Orthodox Easter – Pascha and Kulich (2022)

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Most holidays come equipped with delectable, traditional foods and Orthodox Easter is no exception; it occurs on the Sunday following the first full moon that appears on or after the spring equinox – April 24, in 2022. As an Equal Opportunity Celebrant, I make it a practice to sample as many of these treats as possible around such festive occasions, not because of any personal porcine tendencies of course, but in order to altruistically share information with anyone who might be unfamiliar with these delicacies. 😉

According to Wikipedia, the Eastern Orthodox Church, officially the Orthodox Catholic Church, is the second largest Christian church with approximately 220 million baptized members. The majority of Eastern Orthodox Christians live mainly in Southeast and Eastern Europe, Cyprus, Georgia and other communities in the Caucasus region, and in Siberia reaching the Russian Far East.

According to ethnojunkie, each region has its own distinctive, specialty baked goods that are prepared in celebration of the holiday. Many are sweet breads called pascha (or some variant), from Greek/Latin meaning Easter, and ultimately from Aramaic/Hebrew meaning Passover. Let’s check out two of them.


If you go out in search of pascha, you’ll discover vastly divergent varieties depending upon the heritage of the bakery you land on. Polish versions I’ve sampled are puffy, yeasty, a little sweet and are designed to be pulled apart and shared at the table. Some other Eastern European and Russian styles are more like a cheese-filled bread, with veins of sweet, white dairy goodness running throughout. This photo was taken surreptitiously in a Russian market. Shhh!


Shown here is Romanian pască. This particular example comes from Nita’s European Bakery at 4010 Greenpoint Ave, Sunnyside, Queens – look for the awning that reads Cofetaria Nita. It is unique (at least in my experience) and undeniably stellar. This dense delight, about nine inches in diameter, is actually a two-layered affair, with a rich topping/filling that is virtually a raisin-studded, hyper-creamy manifestation of cheesecake that sits atop a sweet cake-like bread; the religious theme is easily recognizable.


Here’s a view that reveals the layers. If you like sweet desserts, you’ll love this.


On a recent peregrination through Brooklyn’s Little Odessa on Brighton Beach Avenue where Russian and Eastern European shops abound, it seemed that every market was selling kulich, a Slavic Orthodox Easter bread. Look closely behind the eggs in the first photo and you’ll see an array of them. (Look even more closely behind the kulichi and the sign for яйца and you’ll see packages of the Italian Christmas treat, panettone. Pretty much every market was offering them as well. In terms of taste, they’re pretty close although panettone is a little richer, however I have yet to determine why both are sold in this neighborhood during Orthodox Easter. But I digress.)

Not as sweet as pascha, the cylindrical kulich is often baked at home in a coffee can to achieve the characteristic shape; this diminutive example stands only about five inches high. The Ukranian legend reads куліч (cake) пасхальний (paschal) and around the beltline з великоднем (Happy Easter) христос воскрес (Christ is risen).


It’s somewhere along the bread <-> coffeecake continuum, laden with raisins, and always dressed with a snow-white sugar-glazed cap and colorful sprinkles.

And at Orthodox Easter this year especially, our thoughts and hearts are with the heroic, resilient, brave, beautiful people of Ukraine. We are all Ukrainians now.

🇺🇦 Слава Україні! Героям слава! 💙💛
 
 

Little Odessa Ethnojunkets Are Back!

Good news! COVID hospitalizations are waning and seasonal temperatures are waxing and that means it’s time to bring back ethnojunkets!

We’re getting the ball rolling with Exploring Eastern European Food in Little Odessa and I’ll be adding the rest soon.

Ethnojunkets FAQ:

 
Q: What’s an ethnojunket anyway?
A: An ethnojunket is a food-focused walking tour through one of New York City’s many ethnic enclaves; my mission is to introduce you to some delicious, accessible, international treats that you’ve never tasted but soon will never be able to live without.

Q: Which neighborhoods do you cover?
A: My most popular tours are described on the ethnojunkets page but there are always new ones in the works. For the time being, I’m only scheduling Little Odessa.

