19 July 2009

My mushroom scheme

Dear Reader, hello!

I know, just a week ago I pathetically announced I’m going to take a short break from blogging, but life always throws in something new and unexpected, so here I am again. In a big need to confess if at that. So if you don’t mind, I’ll cut to the chase, since I am really supposed to be writing and even already finishing my premaster thesis. (I didn’t mention earlier, did I, that I’m writing about humour in the US presidential debates 2008 – my professor chose those as the database for his students’ various research works; the professor is American. Also, I’m the only one in a group of eight students of English linguistics who expressed a wish to write about humour; the rest, misguided minds, are writing about metaphors and other language-related matters.)

Dear Reader, before I go on, could you please take a closer look at the photograph above? You see those small browned chanterelles in it, together with crisp and fragrant (fried in olive oil with garlic) potato chunks? Good, because those mushrooms, uncooked, straight from the farmer’s market, were supposed to be an edible gift, ribboned carefully in a brown bag and all, for my friend Nico who had his birthday last week. Yet, instead of giving the mushrooms away, I ate them on my own. Needless to say, I did not, eventually, make it up to the birthday party: I called up to say I’d got a cold. First prize for wits, please.

I don’t know what to think of myself, really. Is it a premaster thesis-writing hysteria that took over me? Should I have thought twice before deciding to write on humour – turned out the stuff isn’t even remotely hilarious? Or am I becoming one of those people who are eager to trade dear friendships, and, you wait, family ties for good food? I am confused to no end.

At least, the woodsy chanterelles with lemon thyme and potatoes were delicious. The lemon thyme with its elusive citrucy whisper virtually put a spell on the potatoes as well as the mushrooms binding both with a complex and satisfying flavor, not the mention the savoury frolicking garlic that set back the sweetness of the puffy potatoes and the earthiness of the bright and spright chanterelles.

That said, you know what happens when the realization of committed something, can I say so, sinks in the next day, as your mind is cleared off the yesterday’s vagueness and you’ve got to face the consequences of your earlier misdeeds -- you get ablaze with remorse. To blow that out, you should approach the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach. Which I found genuinely helpful in my case. I mean, I could not continue relishing the stolen-from-my-unaware-of-the-crime-friend mushrooms shamelessly plating them up, however adoringly, making eye contact with them and pretending that nothing had happened. So the next day I enveloped the scoops of sautéed chanterelles with potato in dough pockets, sent them to a pot of salted boiling water for a few minutes, and in return got parcels of vareniki . And I’ll tell you what, once I forked one varenik after another with its juicy-creamy mushroom-potato filling into my mouth, not a glimpse of any remorse was to be seen anywhere in my world…not even remotely. What a person I am.

I should tell you now that vareniki are the Ukrainian take on dumplings. Irrespective of their origins, however, these boiled doughy pockets happily stuffed with various fillings, savoury or sweet, are a beloved, revered food all over Russia as well. (When it comes to food, this Ukrainian-Russian division is gnawing at my heart; in days of yore (and I don’t mean the Soviet Union) it was one country with the communal cuisine where it wouldn’t be politically incorrect to say vareniki are Russian too. Oh well!)

Literally, varenik means a ‘boiled bit’ (from Russian, or Ukrainian, verb varit’, ‘to boil’, or the adjective varenyi, ‘boiled’). Legend has it that vareniki are offspring of the middle-eastern dyushvara, soup with petite dumplings filled with ground lamp and fresh herbs. But unlike the latter, Russain, ok, Ukrainian vareniki can as well be satiated with sweet, not only savoury, fillings such as cherries or strawberries. Speaking of which, I swore to myself more times than I can remember to make vareniki with cherries, my darling berries. Every Saturday past June I brought pounds and pounds of cherries from the market. And every Saturday they’d tiptoe in my mouth sooner than I’d roll out the dough for them.

Were it not for my ‘chanterelles crime’, I think the idea of making vareniki, even savoury, would still be a pipe dream for me. Doesn’t that give me a legitimate reason to be somewhat proud for my mushroom scheme?

