouver. It’s not bad for making sandwiches, but this soft sweetish bread is nothing like the authentic Russian rye bread. You would not find a really soft North American type sandwich bread in Russia – all Russian breads have denser texture. Borodinskiy is most often sold in the shape of a brick – so when made in a breadmaker, it comes out almost perfectly authentic!

Colorful Bell Peppers Stuffed With Beef and Rice

Last week I bought a bag of colorful bell peppers at a local veggie store and immediately thought of our traditional family recipe – stuffed bell peppers. When I was little, my mother made this on so many occasions when we had guests over. She would stuff the peppers with ground beef and rice mixture, simmer peppers in a creamy tomato sauce, then serve with mashed potatoes.

Vinegret – Winter Beet and Sauerkraut Salad

vinegret sauercraut salad russian

Vinegret is a truly wonderful combination of vibrant colors, soft and crunchy textures, and sweet and sour taste. It uses vegetables that are readily available in the winter to provide a vitamin boost. The word vinegret originated from the French “vinaigrette”, a well-known salad dressing. There is no vinegar in vinegret salad, despite what its name suggests. The main ingredients are beets, carrots, potatoes, sauerkraut, pickles, and green peas. Sometimes white beans are used instead of peas. Vinegret is a staple dish in many Russian homes; it is inexpensive to make and looks great on a holiday table!

Holodets (Meat in Jelly)

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Holodets, or studen’, is a traditional Russian dish dating back many centuries. Holodets is essentially a meat jelly made by cooking pork legs, with addition of parts that contain skin and cartilage, such as ears and snout. These parts contain natural gelatin, which is what makes the jelly set. These days, many Russian cooks use powdered gelatin (same substance used in Jello-O). But I prefer to make holodets the old-fashioned way because the natural gelatin makes it set better – it’s neither too firm nor too runny.

Roasted Duck Stuffed with Apples

This is a variation of a traditional Russian Christmas recipe from the 19th and early 20th century. During the Soviet times, ducks were not easy to come by, and so this recipe unfortunately was half-forgotten. These days, roasted duck is popular again as a festive winter meal.

This was my first time ever cooking duck. I choose a European breed of duck which is supposed to have less fat than its Chinese counterpart (it still had a lot of fat under the skin though). I found several recipes online, each of which had some features that I liked. So I combined these recipes to create something that I thought would taste good. I stuffed my duck with a combination of fruit and nuts sprinkled with nutmeg to give it that extra special Christmas taste. I was pleasantly surprised how well this turned out. The skin was crispy, fat mostly melted out from long cooking in the oven, and the fruit-and-nut stuffing complemented the duck meat very well. The only problem was, it turned out that duck does not really have that much meat, and so my 2-kg duck was barely enough for 4 people to have a taste!

Kharcho – Spicy Georgian Walnut Soup

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Georgia is a country in the Caucasus region of Eastern Europe and a former Soviet Republic (not to be confused with Georgia – an American state). Georgia’s cuisine is quite unique but little known around the world. It’s aromatic and liberally uses fresh herbs and spices, but it’s not particularly hot. Georgian cuisine has a firm foothold in Russia that goes back into the 19th century, and became even more prominent in the Soviet times. This particular soup, called kharcho (or harcho) was for many years a staple in humble Russian cafeterias and workers’ cafes as well as upscale restaurants. Of course, due to the lack of authentic ingredients, many were substituted for what was readily available and as a result, the original recipe was adulterated to the point where it was no longer recognizable. The authentic version is aromatic, somewhat sour, has just a touch of heat, has beef broth as its base and is thickened with walnuts and rice. The combination or the earthy walnut flavor and authentic Georgian spices makes this soup truly unique and delicious.

Tkemali Sauce (Georgian Tart Plum Sauce)

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This fragrant Georgian sauce is made of tart green, yellow, or red plums and garlic with some traditional herb mixture. It gained popularity in Russia as a condiment to traditional dishes such as pelmeni (meat dumplings), pork chops, etc. It’s used in a manner similar to ketchup.

Outside of Russia and Georgia, commercially prepared tkemali sauce can be found in Russian food stores. I’m sure there is at least one Russian store in all major cities in the US and Canada. They are often named something like Euro Foods or European Foods.

If you happen to find some tart plums, it’s easy to make tkemali at home.

Khmeli-Suneli Herb Mix

hmeli suneli, Georgian spice

A complex and fragrant herb mix used in many staple Georgian dishes like kharcho soup, chahohbili, and satsivi. Khmeli-Suneli is a complex herb mix essential to Georgian cuisine. It is used in dishes like chahohbili, satsivi, and kharcho soup. Pre-packaged khmeli-suneli can be found in Russian ethnic food stores (they are usually disguised under names […]

Firm White Russian Bread

I love my new breadmaker! It’s a very basic model BlackDecker, but it works its magic just like any of the upscale models! All you need to do is to add the ingredients to the bread pan, and voila! in 3-4 hours you can enjoy the goodness of freshly baked bread.

This particular kind of bread strongly resembles the freshly baked firm white bread of my childhood in the Soviet Union. Every other morning in the summer, I would walk to the nearby supermarket bakery for a loaf of fresh bread.

The white sandwich bread in Canada and the US is too soft for my liking, but this machine bread turned out to be the perfect texture!