Q: When is your next ethnojunket to [fill in the blank: Little Odessa, Flushing, Elmhurst, Little Levant, etc.]?
A: Any day you’d like to go! Simply send me a note in the “Leave a Reply” section below or write to me directly at rich[at]ethnojunkie[dot]com and tell me when you’d like to experience a food adventure and which ethnojunket you’re interested in – I’ll bet we can find a mutually convenient day! (Pro Tip: Check the weather in advance for the day you’re interested in to facilitate making your choice; we spend a lot of time outdoors!)

Q: I’ve seen some tours that are scheduled in advance for particular dates. Do you do that?
A: Yes, in a way. When someone books a tour (unless it’s a private tour) it’s always fun to add a few more adventurous eaters to the group – not to mention the fact that we get the opportunity to taste more dishes when we have more people (although I do like to keep the group size small). You can see if there are any openings available in the “Now Boarding” section of the ethnojunkets page. Subscribers always get email notifications about these.

Q: What will we be eating in Little Odessa?
A: Here are just a few of the Eastern European, Central Asian, Russian, and Former Soviet Union delicacies we usually enjoy on our food tour along Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn. (Not that I’m trying to tempt you to sign up! 😉)

(Click on any image to view it in mouth-watering high resolution.)
The overarching term is khachapuri, literally “cheese bread”; they’re commonly filled with tangy, salty sulguni cheese and imeruli, a fresh crumbly cheese which when melted together combine to make stretchy, cheesy nirvana. Georgian adjaruli is shaped like a kayak, the center of which is filled with cheese; a raw egg and a chunk of butter are added just as it’s removed from the oven. Stir the mixture: the egg cooks and combines with the butter and melted cheese. Break off pieces of the bread and dip them into the cheese mixture. What’s not to like?


Uzbek manti, Russian pelmeni, and Azerbaijani kutaby in the back. Azerbaijani food is similar to the cuisine of Georgia but they lay claim to certain dishes such as kutaby as their own. A thin, tortilla-like crepe filled with ground lamb and luscious seasonings, folded in half and griddled, it’s an object of universal culinary lust for anyone whose lips have ever caressed it.


Curd Snacks are not unlike a cross between an Eskimo pie and chocolate covered cheesecake; individually wrapped, they come in an assortment of flavors from chocolate and vanilla to the more esoteric blueberry, blackberry, and raisin.


Salads: At the top there’s fried lagman, a savory noodle dish (also found in soup) of the Uyghur people, an ethnic group living in East and Central Asia. Moving clockwise there’s khe, raw fish marinated in onion, spicy red pepper and vinegar. Russia and North Korea share an 11 mile border; the Korean culinary character of khe is obvious. Finally, there’s norin (aka naryn). Very fine noodles and a generous measure of cumin accompany thinly sliced beef. So good!


I hope you’ll sign up and join us! The cost is $85 per person (cash only, please) and includes a veritable cornucopia of food so bring your appetite: you won’t leave hungry, and you will leave happy!

For more information and to sign up, send me a note in the “Leave a Reply” section at the bottom of this page or write to me directly at rich[at]ethnojunkie[dot]com and I’ll email you with details.

I’m looking forward to introducing you to one of my favorite neighborhoods!
 
 

Russian Orthodox Christmas

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

I was having a conversation with a friend just the other day. “The holidays are over,” she sighed. “No more excuses to procrastinate.”

“Don’t be so sure,” I countered. “Remember, you’re talking to the Equal Opportunity Celebrant.”

“Okay, so what’s up next?” she asked, grateful for the reprieve.

“Russian Orthodox Christmas.”

“Russians celebrate Christmas?”

“Indeed they do, every January 7. And it’s pretty cool, especially the ritual of flinging a spoonful of a very special Christmas treat up to the ceiling to see if it sticks.”

So I pointed her to a story that I had written long ago. Precisely the story I’m pointing you to right now. Read on….
 
 

July is National Ice Cream Month! Celebrate Globally!

The story began here:

Every August, as a routinely flushed, overheated child, I would join in chorus with my perspiring cohorts, boisterously importuning, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!” Little did I realize that rather than conjuring dessert, I was conjugating it and probably laying the groundwork for a lifetime of fascination with foreign languages and world food.

