#19 Date selected: 19/3/16 Date completed: 20/3/16
Country selected: Belarus
Dining Selection: Cooked Own
What was on the menu:
- Lazanky with Bechamel Sauce, pork sausages and mushrooms
- Belarusian Pie
Saturday 19th March 2016, 4.49pm
Anything I know about Belarus I learned from watching Eurovision, so I think we can safely say that I know virtually nothing about Belarus!
Looking at a map, Belarus is wedged in between Poland and Russia, with Lithuania and Latvia to the North and Ukraine to the South. It was a precarious position during WWII and the country was devastated by military operations. It lost more than half of its economic resources and about a third of the population during these years.
The politics of Belarus are fraught with citisizim from the international community. According to many, political opposition has been violently suppressed by the government (headed by president Alexander Lukashenko) and, until being surpassed by Russian in 2014, Belarus’ democracy index rating was the lowest in Europe. It was rated as the worst country in Europe for press freedom according to Reporters Without Borders and labelled as ‘not free’ by Freedom House.
Belarus is also the only European country which retains capital punishment in law and in practice.
Vegetables, meat (particularly pork) and bread are common in Belarusian cuisine and are usually slow cooked or stewed. Rye bread is more plentiful than wheat because conditions tend to be too harsh for growing the wheat. It is traditional for a host to present an offering of bread and salt when greeting a guest or visitor in order to show hospitality.
Sunday 20th March 2016, 8.32pm
The first thing I noticed about Belarusian cooking, is that much of it is left up to the creativity of the cook. With both dishes I made for this challenge, the recipe gave the base for the dish and the fillings or additions are left for interpretation. I kind of like the idea that one recipe can have thousands of different variations on the theme. For mine, I tried to stay true to my limited knowledge of Belarus and its cuisine.
The first dish I decided to try was Lazanky. It’s basically a dough that is rolled out, cut into squares and boiled in a similar manner to pasta. It’s fairly simple to make but quite time consuming to do all the rolling and cutting.
The recipe I used was a little vague on details such as how thin the dough should be rolled (mine ended up around 2-3 millimetres thick) and how big the squares should be (mine were 2-3 centimetres but varied a bit). It’s difficult to be sure whether my estimates were correct but the dish turned out ok so I couldn’t have been too far off. It did occur to me that you could probably use a pasta machine to roll out the dough for this recipe if you found it easier though I would probably still keep it on one of the settings for a thicker dough than your traditional Italian-style pasta.
There was no instructions for the béchamel sauce included in this recipe. I could have probably made one up but in the spirit of the challenge, I found one online and used that instead. There was also very little guidance given on what other toppings to use. Given my limited knowledge of Belaurian cusine, I decided to fry up some pork sausage (which I cut into slices), mushrooms and red onion and put that on top of the Lazanky. I then poured the béchamel over and topped with a dollop of sour cream. To finish, I sprinkled some fresh chives over the top.
It was delicious. The Lazanky was tasty and just slightly chewy – definitely very similar to pasta. The choice of toppings worked beautifully and the chives gave it just the right amount of freshness. I could imagine that some chopped parsley would also work quite well.
This is a dish that I wouldn’t mind experimenting a bit more with. There are several different options in terms of flour and endless possibilities for toppings and accompaniments. It is a lot of prep work however so if you are planning on trying this one, make sure you have plenty of time on your hands.
The Lazanky, whilst time consuming, was less work than my second dish of the challenge – Belarusian Pie.
The pastry for this dish is made up of a dough using dried yeast so it involves a leavening process. It’s a step by step process with lots of time in between each where the dough is left to rise (a couple of hours all up). My past experience with dried yeast has sometimes yielded questionable results so I was pleased to find that my dough rose quite nicely and had the smooth, elastic quality that the recipe called for.
There were some slightly odd aspects of the recipe and I do wonder if someone has tried to convert parts of it into metric and not quite got parts right. For example, the recipe tells you to roll the dough into a layer 3-4cm thick. That’s a VERY thick dough and I suspect they meant 3-4mm (which is approx. what I rolled mine out to in the end).
The recipe states that the dish can be decorated by cutting out various shapes in dough and placing these on top of the pie before cooking. The only small cutter I could find was a star so my pie ended up looking a bit like it had just come out of Hogwarts, but it was cheerful and fun to do.
The recipe also says to put the pie into the oven at 220-230 degrees Celsius for 25-30 mins. I was using a normal baking tray instead of a griddle (as I don’t own one myself) so this may have made a difference, but I found that the oven was a bit too hot for the pastry. I noticed that it was very dark after about the 10 minute mark when I checked on it. Worried it might burn, I turned down the oven for the remaining time. It may be the correct temperature, but I would strongly recommend checking your pie when cooking to make sure that it doesn’t over-cook if trying this dish yourself.
Once again, the recipe did not state what kind of filling to use for this pie. I decided to go fairly basic and lightly stewed some apples with some cloves, cinnamon and a little bit of lemon rind/juice. I also added some sultanas. I was going to add some sugar with it as well but I decided to keep it as is and sprinkle some icing sugar over the top of the pie once it was cooked instead.
The end result was pretty yummy! I cut the pie into large slices and served them with cream. The dough was nice and light. It was crispy on the edges and thinner than I had expected. I imagine it would have turned out crispier still if I had left the oven on the higher setting but I quite enjoyed it the way it was.
Neither of these dishes were particularly healthy and I don’t want to even think about the fat content involved! They were rich and warming though and would make for great comfort eating. Both are worth exploring some more I suspect.
But for now, onto the next challenge……