Dovga – Azerbaijani Wedding Soup

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August 21st, 2014

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I recently talked a bit about my home region in Russia, and its array of food cultures and cuisines. Its unique geographical positioning near the republics of the Caucasus mountains allowed me to form all kinds of connections with people from the neighboring areas, while living there most of my life.
My sister-in-law, Alla’s, family resided in Azerbaijan for many years. Visiting their home for lunch is always a treat, as the table is guaranteed to feature some authentic Azerbaijani dishes, learned first-hand during their stay.

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This time around, Alla’s mother introduced me to Dovga, an Azerbaijani wedding soup that is traditionally served at the celebratory table between meat dishes, as a vitamin and digestion boost. I couldn’t believe I’d never tried the soup before – it is exactly the kind of thing I want to eat during the summer.

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The base for dovga is made up of several types of fermented milk beverages, refreshing and healthy probiotic drinks, such as matsoni, ayran, and kefir. All of these cultured dairy drinks originate from the mountains of Caucasus. As it turns out, kefir, which nowadays is one of the most beloved beverages in Russia, was not introduced there until the beginning of the 20th century.
People from the Caucasus have always been known for their incredible longevity. In 1908, the Russian royal scientists were determined to unveil the mountain people’s fountain of youth. They sent a young woman scientist by the name of Irina Sakharova down South, to fetch some kefir grains from Bek-Mirza Baichorov, a Karachai prince who was rumored to have the goods. Baichorov did not want to give up his people’s secret, but legend has it that upon seeing Irina, he fell in love and proceeded to kidnap her, which is a customary courting routine in those parts. Later, in court, the freed Ms. Sakharova offered to drop the charges if Baichorov gave up some of his kefir grains, to which he agreed. Soon after, the nation, and later the world, fell in love with the miraculous drink. Who knows how much of this legend is true, but I like thinking of it as fact – a beautiful story of kefir and unreturned love.

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Back to Dovga – it is packed with a great amount of herbs and leafy greens. Now is the time to eat as many greens as you can, while they are still fresh and abundant at markets, before fall sneaks up on us.
Dovga can be served hot, right after making it, or cold. It is not recommended to reheat it after it’s been chilled. It is delicious either way, but the cold version is my favorite.

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The photos you are seeing here are from Sochi and its surrounding areas – a magical place where the Caucasus Mountains meet the Black Sea, where the climate is subtropical and summer nights are lit up by fireflies.

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Dovga
makes a big batch/large pot of soup

Notes:
1. If you do not have authentic matsoni, feel free to use kefir or yogurt, or a mixture of both. Whey (leftover liquid from ricotta cheese making among other things) is also a great addition. You can substitute the herbs and greens according to your taste.
2. Back home, there is a type of rice that is typically used in dovga, which cooks very fast. Therefore, the rice is added in uncooked rice, and it’s ready by the time the dovga is done. Here, I used cooked rice because none of the rice available to me would cook so quickly.
3. Alla’s mom also adds 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour, but I left it out. Adding the egg helps to make this soup creamy and prevents the liquid from separating. I haven’t yet tried making it without the egg. If anyone tries it, please let me know how it goes.

2 large bunches spinach
2 bunches cilantro
1 large bunch parsley
1 large bunch dill
5 green onions
handful of mint leaves plus more for garnish
handful of basil leaves plus more for garnish
2  liters mixed fermented milk beverages – kefir, yogurt, whey, or just kefir/yogurt (the ideal mixture would be: 1 liter kefir, 1/2 liter yogurt or matsoni, 1/2 liter whey or water )
1 cup cooked rice (I used brown rice)
1 egg – beaten
1 generous cup cooked chickpeas – optional
sea salt to taste

1. Chop the spinach and herbs, set aside.
2. Whisk together all of the beverages in a large pot. Add in the rice, egg and chickpeas, and whisk everything together. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently.
3. Add spinach, herbs add salt. Turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes, continuing to stir. Remove from heat.
4. Serve immediately or chill at room temperature and then in the refrigerator to served chilled. Garnish with mint, basil and cilantro leaves. Enjoy!