We lived in close proximity to one of the best dairies in town; it was known for its wide assortment of locally produced natural flavors, certainly sufficient in number and variety to satisfy any palate. Perhaps my obsession with offbeat ice cream flavors is rooted in my frustration with my father’s return home from work, invariably bearing the same kind of ice cream as the last time, Neapolitan. Neapolitan, again. My pleas to try a different flavor – just once? please? – consistently fell on deaf ears. “Neapolitan is chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. That’s three flavors right there. If you don’t want it, don’t eat it.” Some kids’ idea of rebellion involved smoking behind the garage; mine was to tuck into a bowl of Rum Raisin….

There’s lots more to the story, of course. Click here to get the full scoop! 🍨
 
 

Two More from Tashkent Market

Two more quick bites from Tashkent Market on Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn, one of the stops on my Little Odessa ethnojunket, as I continue deliberations regarding its post-pandemic resumption.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

I’ve written about steamed manti before – the Turkic/Central Asian fist-sized dumplings often filled with juicy, delicately seasoned lamb and onions diced into chunks. These are Uyghur style fried manti, every bit as delicious as their steamed cousins.


And the inner workings, of course.


This one was new to me. The sign read “Men Caprese Salad”, the dish itself was hidden beneath a snowdrift of freshly grated cheese (therefore no visual clues) and nary a staffer could tell me anything about it in any mutually intelligible language.

So of course, I bought some.

On my way out, I glanced at the receipt: “Salad Men Caprice” was the spelling this time – still no help. But from having shoveled into it, I inferred that a connection to Italian caprese salad was specious: no sign of tomatoes or basil although the shredded cheese looked not unlike a firm mozzarella.


When I got it home, this is what I found: chopped hard boiled eggs, cubes of beef (likely boiled), shredded cheese (a semi-firm cow’s milk cheese it seemed), and lots of mayo and salt. So sort of a pumped-up egg salad. Pretty tasty, actually.

Later, I did manage to turn up a single website specializing in German and Russian travel and restaurants that referred to it: “The ‘Men’s Caprice’ salad is an invention of the Soviet era (although the name likely appeared quite recently). The gist of it is to take the most simple and satisfying ingredients and prepare a salad so that a hungry man has a full belly.”

Sounds right to me.

Lots more on my Little Odessa ethnojunket – if and when!
 
 

TBD 2…

Still contemplating the ins and outs and whereabouts of the revivification of ethnojunkets as the pandemic begins its retreat. A couple of posts ago, we examined khe, an appetizing fish delicacy which is customarily on the agenda in our Little Odessa tour.

In this post, we’ll take a look at two of the scores of exquisitely prepared foods available at Tashkent Market on Brighton Beach Ave, one of the stops along the way. Because they offer some incredibly delicious dishes, we always indulge in several on the tour, but I had never sampled these two so I thought I’d share.

The trick to making a successful selection is either to know the language or to go with someone who knows the ropes (🙋‍♂️ shameless plug). Case in point: there’s a long counter displaying an array of prepared fish – fried, baked, sauced, you name it – and all of them look absolutely delicious. But the signage above the trays is often just a transliteration as opposed to a proper translation into English. For example, you’ll see Fried Treska – that’s cod, Fried Korushka is smelt, Sazan is carp – you get the idea.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

This is Paltus with Sweet Chili Sauce – paltus is halibut – which was perfectly cooked. My only regret was that I should have spooned on more of the tasty sauce that permeated the skin. (Also fun for people who experience pareidolia. You know who you are.)


With the top slid back like a convertible. Sort of.


Salmon Betki – truly luscious. Big chunks of fresh salmon, barely held together by what I’m guessing was the tiniest bit of chopped onion, yellow bell pepper, possibly some carrot, black pepper and egg; I suspect there’s a binding agent like breadcrumbs, but it’s completely unobtrusive.

And remember, if you see something that piques your curiosity and it’s not on our menu du jour, I’m happy to offer some enlightenment; you can always purchase a taste to take home for yourself!

Now, back to ethnojunket contemplation. More to come….
 
