Tuesday, February 21, 2012
I've been looking through cookbooks and stumbled upon something that stirred a vague memory. The book was Please to the Table, the Russian Cookbook. And the recipe was for a crab salad, with rice. I thought it sounded peculiar, but then I remembered that long ago I've had it. During holidays when my mom would throw parties for her work colleagues, as our family was far away, a similar salad was made. I remembered the taste, the texture. I've mentioned before that I tend to remember through food: memories that lay dormant, that I thought were forgotten are suddenly stirred awake. For some people it's a photograph, for me it's a dill pickle.
I was skeptical about the cookbook too. Partly because there really isn't a one way to make something in traditional Russian homemade cuisine. For instance, one of the more well known Russian salads, the Olivier, can be made in a hundred different ways. Sometimes it even has a different name. One family we knew simply called it a winter salad and made it with steak (they also made one in the summer, and subsituted steak with apples, and called it a summer salad). There is no one way to make Borsch, although someone once insisted to me that it could only be made "properly" with ox tails. But I like my mom's Borsch the best, simply because I grew up on it. It is my comfort zone.
Another reason why I was skeptical of the cookbook is because it's in English. When possible I prefer things in their native language. That goes without saying for cookbooks. This is so because a cookbook written in its native language doesn't need to explain itself. It doesn't need to apologize for being foreign. It doesn't need to say "we're weird, we put sour cream in our soup." It dispenses with the introductions and explanations and simply goes to the point: the food.
But in this cookbook, I have found recipes that are familiar, and dishes I had forgotten (so that with it as a guide, I can make my own version, as with this crab salad) and dishes that I've had but never learned how to make.
In this recipe the rice blends extremely well with the crab meat and it makes the salad more filling. The salad would have been served as is in a serving bowl, but you can also use it to make appetizers (or zakuski), by, say dolloping a small amount on endive leaves.
Adapted from Anya von Bremzen & John Welchman, Please to the Table
Russian Crab Salad
You will need:
1 lb lump crab meat (canned)
2 cups cooked white rice (2/3 cup uncooked), cooled
1 small onion or shallot, peeled and finely chopped
3 celery ribs, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, cored and finely chopped
1/3 cup low-fat mayonnaise
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste
1 1/2 tsp horseradish, or to taste
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
salt and pepper to taste
1. In a large bowl combine crab meat, rice, onion, celery, and bell pepper. In a measuring cup or a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, lemon juice, horseradish and dill until well-blended. Add to the salad and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until needed. Serve and enjoy.