Butter Garlic Shrimp

butter garlic shrimp

I have made this dish on many occasions, and it is one of my favorite ways to cook shrimp. I start with medium-size fresh headless shrimp (I usually get them from T&T – it’s an Asian supermarket chain in Vancouver). Don’t use the peeled, precooked and frozen shrimp – the results just won’t be the same. Ideally, shrimp should be peeled and de-veined, but I often skip this step to save time and let everyone peel their own shrimp! The delicious garlicky sauce that’s left behind after shrimp is cooked can be used to add flavor to other dishes, such as sauteed vegetables or mushrooms.

Wild Mushroom (Porcini) Soup

porcini mushroom soup russian

If you do not pick mushrooms yourself, wild porcini are often sold in veggie stores and Italian grocery stores. You need very little of dried mushrooms to add loads of flavor to your soups and stews. If you can’t find porcini, other kinds of mushrooms like shiitake can also be used. Just remember that the flavor of the soup will depend on the kind of mushroom you use.

Goulash (Hungarian Beef Stew)

This super-tasty beef stew originates from Hungary, but we Russians have adopted it into out cuisine a long time ago. Now it’s pretty much a staple in many Russian households. The key is using copious amounts of paprika. Paprika is a red spice made from grinding sweet peppers or chili. For this dish, a mild sweet Hungarian paprika is used, but any kind of paprika would do.

My personal secret to this dish is using Hungarian peppers or banana peppers instead of regular bell peppers. They start to appear at veggie stores in Vancouver in late July and are just loaded with delicious flavor. Bell peppers don’t come anywhere near. I actually buy these peppers in big quantities and slice and freeze them. They keep for a long time in the freezer and taste amazing. If you cannot find these peppers, just use a mix of regular red and green bell peppers.

Another secret is using canned Italian tomatoes instead of fresh tomatoes. If you can get great-tasting tomatoes in your area, it’s great, unfortunately in Vancouver we can only get the tasteless greenhouse variety. So I use canned peeled whole tomatoes imported from Italy. They have most of the flavor and goodness of fresh tomatoes.

Goulash is traditionally served with broad noodles, but I like it on a bed of mashed potatoes.

Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken With Cream Cheese and Mushroom Filling

prosciutto wrapped chicken cream cheese mushroom stuffed filling brie

This recipe sounds fancy but it’s actually very easy to make and is great for entertaining. The crispiness of Prosciutto (paper-thin dry-cured ham from Italy) is offset by the mellow taste of cream cheese filling. If you can’t find prosciutto, it can be replaced by Parma ham or low-salt varieties of bacon. For this recipe, I’m using boneless skinless chicken thighs, but chicken breasts can also be used.

Chahohbili – Georgian Chicken Stew

chahohbili

Georgia is a former Soviet Republic with a distinctive cuisine much liked by the Russians. A lot of Georgian recipes were “borrowed” and then adapted to the Russian tastes. Ethnic Georgians living in Russia sneer at these adaptations and there is a lot of bickering going on over how a “real” Georgian dish should be cooked. In any case, the Hmeli-Suneli spice mix is what gives this chicken stew its distinctive taste. I use fresh tomatoes in this recipe. Vancouver hot house tomatoes are pretty bland and tasteless and are less acidic than the canned tomatoes from Italy. You can use these instead of fresh tomatoes if desired.

Baked Apples Stuffed with Raisins and Walnuts

baked apples walnut raisin

I’m sure every country that grows apples has some version of a baked apple recipe. Personally, I’m somewhat indifferent to fresh apples, but baked apples are just pure goodness. I love the smell of baking apples sprinkled with cinnamon wafting from my oven. In the fall, I buy the freshest apples at a local veggie store. This time, I used Ambrosia apples grown locally in British Columbia. These apples are firm and sweet and don’t become soggy during baking. Pretty much any variety of apples can be baked, but firmer medium-sized apples are best.

Beef Patties (Kotlety) in Beer Sauce

beef patties beer

Beef patties (kotlety) is a very basic, everyday type of food that a Russian family typically eats for dinner during the week. The beer sauce is my own invention, but it’s really excellent with the patties. Just remember to use a beer that’s less on the hoppy side and more on the malty side – non-bitter dark beers work well. I usually use a Czekh Beer brand called Baron. It’s sold in most BC liquor stores and is really good to drink on its own too 🙂 For those worried about the alcohol in beer – alcohol is a very volatile substance and is completely evaporated when the sauce is boiled!

Fiery Eggplants (Baklazhan Ogonyok)

This eggplant-based dish tastes excellent whether eaten by itself or as a condiment for steak, meatloaf, pork chops, or any kind of meat. This dish is a typical example of a Russian zakuska (a type of appetizer or an antipasto). In Russia, this dish is literally called “Little Fire” and is a popular canning recipe. Don’t be alarmed at the word “fiery” in the name of this dish. Traditional Russian cuisine is quite mild, and what may be perceived as hot by the Russian palate does not even compare to the level of hotness of other cuisines, for example Korean or Jamaican. Select small eggplants to use in this recipe, as they are less bitter and contain fewer seeds. I found these cute little baby eggplants at a local veggie store and just could not walk away without buying them. I also used a mixture of hot and mild Hungarian peppers, which are soooo much tastier than the regular bell peppers. To add visual appeal and hotness, I used red (hot) and green (mild) peppers. I also used one special ingredient from Russia: unrefined sunflower oil. If you can’t find it, using regular vegetable oil is perfectly fine. This dish is equally delicious hot or cold.