Tags: greens, soup, spinach, Uncategorized

Sour Cherry Pie – Mom’s Specialty

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July 30th, 2014

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There are three foods from back home that I find myself missing consistently – wild mushrooms, black currants, and sour cherries. I made sure to eat good portions of each while I was visiting my mother in Russia this past May. Most people won’t eat black currants and sour cherries raw, as they are, but add the slightest touch of sweetness to them, and your heart will be stolen. Sour cherries made it into many of my meals – from morning yogurt to salads, to ice-cream. And of course there was the Sour Cherry Pie – my mom’s specialty.

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When we finally arrived at my mom’s house after a very long transatlantic journey, we knew what would be waiting for us at teatime – a fragrant and pillowy pie, jeweled with sour cherries. All her grandchildren get a wild sparkle in their eye when talking about grandma’s pie – it is a family-wide obsession. Paloma, the youngest, had her initiation and was quick to join the circle of cherry pie lovers.
My mom always makes sure to preserve some sour cherries while they are in season. She pits them with a hair pin, then freezes some and cans the rest with a little sugar. That way, she always has ammunition for when company turns up.

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I was curious to make a gluten-free version of the pie and began the search for ingredients. What has become second nature to me at home, turned out to be quite a challenge in Russia. Finding all kinds of gluten-free grains there is not a problem – buckwheat, millet and quinoa are widely available, but flours made of those grains are not. I freshly grind my own flours at home, but only with the help of my high-speed blender, which was absent in my mom’s kitchen. I finally used a coffee grinder and ended up with grainy, but perfectly workable flours.
I really loved the final result – the overall flavor of the pie was different from mom’s of course, but delicious in its own way.

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One more thing before we get to the recipe -
Public speaking has hardly been my favorite thing, in fact I find it absolutely terrifying. During the four years of working on this blog, I ran into situations when I had to speak in front of big groups of people, during cooking classes and such. As difficult as it was to get started, I’ve noticed that when I speak about the subject that I absolutely love, my fear disappears and I actually enjoy the process. Our cookbook coming out has brought on a new wave of public events, and after a little over a month of book talks, I’ve noticed the stage fright getting lighter every time. For that, I accredit my friendly and encouraging audiences -thank you so much for coming out to support me, listen with great interest, and ask thoughtful questions.

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Sour Cherry Pie
(adapted from here)

Note: Green markets and health food stores have sour cherries while they are in season, for a very short period of time. You can find frozen sour cherries in many Eastern European stores in the U.S. – our local Russian market sells them. Feel free to use regular cherries or other fruit/berries. The best ratio between the dough and cherries is to have just enough dough to barely cover each cherry. The dough will rise during baking and the balance between the juicy, tart berries and the sweet dough will be perfect.

1 cup full fat coconut milk
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup millet flour
3/4 cup quinoa flour
1/4 cup almond flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup Turbinado sugar plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling on top
zest of 2 lemons
3 eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
3-5 cups or more pitted fresh or frozen and partially thawed sour cherries – the more the better (substitute with regular cherries or other fruit/berries)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F (180C). Thoroughly grease an 8-10 inch cake pan or line with parchment paper. Combine the coconut milk and lemon juice in a bowl and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine all the flours, baking powder and salt.
3. In a separate bowl, combine 1/2 cup sugar and lemon zest and rub together until fragrant. Add in eggs, coconut milk mixture and olive oil, and whisk to combine. Pour the wet mixture into the dry and mix to combine.
4. Gently fold in the cherries, reserving about 1/3 of them. Pour the batter into the cake pan, topping with the reserved cherries and sugar.
5. Bake for 50-60 minutes until golden, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for about 30 minutes before removing. Store refrigerated in an air-tight container for up to 3 days.

Tags: cherry, dessert, gluten free

Tarragon and Mint Ice Cream

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July 14th, 2014

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During our recent stay in Russia, we took the time to enjoy our home region of Northern Caucasus and fell in love with it all over again. To orient you in the landscape – there is widespread steppe that rolls Southward into green hills, which eventually transition into the Caucasus Mountains. On clear days, you can see Elbrus, the highest peak in Europe, from an open point in my hometown.

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Ours is an agricultural region, known for its fertile, black soil. The steppe is home to many wildflowers and medicinal herbs, like wild thyme and sage. The herbs get steeped into teas, which many people make at home.

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Paloma and I frequented the local market, which was just a couple hundred steps away from my mom’s house. There too, mounds of spring greens and herbs – culinary and medicinal alike, were on beautiful display, asking to be taken home.