 

TBD…

The weather is warming up and COVID-19 is settling down which means it’s time for me to start seriously considering the feasibility of offering my ethnojunkets again. An ethnojunket is a food-focused walking tour through one of New York City’s many ethnic enclaves; my mission is to introduce you to some delicious, accessible, international treats (hence, “ethno-”) that you’ve never tasted but soon will never be able to live without (hence, “-junkie”). You can learn more about my ethnojunkets here.

Rather than trying to make a decision about the future in a vacuum, I decided that actually revisiting some of my old haunts might serve a twofold purpose – to inspire me and also to reveal which businesses have survived the pandemic (so far). Therefore, I’ve been eating my way through various Chinatowns, Little Levant (the Middle Eastern enclave in Bay Ridge), Little Odessa (the Russian/Former Soviet Union strip along Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn), and the Latin American section of Sunset Park in service of that quest. In this and some subsequent posts, I’ll show you what I’ve been tasting in the process.

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

This is khe, one of the treats we always indulge in on the Little Odessa ethnojunket. Not many people realize that Russia and North Korea share an 11 mile border and the Korean culinary character of khe is obvious. Meaty chunks of fish marinated in vinegar, onions and Korean red chili are the main ingredients in this delectable dish (recipes vary); think of it as ceviche meets kimchi. Only better. The reason behind its migration from the Russian/Korean border into Uzbekistan is the stuff of which history is made and you’ll hear the story on this ethnojunket.

The restaurant we always visited to grab an order of khe didn’t make it (although they have another business elsewhere that did survive) but fortunately, I found this tidbit at a different venue along the tour and it’s every bit as delicious as the previous version. It’s a personal favorite and one that always gets a big thumbs up from our group.

Stay tuned. More to come….
 
 

My Beef with Stroganoff

👨‍🍳 Cooking in the Time of COVID 👨‍🍳

Top Round London Broil was on sale at my local supermarket and the memory of Beef Stroganoff, an economical comfort food from my youth, came to mind: budget beef, sautéed mushrooms and savory gravy over noodles – what could be more fundamental? I’ve been tossing this together for so many years that the idea of consulting a recipe never crossed my mind, but since my obscenely large collection of cookbooks has been gathering cobwebs of late, I reasoned that a quick memory refresher couldn’t hurt.

The exercise brought me up short, however: every recipe I came across emphasized how “the quality of the beef makes the dish excel” and to “use filet mignon or ribeye…nothing less”. What? Slather filet mignon or ribeye in gravy? Now, where I grew up this preparation was considered a frugal approach to stretching meat; as a matter of fact, even to this day in my world, a great gravy is what makes the dish. So I returned the books to their dusty shelves and proceeded with my tried and true methodology:

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)
I seasoned the meat with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper and in a hot cast iron pan, seared it in a mixture of butter (for flavor) and oil (so the butter wouldn’t burn), flipped it once, and let it rest while I made the gravy.

In the same pan, I sautéed onions, added sliced cremini mushrooms, garlic, S&P, removed them from the pan, made a roux in it (nothing unique – standard rouxles apply), and used a very rich beef broth I had in the freezer plus Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, and dill. When the gravy had thickened, I would have customarily added sour cream at that point, but there was Mexican crema in the fridge and I swear it was even better than sour cream in this application and may become a new component of my “recipe” (such as it is).


After the meat had had a chance to rest, I sliced it thinly (prudent if it’s a tough cut)…


…folded it into the gravy along with the vegetables and ladled it over boiled, drained noodles.


A side of roasted Brussels sprouts rounded out the meal.

I don’t care what they say – I think this is a dish fit for a czar!

 
 
Stay safe, be well, and eat whatever it takes. ❤️
 
 

Orthodox Easter – Pascha and Kulich

(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)

Most holidays come equipped with delectable, traditional foods and Orthodox Easter is no exception; it occurs on the Sunday following the first full moon that appears on or after the spring equinox – May 2, in 2021. As an Equal Opportunity Celebrant, I make it a practice to sample as many of these treats as possible around such festive occasions, not because of any personal porcine tendencies of course, but in order to altruistically share information with anyone who might be unfamiliar with these delicacies.

Yeah, right.

According to Wikipedia, the Eastern Orthodox Church, officially the Orthodox Catholic Church, is the second largest Christian church with approximately 220 million baptized members. The majority of Eastern Orthodox Christians live mainly in Southeast and Eastern Europe, Cyprus, Georgia and other communities in the Caucasus region, and in Siberia reaching the Russian Far East.

