Visit an Eastern European market in the Washington area and you’ll come away with more than you anticipated. Here’s a list to get you started.
Smoked mackerel, trout, sturgeon and a dozen herrings can spice up your bagel-and-lox brunch. Or try them the Russian way: Serve on a slice of black Latvian rye bread with sour cream and onions.
The variety of dried salted fish, such as vobla, bream and yellow striped trevally, are the classic Russian accompaniment for beer. (You’ll recognize them by the images of busty blondes drinking beer on some of the packages.) Do as the Russians do, and replace your mixed nuts with a dried fish next time you have your friends over to watch a game. You can use these flavor-intense fish to enrich the taste of any fish stock or soup; just remember to remove it at the end of the cooking.
Everything caviar, from the cheap salmon red caviar to the black sturgeon ($100 for four ounces), is available here. Use to top fancy hors d’oeuvres, such as blini (see below), with butter; sprinkle over pasta in plain butter sauce or on poached salmon; or eat on toast with crème fraîche.
Make fish roe dip, Romanian-style, by combining in a food processor 6 tablespoons of carp roe (tarama) with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 slice of crustless, day-old ciabatta soaked in water, then squeezed. With the motor running, gradually drizzle in 1 cup of corn oil, finishing with 3 tablespoons of sparkling water. Serve over a slice of challah topped with chopped red onion.
Red currants, black currants and lingonberries, to name just a few, can be used in pies, for topping yogurt and cereal or just for nibbling. Try any of the berries in Mixed Berry Custard Pie.
But perhaps the most exciting discovery in the Russian supermarkets is the Siberian sea buckthorn berry, or oblepikha. In Russia, it is widely known for its medicinal benefits. The shiny orange-yellow sea buckthorn contains critical omega fats, plus antioxidants, vitamins and amino acids.
Make a shake of 1/4 cup sea buckthorn, 1/2 cup frozen peaches and 1/2 cup coconut water. Add a little sweetener if you wish.
Ravioli-style dumplings come in variety of fillings. Pelmeni are made with beef, lamb, chicken or in the famous Siberian style with beef and pork. Pierogi are stuffed with vegetarian fillings, such as sauerkraut, potatoes, mushrooms or cheese. All can be treated just like ravioli or can be cooked and topped with crisp dried onions, which can be found at Middle Eastern markets.
Mini pancake-like blini can be found in the freezer case.
Try fusion-inspired hors d’oeuvres topped with combinations such as avocado, wasabi paste and lox, or with a slice of roasted beet, gorgonzola and half a walnut.
Bryndza or brinza is a collective name for Latvian, Romanian and Polish sheep- or cow’s-milk cheese that can be creamy and spreadable crumbly. At its best, it is semi-firm with a mild, almost sweet taste. Because bryndza can be similar to feta, some stores will swap the names (for example, Odessa feta at Taste of Europe in Gaithersburg, which is an excellent type of bryndza), but ask for a taste and choose what you like. The semi-soft version of bryndza can be grated over pasta (see the recipe at right), pizza or even over french fries. (Why not?) It will melt like mozzarella when heated, so sprinkle over hot dishes just before serving. Bryndza is a nice addition to the mild selections on a cheese platter.
Sulguni is a semi-firm Georgian cheese, lightly salted and sour. It also comes smoked, and also would be great on pizza, in a grilled cheese sandwich or on a cheese platter.
Every market that’s well stocked with Russian goods will have shelves full of pickled green and red tomatoes, garlic cloves and sprouts, and cucumbers. The pickles can accompany a shot of vodka, or more, as part of the zakuski (Russian tapas) table, but will go nicely next to fish or meat as well.
Pickled mushrooms are in abundance: oyster mushrooms, chanterelles, porcini and more. Try the Russian Ecoproduct pickled mushrooms, such as red pine, honey agaric and milk mushrooms, as their brine is not too tangy and their seasoning has a hint of caraway seed, which makes it delicious. Saute in butter or olive oil for a quick pasta sauce or serve on crostini.
Pickled whole cabbage leaves are a useful shortcut for making stuffed cabbage, as they save the tedious work of softening and separating the leaves.
Try Russian Baltika beer, labeled 1 through 9 according to its alcohol content, or the Ukrainian Obolon.
Poppy seeds are popular in Eastern European baking. They are available in one-pound bags ($5.99).