web analytics

Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Curry, Kugel & Kutya

p1070033.JPGYou can learn a lot about a person by the foods they enjoy—sushi, burgers and fries, squid ink pasta. Some say, “I’m an interesting gourmand”, while others scream, “Don’t kiss me, you fish breath freak!”

Our eclectic family’s tastes are aptly mirrored in cuisines coming from hither and yon. Hailing from purebred aristocratic families in the Old Country, we are now mixed mutts all the way down to our table fixin’s.

We love practically any type of cuisine, as long as it doesn’t involve heavy pork fat, horse meat, or monkey eyeballs. There are limits, people.

Recently, we’ve had a hankering for vegetarian dishes and curry. Maybe it was due to holiday blowout. Our systems were overloaded with heavy, cholesterol-clogging, artery-coagulating delicacies. Enough was enough. We brought out the lentils, the red cabbage, the potatoes and peas, all spiced by cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and cloves. With brown rice, it was soothing, satiating, and energizing. Comfort food missing only the fuzzy slippers.

Just the whiff of the curry took me back to long, rocking trainrides through Indian countryside. “Veg or non-veg”? the porter would ask as we chugged past women washing saris in muddy rivers.

We never got sick once. Food doesn’t seem to have that effect on us. It is drawn like a magnet to our midsides, never again to depart. Only in Uganda did I once experience Idi Amin’s revenge, but best to leave that unpleasant experience for another day….

Knishes and kugel are also part of us. Even these straightforward kosher cuisines are being raised to new heights by cooking afficionados. I wish that food presentors such as Nigella Lawson, coming from a leading British Jewish family and who could make anything attractive, would promote kosher cuisine. Alas, the closest she’s come so far is with the use of kosher salt in her recipes.

But no matter. Whether it’s chic or not, a slow-cooked kugel over the weekend, or heavy-set knishes any day of the week, my grandmother would be proud. These doughy baked turnovers are like the Russian pirozhki, filled with chopped meat and onions, or mashed potato, or buckwheat kasha, just to name a few. All of these foods have similar origins and are variations on a theme—I say tomato, and you say tomahtoh. By any name, this food will stick to your ribs! Of course, forget about finding any discernable, protruding ribs ever again….

Today is Russian Orthodox Christmas, did I mention that? We’re not Orthodox, but it’s a solemn nod of respect to our past. Last night, Christmas Eve, we and the boys enjoyed a communal wheatberry dish, called “kutya”. Mixed with honey and poppy seeds, it’s an acquired taste, but hey, once a year, I think of it as a type of kasha and leave it at that. We baked ours this year, with milk, and almonds, and raisins, and poppy seeds. Rather crunchy. I think we forget how to make it year to year. Someone inevitably asks, “But where is the kutya?” and poof! there it is, in yet another form. Sort of sneaks up on you. I remember it as thick and soupy one year.

Tradition says that in addition to the porridge bowl, we are to eat twelve ceremonial foods to represent the twelve disciples, ranging from garlic to nuts, to figs and dates, to cod and parsley potatoes. Beyond that, we put atall white candle on the table, a white tablecloth, a round pagach bread, and we’re good to go.

Benedetto starts the proceedings by declaring in Russian (quite a stretch by any imagination): “Christ is born!” to which we echo back, “Glorify Him!”

As the mother of the house, it’s my role to take the honey, making the sign of the cross on each family member’s forehead, and blessing them for the coming year. Old Russian New Year’s does not happen for another week after the 7th and we figure we might as well avail ourselves of all the blessings that are out there.

I like this two week lag time: Didn’t start your diet, yet? Messed up on your 2009 resolutions, already? Just start the new year all over again, and all will be fine! If Old Russian New Year’s doesn’t work, the Jewish New Year is coming up in the fall. There will always be some opportunity to start over when the need arises. I feel like our family is multi-tasking, calendricly speaking.

The bread is dipped in honey and we forego the garlic that should follow. This is a cafeteria-style Christmas where we get to pick and choose any ceremony that promotes love and meaning. The ritual reminds me of Rosh HaShana’s apples dipped in honey, or Passover’s charoset apple mixture placed on top of the matzah with bitter herbs (horseradish).

Yes, there is sadness in life. We really should eat the garlic. But you know what? I don’t feel like it. Not with my honey-dipped bread. Not this year. And I enjoy garlic, but not mixed anywhere it shouldn’t rightly be. For now, I’d like to concentrate only on sweetness and joy. Capisce?

Yet for all my planning, we had to travel today. Not so much time to prepare. Benedetto ran out to buy the round bread. None to be found except a braided round onion loaf. So now it will be onions dipped in honey. So much for avoiding life’s sorrows-!

Part of the Russian tradition is to place a handful of hay on the festive table, surrounding the tall candle symbolising the Light of the World. Long ago, farm animals were brought from home to home by carolers, entering houses in order to bless the families living there. We figure that a couple of Scotties under the table will be our own real life representations of lion and lamb, if not cow and donkey-! Misha and Grisha are fresh from the groomer’s, settling in quietly, sensing that this is a special night.

Actually, they are moaning and harumphing in the kitchen as we enjoy our repast in the dining room, upset about being less than the center of attention.

Around the table, we speak of our upcoming children with all of the uncertainty and wonderment of the holy family: “How shall this be?”

Next year, may more places at the table be filled. May they delight in curry and kutya, kreplach and knishes.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.