I swear, every time I see Russian-inspired foods in a book, I go out of my way to try to make it. I managed to do this same thing when reading Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale trilogy (although I think it’s called the Winternight trilogy). So it’s no surprise that when reading Crooked Kingdom, and Nina–my spirit creature and Queen of Waffles–passed by Little Ravka, that I picked up on at least two dishes there that I wanted to play with.
And because these two delectables are both from Crooked Kingdom, I figure I’ll do a double feature starring the blini and pelmeni!
(click on blini recipe here)
(click on pelmeni recipe here)
Blinis / Russian Pancakes
“Ooh, look, blini! I haven’t had a proper blini in forever.”
“That word she used: babink,” he said. “You’ve called me that before. What does it mean?”
Nina directed her attention to a stack of paper-thin buttered pancakes. “It means sweetie pie.”
(We find out right after that “babink” does NOT mean “sweetie pie,” but I won’t elaborate too much because the whole conversation is absolutely precious and completely worth an actual Crooked Kingdom review…)
When it comes to Nina Zenik’s sweet tooth, nobody comes close to rivaling it–unless of course you’re Jesper who just wants waffles as well (perhaps we’ll call Nina and Jesper the Queen and King of Waffles!). I’ve actually made European pancakes before, and there was something very similar to the making of this that reminded me of what I’d done when I read reading Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. In that case, though, the crepe-like pancakes were filled with jam and rolled up as opposed to the blinis where I folded them into triangles and then served the toppings on…top?
What I did not have was a crepe pan that could probably have been useful when flipping the pancakes. I’d initially tried to cook the batches in my 10-inch non-stick pan, but found that they were too big for me to flip properly. So I switched up the cooking on an 8-inch non-stick pan instead. This meant a bit longer on the cooking time, only because the batter was thicker in a smaller pan. Still, I used a rubber spatula to flip the pancake as recommended.
In any case, these were certainly worth the time to actually cook, as the blinis themselves are still enjoyable after a few days. (I wouldn’t recommend going a full week as leftovers, but they are still pretty good at the end of 4-5 days, as opposed to the recommended 2-3 in the recipe blog.)
Verdict: Honestly, the amazing thing about blinis is that you can practically top it with whatever you want. I elected to go the fruits, cream, and strawberry syrup route for breakfast and then stored the rest in the fridge in an airtight container. Because I normally hurry out the door (despite having some time in the mornings for breakfast) to go to work, the blinks can even stand on its own without any adornment, and an easy grab-and-go pancake. I found it’s pretty good with coffee by itself!
Pelmeni / Russian Dumplings
It was where refugees and visitors, new immigrants and old expatriats came to find familiar faces and customs. The few cafes nearby served pelmeni and salted herring, and old men sat at the outdoor tables, sipping kvas and reading their Ravkan news sheets, weeks out of date.
As if the dessert wasn’t enough, I also decided I wanted to try making dumplings! I think this is fairly similar to making steamed Asian dumplings, and all from scratch! I actually enjoyed creating the dough for the dumplings, albeit I did not have a food processor to work on the dough. That said, I think it’s doable with a rubber spatula and a whisk. I did run out of flour at the time I was making this, so I halved the proportions as well as the filling. I also didn’t use ground pork and beef and just stuck to ground beef (I wasn’t sure how well the insides were going to cook when boiling, so I was more comfortable with uncooked beef than uncooked pork. Call it an affectation).
Honestly, much like the blini, the seasoning would have been up to the creator at this rate. While I kind of followed the dough recipe, I improvised a bit with the filling. Yes, I still used salt, pepper, butter, and onions to season, but I also included some herbs from my garden as well as paprika, chili powder, and a bit of garlic powder. As I said, seasoning a filling is really up to the person’s flavor profile.
Verdict: I was pleasantly surprised at how long it actually took to cook these, and I loved the little shapes they made after boiling! The meat was soft and definitely cooked, though I think in the future, I would definitely mix up the pork and beef after all. I would also probably season it a bit more with salt and chili powder or cayenne (it could definitely use more spice). I topped the whole thing with sour cream, which was yum! Easily a good stand-alone as well.
I’ve got one more Six of Crows-inspired food I’m planning to make, and I swear I’ll try to read something else before I’m all Bardugo-ed out. (Which is not a bad thing, but seriously!)