I’ve often wondered how much of an effect foreign missions have had on the culture of the church and its members. I know that for individuals, two years or eighteen months living in a different culture is life changing. Often missionaries return to change their majors, career plans etc. I also know many returned missionaries who have chosen to live overseas, recognizing from their mission experiences that they enjoy the adventure of it.
What about the culture of the church? Did missionary work force a rather insular people into interaction with a larger world? Is the mainstreaming of the Mormon church in the 20th century tied up tightly with the missionary program? Interesting thoughts, although I doubt there is a way to measure that.
What about me? How did eighteen months in Russia as a college student change my life? I’m not sure. I was already majoring in Russian when I left. I think it certainly gave me a sense of confidence and a feeling of capability to get myself into and out of scrapes in foreign countries. It gave me an empathy for others that I probably lacked before–a sense of accepting them on their own terms. But now I rarely interact with Russians, and I haven’t been back there in fifteen years.
Apparently there is still a sense of cultural loyalty in me, though. I was at a dinner party a month or so ago when someone mentioned Russian food, and some noses sniffed in a silent “yick” look. I had to come to the rescue of Russian food. “No, no, it’s really good! I’ll make some for you.” So, I invited over entirely too many people to my house this weekend, and cooked a Russian feast. It was fun to smell beets and garlic in the kitchen, and to hear “Wow, this is good!” You’re welcome, Russia.
Here are some of my favorite Russian recipes. Please share some of your favorite recipes learned on your missions in the comments below.
Borscht (Savory beet and vegetable soup)
Fill about half of a large stock pot with water, and mix in enough beef bouillon cubes or paste to make a savory broth. Bring to a boil.
Mince 8-10 cloves of garlic and add to the broth. Add two cans of tomato sauce, two bay leaves, and ¼ cup of red wine vinegar. Continue to boil. Add two cans of sliced beets, including most of the juice.
Chop into bite size pieces and sauté the following in about ¼ cup of olive oil:
2 large onions
6 celery stalks
Add all of the sautéed vegetables to the soup, scraping the olive oil into the pot.
Chop 6 large potatoes into bite size cubes and add to the soup.
Chop a small head of cabbage into bite size cubes and add to the soup.
Cover and simmer on low for about an hour to let the flavors mix and the vegetables to soften. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and fresh chopped dill.
Pelmeni (Siberian type of “ravioli”)
1 cup water
1 tsp salt
2 ¾ cups flour
½ pound ground beef
½ pound ground pork
1 large onion chopped into small pieces
4 cloves chopped garlic (or adjust to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
Sift together salt and flour. Make a well. Add egg. Slowly add water, stirring into a dough. Once flour is moist, take from bowl and vigorously knead for 10-15 minutes until a soft dough is formed. (I hear there are new fangled machines that will do this automatically now). Let dough rest for 20 minutes while making filling. Combine meats, onion, garlic, and enough salt and pepper to make a savory filling (at least 1 tsp of each).
Divide dough into quarters, and roll out into thin sheets (1/8 to 1/16 inch thick). Using a glass, cut rounds of dough. (Size matters not). Put a spoonful of filling on the dough rounds and fold dough over to make a half circle. Pinch dough to seal it into a half moon. Take the two corners and pinch them together (will look like tortellini or a little hat). Put on a greased and floured cookie sheet, careful not to let the pelmeni touch each other. Freeze the pelmeni until you are ready to serve.
To serve: boil a large pot of water. Drop a few pelmeni into the pot (6-8 at a time…no more than 1 layer depending on size of pot). Once pelmeni rise to the surface they are ready (about 10minutes). Remove with a slotted spoon. Serve immediately with butter, sour cream, and salt and pepper. (butter and sour cream melt together to make a creamy sauce).
Eggplant Caviar (Poor man’s fake caviar dish developed in the Caucuses.)
2 eggplants (about 1 lb. each)
1 large tomato
5-6 garlic cloves
1 medium onion
6 Tbs white vinegar
3 tsp vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prick eggplant all over with a fork, and roast on a foil lined baking sheet for 30-45 minutes until soft. Cut off tops, and make slashes in bottom, putting them into a colander standing up to drain out of the bottom as they cool completely. Cut eggplant open and scrape out flesh and seeds onto a cutting board. Discard skins. Chop into small bits with a large knife (do not use a food processor). Put into medium bowl.
Separately, in a food processor, blend the remaining ingredients until liquified. Add to the eggplant, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve as an appetizer spread to go on Russian black bread (or pumpernickel if you can’t find any Russian bread).
Russian Tomato Salad
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
3 bell peppers (your favorite color or a mix), chopped
1 european cucumber, chopped
1 cup sour cream
2 heaping Tbs fresh chopped dill.
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium bowl, toss all chopped vegetables together. Separately, blend the sour cream, dill, and salt and pepper. Combine all ingredients and toss together to coat. Cover, and chill in the fridge until serving.
4 medium carrots peeled.
2 cloves garlic minced.
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chopped dried prunes
1 cup mayonnaise
Finely grate carrots. Mince garlic and add to the carrots. Finely chop walnuts. Chop the prunes. Add both to carrots. Stir in the mayonnaise, using just enough to moisten.
Babka’s Stuffed Cabbage Leaves (Time consuming!)
1 large green cabbage
2 cups uncooked rice
3 ¼ cups water
2 lbs bacon
2-3 large onions, finely diced
2 cans tomato sauce, or 4 cans V-8 juice (plus a can or two more in reserve if needed)
½ to ¾ cup fresh chopped dill
Salt and pepper (to taste, about 2 tsps each)
Steam the cabbage until tender, removing outer layers as they are soft.
Cook rice in the water until it is just absorbed (doesn’t have to be fully cooked).
Fry the bacon until crispy and then crumble. Reserve some drippings.
Fry the onions in the reserved bacon drippings until tender. Mix the cooked rice, fried onion, salt, pepper, bacon, and chopped dill in a large mixing bowl. (Can add some more bacon drippings if the rice is too sticky).
Cut the larger cabbage leaves in half, removing the stem section. Place a spoonful of the rice mixture on the leaf, and roll up, folding in the sides as you go. (Kind of like a burrito). Smaller leaves towards the center are easier to work with and fold up nicely around the rice mixture.
Put some of the outer leaves of cabbage on the bottom of a casserole or roasting pan or dutch oven. Add the rolls, tucking them in together and trying to keep them from breaking. They can be stacked if your pan is deeper than it is wide. (This recipe fills up my dutch oven roasting pan). Mix tomato sauce with two cans water and pour over rolls. (or pour all v-8 juice over rolls.) The rolls should just be covered by the liquid. Place more unused leaves on top of the rolls. Cover with aluminum foil and the lid from the casserole. Place in a 325 degree oven and cook for three hours, making sure the casserole doesn’t boil over. Check the liquid level periodically to make sure rolls aren’t drying out. Add more tomato soup mixture if they are.