RUSSIAN FEAST: Caviar, beets, eggs, and more.
On Main Street in Westbrook, a short distance away from the landmark “S-curve,” sits Medeo European Food and Deli. Medeo specializes in Russian and other related Eastern European groceries and specialty foods. I entered the market completely unsure of what would come of this “Europicurean” adventure, and left with a bag full of familiar ingredients and several ideas on how to use them in new and creative ways.
To get a primer on Russian food, I consulted a Russian cookbook for some ideas. Pages of platters, full of fish, smoked meats, and pickled produce flew by. Eastern European cuisine is refined and elegant in its marriage of agrarian and seafaring elements, demonstrated by simple food, prepared so that its inherent qualities are never diminished or crowded.
Indulgence was the theme last week, but the rich Alaskan salmon caviar glistens and is hard to ignore. But, how to justify spending such a large portion of the twenty spot on one item? Go ahead and buy the caviar, as well as the smoked salmon next to it in the case. They are both worth the expenditure, and the reasonable prices on the rest of the goods at Medeo make it easy.
A small rack of produce, located near the counter, holds a basket of large ruby-hued beets. Beets are a staple in many Eastern European cuisines, as evidenced by borscht, the Ukrainian vegetable soup. After roasting in the oven, they look gorgeous sliced and placed alongside the orange hue of the caviar and the pink flesh of the salmon. From a cooler nearby, grab a small package of rye bread, a hearty and rich staple in Russian cuisine.
A pickled carrot slaw in a small to-go container looks appealing, but a twenty spot can only go so far, and there are carrots in the fridge at home. A quick pickle, while sounding rather naughty, is actually an easy way to marinate any vegetable, not just cucumbers. Boil a half-cup of vinegar with two generous teaspoons of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. Add a whole clove of garlic, a bit of pepper, and a bit of ground coriander. When all the sugar and salt has dissolved, pour the mixture in to a shallow dish over four or five shredded carrots. Mix in some chopped dill, and a dash of Rooster sauce or Tabasco for a little heat. Since there are some left over in the fridge from a recent dinner, I add a fistful of chopped fennel greens and scallions to the mix. Stir, then remove the garlic clove, cover and place in the fridge. This will be ready when it’s cool.
A package of frozen puff pastry is delicious as a dessert, fried and topped with powdered sugar. While they may not be 100 percent Russian, the fresh apricots are ripe and irresistible. A delicious accompaniment to the pastries can be made by slicing these and cooking them down with butter and sugar.
Place the caviar in a hardboiled egg, sliced in half and yolk removed, making room for a small dollop of sour cream and a spoonful of caviar, and garnish with fresh dill. On a platter, place the eggs on top of carrot slaw mounds, and flank with smoked salmon on top of slices of buttered rye. Garnish with slices of lemon and sprigs of parsley to add brightness of flavor and color.