«Икра» (“caviar”) without any fish eggs! Posted by Rob on Sep 17, 2012 in Culture, language, Russian food, Russian for beginners
In this video post, I’m gonna play “Julia Child” and walk you through the recipe for one of my favorite Russian hors d’oeurves — баклажанная икра, or “eggplant caviar,” which is essentially a chunky version of Middle Eastern babaganoush. In fact, the word баклажан (“eggplant; aubergine”) is itself from the Middle East, and was borrowed into Russian by way of Turkish. As you can guess from their name, Russian “vegetable caviars” are very popular as a frugal alternative to the Real Thing, whether they’re made from eggplant, тыква (“squash”), грибы (“mushrooms”), or whatever. (There are many variants.)
In fact, if you remember my post from a couple months ago about the Soviet comedy «Иван Васильевич меняет профессию», there’s actually a pretty funny joke during the big banquet scene about the cost of баклажанная икра versus beluga caviar!
So, on with the recipe:
Всего я снял больше двадцати пяти минут кадров (“I recorded more than 25 minutes of footage”), but in order to keep the finished video at a reasonable length, I had to cut a lot out! So, to begin with, here are some additional comments I had about the recipe:
I used one large баклажан (“eggplant”) weighing around полтора фунта (“a pound-and-a-half”, or 600-700 g) — but you can use several smaller eggplants. Also, I decided to use большая горсточка (“a large handful”) of little-bitty grape tomatoes, but you could instead use one large помидор (“tomato”). And my version calls for a generous quantity of сырой чеснок (“raw garlic”)… something like five cloves. In my personal philosophy, it’s impossible to have слишком много чеснока (“too much garlic”) — it’s like being слишком богатый или слишком красивый; there’s no such thing. On the other hand, a lot of traditional Russian recipes use чеснок in parts-per-trillion quantities that are only detectable by gas-chromatography. So if you want your recipe to be a bit more authentic, you can add much less garlic than I did!
And speaking of traditional recipes, my version was loosely adapted from this mammoth 1960 volume for Soviet housewives, which I found years ago in a used bookstore:
The 870-page «Книга полезных советов», or Book of Useful Advice(s), is a wonderfully absorbing read as a sort of “period artifact” — though to be frank, I think they were maybe slightly over-optimistic on the полезный part! For example, it includes over 180 pages of recipes, but most of them are so hilariously lacking in detail that if you didn’t already know the basic steps for making “eggplant caviar” or cranberry preserves or sweet yeast dough, you’d be totally lost. I mean, their recipe for homemade томатный соус is basically:
- Peel tomatoes and chop a small onion
- Stew tomatoes and onion in saucepan until they’re done
- Whatever you do, FOR GOD’S SAKE DO NOT ADD ANY GARLIC!!
- Serve with macaroni or rice
(Okay, maybe I made up #3.)
Some key vocabulary:
The verb (ис)печь (perfective (испечь) basically means “to bake in an oven,” but usually in reference to things NOT made with flour. It conjugates:
(ис)печь, (ис)пеку, (ис)печёшь; (ис)пёк, (ис)пекла
On the other hand, when you’re talking about “things made with flour” (bread, cakes, pies, cookies, etc.), you would generally use the verb pair выпекать/выпечь. The perfective conjugates just like (ис)печь (except that the stress is fixed on the вы-), while the imperfective is я выпекаю, ты выпекаешь, etc.
The root verb жарить, (я жарю, ты жаришь) is used in this recipe with the meaning “to fry in a skillet with oil/butter”, but elsewhere it can signify “to roast (meat) in an oven”. The “neutral” perfective form can be prefixed either with за- or из-), but in the video I also use the perfective поджарить, which means “to saute until golden brown” or “to toast” Thus, поджаренный хлеб is “toast” — not to be confused with тост, which is when you do the l’chayim! thing. And you’ll also hear me use the construction пока не поджарится — which is translatable as “until it’s golden-brown,” but more literally means “while it shall not have been toasted.” (This kind of construction with “пока не + [perfective future] ” is often the best way to render the English “until so-and-so happens”.)
When you’re talking about chopping onions and whatnot, you’d generally use the verb pair нарезать/нарезать, which differ in conjugation as well as stress. The imperfective is я нарезаю, ты нарезаешь…, while the perfective is я нарежу, ты нарежешь…
And, finally, a few nouns that you’ll hear in this recipe are печка (“oven”), сковорода (“skillet, frying pan”), and противень (a flat “baking sheet” or “cookie sheet”).