A few technicalities…Various recipes have you use milk, egg and even butter to make the dough softer. However, both of my grandmothers, irrespective of each other, swear by buttermilk – cold, right from the fridge. This way, I was instructed, the dough will be soft and elastic which will prevent the dumplings in question from opening up in choppy, boiling water. Because I found myself in a situation where mushrooms were involved, I used them as a filling, sautéed with onions, garlic and lemon thyme (my newly discovered love!). Were I less sinful, I’d be free to use any other kind of stuffing – from sauerkraut to offals, from fruit to buckwheat porridge, as befit Russian and Ukrainian traditions. Enjoy the freedom of imposition, Dear Reader!

Vareniki with mushrooms, potatoes and caramelized onion
Yields about 12 medium-sized vareniki

For the filling:
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 cup mushrooms (I used chanterelles, but any mushrooms will be fine), trimmed and finely chopped
1 large potato, boiled and mashed
A generous pinch of salt
Olive oil for cooking
½ cup fresh dill, finely chopped
3-4 fresh lemon thyme sprigs

For the dough:
2 ¼ cups all-purpose white flour
1 cup cold buttermilk
1/4 tsp salt

1. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the salt. Make a well in the centre and pour the buttermilk. Using a wooden spoon, start mixing the flour, working towards the centre. Once the buttermilk in incorporated, tip the dough out onto a generously-floured surface and knead the dough by hand into a ball. If it’s too sticky, add more flour, starting with ¼ cup at a time. Make sure you don’t over-knead the dough. Also, Don’t worry if the dough will be a bit thick. Wrap it and set aside to rest for 30 mins.

2. In the meantime, prepare the filling. In a large skillet, brown the onion over medium heat, 4-5 mins. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Stir in the mushrooms, season to taste. Saute the mushroom until they start to brown and there is no excess liquid in the skillet, 5-8mins. Fold in the fresh lemon thyme leaves and take off the heat.

3. When the mushrooms are cooking, boil up the potato in a small pot, until soft and even mushy. Drain and mash.

4. In a small bowl, combine the mushroom mixture with the mashed potato and fresh dill. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Don’t be shy with salt; it will breathe in more flavour in the vegetables mixture. Make sure there are no excess liquids in the filling or, when cooked, vareniki will be soggy.
5. Thoroughly flour the work surface and form the dough into a thick log. Cut the log into pieces of equal size; I made 12. Using a well-floured rolling pin, roll each piece into a thin disk, about 1/8’’ (0.3cm). I used a coffee mug to form neat disks, about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter.
6. Place a teaspoon of the filling onto each disk. Gently fold in the dough around the filling forming a crescent-shaped dumpling. Gently but reassuringly pinch the edges. Make sure the filling is well-sealed. Place the dumpling on a large floured plate. In the same manner, proceed with the rest of the dough pieces until you’ve run out of filling. (I should also tell that you may have more dough than needed. I did, so I froze my dough leftovers for subsequent uses.)

7. Over medium heat, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Working with 5-6 dumplings at a time, carefully put them in boiling water. Don’t crowd them. Take care that they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot nor touch each other. Once vareniki float to the surface, cook for another 3-4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon. Sprinkle with olive oil or softened butter to prevent vareniki from sticking to each other. Repeat with remaining dumplings.
8. Serve with caramelized onions and fresh dill, with sour cream alongside. Serve hot. But they are as good at room temperature too.


Julia (alias Yulinka Cooks) said...

You're so lucky to have access to chanterelles. The other day I spotted a siroezhka* in a local forest--that's the best we get around here!

*My best shot at identifying it. It could have been poisonous for all I know.

anya said...

Julia -- a local farmer's market has the mushroom stand with woodsy morsels from all over Europe. Porcini, chanterelles, and many more I even don't know the names for. Frequently I get possessed and buy them by the pounds, but most often I just stand there and ogle them, those beauties.

Tiina said...

Yes, the chantarelles are everywhere just now! :) I usually eat mine with a creamy sauce.
Hope your thesis is progressing ok.


cutekittypunk said...

this looks really good :)