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My mom is an amazing cook and I can never compete with her when it comes to traditional Russian dishes, so I tried my best not to interfere in the kitchen very much. That being said, I can never stay away from cooking for too long, especially once I got the idea to use some of the local herbs in an ice-cream. The bushes of tarragon at the market were especially tempting – the unique flavor of tarragon always intrigues and challenges me.

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Our region is known as a melting pot of many ethnic groups - Armenians, Georgians, Azerbaijani, Karachays, Circassians, Russians and more - that have been living there side by side for many generations. Each group has a deeply rooted culinary culture, very often with a strong emphasis on herbs and spices, which make the food bright and distinct in flavor. Tarragon is one of the herbs that is in frequent use, but when I told the vendor lady at the market that I’m going to put it into ice-cream, she was clearly shocked. She hurried to let all of her pals know what she thinks about it all in Armenian. I would have payed good money to have a translator right there and then.

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In the absence of an ice-cream machine, I turned to a no-churn recipe, which I learned about from Sarah. As usual, my first choice was to use coconut milk, but the only kind available wasn’t right in quality. I ended up with the recipe below which is very easy and amazingly delicious – you will not typically find these ingredients here at Golubka, but I was working with what I had at the moment. The ice cream was a huge success among friends and family.
Back home, I re-created the ice cream into a much lighter and vegan version that requires an ice-cream maker, so I’ve included both recipes here.

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Tarragon and Mint No Churn Ice Cream

1 large bunch fresh tarragon – mostly leaves
1 large bunch fresh mint – mostly leaves
2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream
1 can condensed milk
pinch of sea salt

1. Bruise tarragon and mint with the back of a chef’s knife to help them release their oils. Place herbs into a medium saucepan. Pour the heavy cream over them and bring to a near boil.
2. Remove from heat, cover and let cool at room temperature for 1 hour. Strain the herbs out and cool completely in a refrigerator.
3. Combine the condensed milk with salt in a mixing bowl. Beat the chilled cream by hand or in the bowl of a stand-up mixer on high until stiff peaks form. Gently fold about 1/3 of the whipped cream into the condensed milk until fully combined, followed by the rest of the cream.
4. Pour into a loaf pan or another freezer appropriate dish. Cover and freeze until firm – about 6 hours or overnight. Let sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Vegan Version

2 cans full fat Thai coconut milk
1 large bunch fresh tarragon – mostly leaves
1 large bunch fresh mint – mostly leaves (you can use just one type of herb if you wish)
pinch of sea salt
1/3-1/2 cups light agave syrup
1/2 teaspoon xanathan gum or 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder

1. Bruise tarragon and mint with the back of a chef’s knife to help them release their oils. Place the herbs into a medium saucepan and pour the coconut milk over them. Bring to a near boil.
2. Remove from heat, cover and let cool at room temperature for 1 hour. Strain out the herbs, pour the infused milk into a blender with the rest of the ingredients and blend until fully combined.
3. Chill completely in the refrigerator, preferably overnight. Churn in an ice-cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions – about 25 minutes.
4. Transfer into a loaf pan or another freezer appropriate dish. Cover and freeze until firm, about 6 hours or overnight. Let sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Tags: dessert, ice cream, mint, tarragon

Turnip Blueberry Muffins

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July 6th, 2014

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I’m always looking for ways to include vegetables in every dish, desserts included. After making vegan sweet potato muffins with great results, I one day thought of trying other root vegetables in a muffin. Turnips, rutabaga, kohlrabi are not the most popular among their category, but rich in health benefits and culinary opportunity, so I try to pay them as much attention as I can. Lately I’ve been eating a lot of salad turnips from the local farm – they are great raw, with a squeeze of lemon juice, some salt, pepper and light drizzle of olive oil.

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For these muffins, I made a turnip mash to include in the batter and the technique did not disappoint – I got a nice, light batter. Blueberry season is here, and we’ve been celebrating with these gluten free treats. I will also be making them with other berries and chocolate.
And if you enjoy this type of baking, you will like our Parsnip Cake with Candied Kumquats.

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Today’s recipe for Turnip Blueberry Muffins is in this guest post over at The Rose Journals. Check out David and Noelle’s new beautiful ebook, Sacred Cookies and Elixirs full of recipes for Raw, Vegan and Gluten-Free cookies and drinks for chocolate lovers here.

Tags: blueberry, breakfast, dessert, gluten free, vegan