monthly mingle zakuski

Somewhere in the depths of last winter, as I turned out countless root vegetable and cabbage dishes, I had the idea of inviting you over for a virtual zakuski (Russian for ‘an assortment of “little bites”) party. It’s uncertain how zakuski originated. Some say it began as a Russian peasant tradition while others say it came from Scandinavia, however by the 19th century, zakuski was common way among the various regions and classes of Russia to welcome weary travelers into their home.

zakuski spread (Russian morsels)

So I imagined the table to be covered in colorful small plates served with forks and napkins to hold vegetable caviars, flaky filled pastries, stuffed eggs, pickles, and cheeses with white and black bread along with a variety of plain and flavored ice cold vodkas. Instead of starting off the meal, as often the case, this zakuski would be served as the main course with coffee and poached quinces, charlotte russe, and honey cakes for dessert.

Russian cuisine, as I have come to learn, is more than pickled beets and smoked fish washed down with a bottle or two of vodka. Zakuski at its most elemental can include three cold dishes followed by three hot dishes to accompany meat or fish and a loaf of black bread to absorb the vodka toasts.

Although we’re just welcoming fall here, I thought it would be a good time to invite you to join me for zakuski. Back in 2008, my friend Meeta of What’s For Lunch Honey? came up with the idea to have a Monthly Mingle series where we could all cook and eat together.

For anyone who wants to join me, here’s what to do:
1. Create a dish that fits the zakuski theme as described above.
2. Post about it on your blog from now until October 31, 2011 (you can use the Monthly Mingle badge in your posts).
3. Link to this post and/or the official Monthly Mingle Page.
4. Send a link to your post to nikki [at] artandlemons [dot] com (with “monthly mingle” in the subject line) and include the following: your name, your blog’s name and URL, the name of your dish/food/entry and the URL/link to your Monthly Mingle post, and a 500-pixel-wide photo.

I can’t wait to see what you come up with. Remember that zakuski is open for interpretation. To get inspired, check out Anya Von Bremzen and John Welchman’s Please to the Table: A Russian Cookbook, the book on zakuski of which you can read a number of the recipes online. You can also check out Diana Henry’s Roast Figs Sugar Snow, either one will send you to the kitchen for Skhtorats (zesty eggplant slices), Jajik (cucumber and yogurt dip), Tost s Gribami (wild mushrooms on toast), and Brinza (spiced feta). You could also make pickles (any kind really) or flavor your own vodka, if you like.

Here’s my recipe for roasted beet dip along to kick-start this party.

Roasted Beet Dip

Roasted Beet Dip
adapted from World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey

Yield about 6 servings

1 pound beets
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1 slice stale white bread (for an especially nut-laced dip, I like to use a slice of savory walnut bread when I have it…)
2 garlic cloves, peeled
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
a pinch of freshly ground black pepper

To roast the beets: preheat oven to 450F. Trim the greens off the beets to within 1 inch and scrub the beets. (You can reserve the greens for another use, like blanching and tossing with pasta with fresh goat cheese and tarragon.) Place the beets in a small roasting pan, add a thin layer of water (about an 1/8-inch), and cover loosely with foil. Roast for 30 to 45 minutes, until the beets are tender when pierced with a knife. Cool the beets, then when cool enough to handle, peel and coarsely chop.

Combine the beets, toasted walnuts, bread, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper in the container of a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth, adding just enough water, if necessary, to allow the machine to run. Serve with bread or crackers or thin with a little water to make a rich pasta sauce.


    • ArtandLemons says

      Thanks, Chinmayie—I hope you find something to make. If you’re looking for recipes to inspire you, click on the Please to the Table link in the post. It will take you to the google books page where you can find a number of recipes online.

  1. says

    As a die-hard fan of things Russian, I LOVE this idea. I don’t actually have a Russian cookbook, but I have Darra Goldstein’s Georgian cookbook, so I will try something from there (and hopefully manage to post by the deadline). We have family visiting this month so that’s a good reason to bring something like this out (but also a source of business that may cut down on blogging…we shall see…)

    • ArtandLemons says

      Sara—Can’t wait to see what you make. I haven’t read Goldstein’s Georgian cookbook, but am adding it to my list of books to read. Have you read her book “A taste of Russia,” there is a zakuski chapter in the book and you can find some recipes from it via google books. The cauliflower with beet mayonnaise looks good and may hide the beets enough for your mister to want to try the dish?

      • says

        Oh, he abhors cauliflower too. So much that when I tried to sneak it into macaroni and cheese, which he was very excited about, he retched (as did my older son). Jessica Seinfeld I am not, I guess. I definitely want to get my hands on Goldstein’s Taste of Russia, good to know it’s on Google books, at least in part!

  2. says

    I am so excited for this!! As the child of a Ukrainian/Russian immigrant, I love love love the food, and I know exactly what I’ll contribute to this. Also, Please to the Table is fantastic, I love how they describe what constitutes the different holidays and feasts, as well as the origins of a lot of their foods. Yay, love, excited!

    • ArtandLemons says

      Christina—So glad you’re participating and you’ve left me in anticipation, both for your story and for your food! Tell me what you’re making soon…I agree, “Please to the Table” is my favorite sort of cookbook, one that focuses on the history of the food and people.

  3. says

    Where I live (In Romania), zakuski is something totally different: roasted eggplants + roasted peppers+ onion+ tomatoes, all simmered with some oil and canned for winter.
    Thanks for sharing this with me. I always like to learn new things about other ethnic kitchens.

    • ArtandLemons says

      Brindusa—Same here. Interesting that zakuski in Romania is a winter vegetable dish, which by the way sounds terrific.


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