According to ethnojunkie, each region has its own distinctive, specialty baked goods that are prepared in celebration of the holiday. Many are sweet breads called pascha (or some variant), from Greek/Latin meaning Easter, and ultimately from Aramaic/Hebrew meaning Passover. Let’s check out two of them.


If you go out in search of pascha, you’ll discover vastly divergent varieties depending upon the heritage of the bakery you land on. Polish versions I’ve sampled are puffy, yeasty, a little sweet and are designed to be pulled apart and shared at the table. Some other Eastern European and Russian styles are more like a cheese-filled bread, with veins of sweet, white dairy goodness running throughout. This photo was taken surreptitiously in a Russian market. Shhh!


Shown here is Romanian pască. This particular example comes from Nita’s European Bakery at 4010 Greenpoint Ave, Sunnyside, Queens – look for the awning that reads Cofetaria Nita. It is unique (at least in my experience) and undeniably stellar. This dense delight, about nine inches in diameter, is actually a two-layered affair, with a rich topping/filling that is virtually a raisin-studded, hyper-creamy manifestation of cheesecake that sits atop a sweet cake-like bread; the religious theme is easily recognizable.


Here’s a view that reveals the layers. If you like sweet desserts, you’ll love this.


On my recent peregrination through Brooklyn’s Little Odessa on Brighton Beach Avenue where Russian and Former Soviet Union shops abound, it seemed that every market was selling kulich, a Russian/Slavic Orthodox Easter bread. Look closely behind the eggs in the first photo and you’ll see an array of them. (Look even more closely behind the kulichi and the sign for яйца and you’ll see packages of the Italian Christmas treat, panettone. Pretty much every market was offering them as well. In terms of taste, they’re pretty close although panettone is a little richer, however I have yet to determine why both are sold in this neighborhood during Orthodox Easter. But I digress.)

Not as sweet as pascha, the cylindrical kulich is often baked at home in a coffee can to achieve the characteristic shape; this diminutive example stands only about five inches high. The Ukranian legend reads куліч (cake) пасхальний (paschal) and around the beltline з великоднем (Happy Easter) христос воскрес (Christ is risen).


It’s somewhere along the bread <-> coffeecake continuum, shot through with raisins, and always dressed with a snow-white sugar-glazed cap and colorful sprinkles.

з великоднем!
 
 

From Russia, With Plov

Originally published in 2013, but still fun.
 
KutyaChristmas day had come and gone, but not so its delicious spirit. It’s not a religious thing with me; it’s more of a celebration of the spectacular panorama of international holiday foods that surrounds us this time of year. The problem is, the season just doesn’t last long enough despite my best efforts to prolong it. One year, I valiantly managed to extend the holiday right though Valentine’s Day, ignoring the fact that the festive red and green department store window displays now sported only red trim, wondering where the chipmunks were hibernating when I boarded the elevators, and upon returning home, trying to fathom how the branches of even my artificial tree were becoming brown and sere.

I know I’m not entirely alone in this, even though my behavior may be a bit extreme. Ask almost anyone about their favorite holiday foods and they’ll go misty and begin to wax rhapsodic about childhood memories of treasured treats that their grandmother used to prepare. In every corner of the world, there are traditional Christmas dinner favorites: festively bedecked meats and generations-old recipes for vegetables and pasta, all manner of fish and fowl, not to mention countless renditions of roast pork and baked ham in all its porcine splendor – that singular, universal, culinary triumph of domestic chefs around the globe, translated into a hundred languages and embraced by as many cultures as uniquely and definitively their own.

And then there are the international desserts: panettone, stollen, bûche de Noël, plum pudding, cookies, pastries, cakes, and candies of every stripe – the list is endless. Recently, a Swedish friend excitedly told me about risgrynsgröt. Her eyes practically lit up as she described the Christmas rice pudding served with thick, sweet fruit sauce (she said grape, I’ve read raspberry and red currant, but I can’t help but think lingonberry would nail it) that she so cherished.

