July 01, 2019

A Perfect Dacha Day

A Perfect Dacha Day
Farmer's Cheese Fritters Petr Goskov / Dreamstime

Ah, summer… the lazy, drawn-out breakfasts at the dacha, when it seems like everything from the small, old fridge has been put on the table, and the first round of food is washed down with coffee, the next one with mors, and a couple of hours later it’s already time for lunch.

Many old-style dachas in Russia had only gas stoves to cook their food and no ovens, so desserts came in the form of farmer’s cheese fritters (syrniki) or fluffy pancakes (oladushki) with apples that you can cook on the stove top. And summer is the best time for salads, of course, since everything is fresh, straight from the garden.

Here then, are some off-the-cuff dacha recipes for you (summer seems like too relaxed a time for exacting recipes).

If you are a coffee drinker and have gotten used to getting your caffeine kick from a drip-pot or Starbucks, I suggest that you seriously consider getting yourself a Turkish coffee pot (an ibrik or cezve) for cooking your coffee on the stove [amzn.to/2Kb1lCY]. Yes, you will also need to invest in some good beans and a grinder (or buy the coffee ground – the finer the better in this case), but the results are totally worth it.

An ibrik
An ibrik. / Dreamstime

Here’s how we make morning coffee in our household. Take a teaspoon of ground coffee for each drinker and add another one for the pot, just because. Add a teaspoon of maple syrup or brown sugar for each cup of coffee you are making. A few cardamom pods are optional. Add about half a cup or slightly more of water for each portion and then bring it to almost a boil on low. Watch it carefully, because this coffee likes to overflow as it’s getting close to the boiling point, and then you’ll be left with a stove to clean, which is not a good way to start any day. When you see the coffee rise, take it off the heat. It’s done. Add milk or cream (warmed or cold), if that’s how you drink your coffee, or keep it black and enjoy the aromas.

To drink the mors on a hot morning, you’ll need to make it the night before, but it really doesn’t take long. Fresh cranberries don’t come into season until later, so frozen will do just fine. Thaw them under some cold water, then measure out a pound of berries. Smash them up with a potato masher, or a spoon if that’s what you have on hand, and don’t worry if you don’t get every single one. Cover the berries with ½ gallon of water, place on the stovetop and bring to boil. Boil for 5-10 minutes. Then use the strainer to separate the mors from the berries (don’t forget to put the pulp into the compost), but be sure to press the berries with a spoon to get out every drop of liquid. Sweeten the liquid with 2 Tbsp of honey and leave for the night to cool down.

Now, the first dish of the morning will be those farmer’s cheese fritters. Just as with the Ricotta envelopes we made in the fall, ricotta is your best bet here as well. Take a cup of ricotta cheese, add one egg, a couple spoons of sugar, and some dried, cut-up orange peels if you have them. Mix this all together and then start adding flour. The amount of flour really depends on what you want. I never measure it out, just adding a few spoons at a time, until it reaches the desired consistency. In my household, the preference is for firm syrniki, where the amount of ricotta and flour isn’t quite the same, but close. Other people prefer softer ones, with ricotta taking the lead. The former are easier to make, as they hold their shape.

Once your “dough” reaches the desired consistency, pour some more flour onto a plate. Take a heaping teaspoon of dough, form it into a ball, roll it in the flour, flatten it a bit, the set aside. Repeat with the rest until you have used up all the dough.

Heat up some vegetable oil in the pan and put as many fritters as will fit without overcrowding into the pan. Make sure that your stove is on medium, so that they don’t burn. Once they have a nice crust on the bottom, turn them over and fry the other sides. I usually remove them from the pan onto a paper towel-covered plate, to allow the extra oil to drip off. Serve with condensed sweetened milk, sour cream, and jam, or go all out and make a berry compote. Or simply serve with fresh berries from the garden.

As the day gets hotter, and the cold mors is taken from the fridge, it’s time to make a light, summery salad. All you need are cucumbers, radishes, leeks, boiled eggs, salt and sour cream. The proportions can be whatever you like, but I like to add at least a couple boiled eggs, because they give a nice creamy consistency to the otherwise crunchy salad.

Cut up the cucumbers and radishes in semi-circles, use an egg-slicer on the eggs, chop up the leeks. For dressing, just add sour cream – start with two-three heaping tablespoons, mix well, and go from there. That’s usually plenty for a medium-sized bowl of salad. If you want to add just a bit more substance to the salad, boil some fingerling or baby-sized potatoes and add them in as well, either whole or cut in half (no need to peel them, as the skins are tender). 

Eat with good artisanal bread. Then sit back and relax. It is summer, after all.

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