Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Euro 2012 - Host a Dinner Party Inspired by the Host Nations

As you will have seen from my previous blogposts, my Slavic family roots have inspired my cooking and eating habits over the years.  So with my maternal family coming from Poland and my paternal family coming from the Ukraine, the Euro 2012 championships choosing both countries to host the tournament is a great nod towards my heritage.
Football aside, (let's get our priorities right - food first!)  I've been asked so many times about the kinds of food you can expect to see in both countries, especially for vegetarians.  Firstly, both Ukrainian and Polish foods are extremely similar, which you would expect as they're geographical neighbours.  Also, they are both very carnivorous nations and so the ratio of meat vs veggie foods swings heavily towards the meat arena.  But saying that, there are some fab dishes (especially if you're a potato & cabbage fan), which can also be converted into veg options with little effort.

One of the main dishes of both countries is called 'Pierogi' in Poland and 'Varenyki' in Ukrainian but they are exactly the same dish.  They follow the same principle as Italian ravioli, they are little filled parcels which, when complete, are semi-circular shaped with pinched edges (think Cornish pasty-esque).  Unlike ravioli which is made from pasta, pierogi/varenyki are made from dough with typical veggie fillings such as cheese & potato, cabbage & mushroom and there are modern versions in existence such as beetroot & goat's cheese or sweet potato.  Whatever your filling, make sure you serve them with a sprinkle of salt and lots and lots of fried onions!

Another dish is 'Gołąbki' (pronounced:  gol-omb-ki in Polish) or 'Holubtsi' (pronounced:  holub-chi in Ukrainian) which again is the same dish - the name for it has the same meaning in each language which is 'little pigeon'.  As the dish is in essence stuffed cabbage leaves, like cabbage rolls, when they are placed in a baking dish, they resemble little pigeons all huddled up together!  Although they are stuffed with mince-meat traditionally, you can use soya mince and/or rice or any kind or grain such as couscous, bulgar wheat etc.  I serve mine with a tomato and beetroot sauce and of course, plenty of fried onions!

Other good veggie dishes or veggie adaptable dishes are:  borscht (beetroot soup), placki (potato pancakes) and bigos ('hunters stew') which is ordinarily heavily biased towards all kind of cuts of pork/ham, so these can be substituted with vegetarian sausages, vegetarian bacon and may be even some of the vegetarian Pepperoni-style slices that have become available recently.

I could go on forever.  I hope that this has given you a flavour (literally!) of Ukrainian and Polish cuisine and also the encouragement to either make some dishes or find a restaurant that serves it.  London has various places (check out sites such as London Eating for details) and as for the Birmingham region, I can whole-heartedly recommend 'The Karczma' which is a Polish restaurant in Birmingham's centre.  (www.thekarczma.co.uk)

If you're interested in making some dishes, a book that I have used with success is Veselka, which is a Ukrainian eatery in New York USA that have published their recipes - check out: http://www.veselka.com/    http://www.veselka.com/cookbook/   (also Amazon sell the book).

I've found these sites and although I've not used any of these recipes myself yet, they look good:
http://www.ukrainianclassickitchen.ca/   http://polandpoland.com/polish_recipes.html 

Plus, one of my favourite celebrity chefs Nigel Slater did a great article last year about Polish food with some recipe ideas, so take a look:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/nov/27/nigel-slater-pierogi-polish-recipes

With only a few more days to go before Euro 2012 hangs up its football boots for another tournament, I hope you find time to have a kick-about in your kitchen and create some wonderfully hearty tucker!  But in true Slavic style, what you make/eat, make sure you have a gherkin with it (almost an unwritten law).... :)

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Jubilee - A Diamond Feaster

I've loved the build up to Jubilee weekend from every prospective, everyone is being so patriotic, bunting hanging across buildings, flags a-flying and British food and drink at the forefront.

As well as the opportunity to celebrate Britain in all its glory, I took it as my prompt, over the course of the weekend, to create an Anglo menu fit for a Queen.

Whilst there was a lot of talk about reign during the Jubilee festival, the sad reality was that rain was the word of the weekend and so my planned picnic with Union Jack flags blowing in the balmy summer breeze was altered, my feast had to come indoors as opposed it to being enjoyed in the anticipated glorious sunshine.

Coronation Chicken is the obvious choice for the Jubilee occasion, after all the dish was created to mark the Queen's coronation 60 years ago.  To make this a vegetarian  dish I used 2 plain soya chicken fillets (I used Quorn), I fried them in oil and sea salt.  Whilst they were frying, I made the Coronation sauce in a bowl - some natural yoghurt mixed with a little chopped mango (from a tin), a little chopped coriander and ½ teaspoon of mixed spice.  However, if you want to turn up the heat, you can add some curry powder and chilli to the sauce.  Once both are ready, serve the fillets warm with the sauce.  If you want to make this as a sandwich filling or as a cold dish, swap the fillets and use Quorn Roast Fillet Slices (pre-cooked fillets).  If natural yoghurt isn't for you, you can always use mayonnaise or even a bit of houmous.  If cooking doesn't take your fancy but you still want the taste, you can buy Marks & Spencer Coronation Chicken flavour crisps which are suitable for vegetarians.

To accompany my Jubilee Soya Chicken and taking advantage of it's current seasonal peak, I made a recipe that I've recently been acquainted with via ITV1 chef, Dean Edwards, using British Asparagus.  Asparagus mixed with potatoes covered in a sun blushed tomato pesto makes a great side dish, works well with soya chicken and really showcases Britain's finest produce http://www.british-asparagus.co.uk/recipe_index_dean_7.php.

Disheartened by the weather, with the rain making you yearn for warm comfort food,  I turned to a favourite of mine, Gooseberry & Elderflower Crumble which offers a taste of Britain and also embraces the nation's rekindled love for elderflower.  I put my hands up to using tinned gooseberries, as gooseberry season is yet to come, but it worked very well regardless (for the recipe, see Nigella Lawson's 'Kitchen' book).  Coupled with yet another English classic, clotted cream Cornish ice cream it provided gorgeous end to the meal. 

Now that the Jubilee celebrations draw to an end it doesn't mean an end to flying the flag for British cuisine, with a whole summer ahead of us, with Great British events a-plenty, especially as many fruits and vegetables are coming into season, it's time to keep the bulldog spirit going in the kitchen by buying local/British and making those dishes we all love (see Jamie Oliver's Great Britain link for inspiration - http://www.jamieoliver.com/tv-books/jamies-great-britain), so wave your wooden spoon in the air, heat up the stove and  "Cook Britannia"!