In any event, in an attempt to maintain the culinary holiday momentum, I decided to venture into Brooklyn’s Little Odessa in Brighton Beach to see what Russian goodies I could find. Christmas hadn’t yet arrived there, so I was just in time for the festivities.

(Russians celebrate Christmas? Indeed they do, every January 7th. The Russian Orthodox Church still uses the old Julian calendar, therefore its Christmas celebration falls thirteen days behind that of the West. A little history: In the 17th century, Peter the Great brought Christmas to Russia, but after the revolution in 1917, religion was outlawed. Not about to give up their joyous tradition, Russians continued to decorate their trees in secret, until finally in 1935 the Soviet government gave in and sanctioned the practice – but as part of a New Year celebration! Call it what you will, Russians happily trimmed their “New Year Trees” until 1992, when it was again permissible to celebrate Christmas openly and Grandfather Frost and his granddaughter, Snow Maiden, could freely distribute presents to delighted children all across Russia.)

So off I went to Brighton Beach Avenue in search of holiday fare. There are two ways to spot Russian markets in that part of Brooklyn. The first is by their prominent signage touting “International Food” on the awning. Not “Russian Food”, not “Eastern European Food”, not “Ukrainian Food” or the like. Nope. Always “International Food”, as if hiding in plain sight. The second way, of course, is that everything is written in Russian with almost no English to be found. Russian is easy to identify as it is written using the Cyrillic alphabet. Essentially, when you look at Russian printing, you think that if only you had a mirror to hold up to it, you could probably read it.

Now, being a dedicated ethnojunkie, I dabble in a bunch of languages, “dabble” being the operative – and even then, rather generously applied – word. But I dabble mostly in food words in those languages. That means that I have vocabularies rich in nouns with precious few verbs to indicate what I want to do with them. For example, I can point to some stuffed dumpling temptation and say, “Что это? Мясо? Сыр?” (“What’s this? Meat? Cheese?”) Invariably, of course, that begets a rapid fire description of the tidbit in Russian which is my cue to gesture that I’d like one of each, please, and hightail it out of the store before any further inquisitions are levied upon me. I have just enough of a language to get into trouble, but not enough to get out of it.

Wandering into the prepared food department of one store, I spied a pint-sized plastic container of an unfamiliar grayish, soupy substance. Naturally, I was compelled to inquire.

“Что это?” I tried.

“Кутя,” came the response.

“Koot-YAH?” I echoed back.

“Да,” she nodded in the affirmative.

At this point, I realized that my reach had far exceeded my grasp. My Russian is as broken as a set of nesting matryoshka dolls missing two bodies and a head. Futilely, I retreated to English.

“What’s in it?”

The patient, smiling woman behind the counter tore off a piece of butcher paper and wrote out “пшеница” for me. I read the letters slowly trying to pronounce the word. “Pshenitsa?” I asked. Detecting my curiosity, an even more helpful staffer went out of her way to grab a bag of wheat berries so she could point to the English word “wheat” to help me understand.

Needless to say, I bought a pint of the stuff and quickly took it home to do a little research and a lot of tasting. I learned that kutya is one of the most important dishes in Russian Christmas eve’s family feast. Best described as a porridge, it’s made from wheat berries, poppy seeds, honey, and customarily includes chopped walnuts and raisins. The wheat berries symbolize immortality and hope, the honey and poppy seeds represent happiness, tranquility, and success. It is eaten from a single shared bowl to connote unity, and a ceremonial blessing of the home often takes place. There’s a tradition among some families that involves flinging a spoonful of kutya up to the ceiling. Legend has it that if it sticks, this year’s honey harvest will be bountiful. (Kids, don’t try this at home!)

Most of the markets along Brighton Beach Avenue have their own recipe for kutya, each a little different from the last and all delicious, but never really straying from the main ingredients. The four that I’ve tried (ahem!) can be characterized as having a gruel-like, soupy texture, not as integrated as oatmeal, but almost thick enough to eat with a fork. They’re sweet from the honey and raisins, crunchy from the wheat berries and nuts, and distinctive and delectable from the poppy seeds. Kutya can be eaten warm or cold and is now one of my must-haves for the holiday season.

Personally, I think it makes a righteous breakfast. That is, when I’m not devouring the last of the panettone!

С Новым Годом!