June 28, 2011 § 2 Comments
The latest in the series making up our Breakfasts of the World project.
What an anonymous and grim-sounding place Belarus is. It’s a landlocked country nestling between Poland and Russia which declared independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. The landscape is largely flat, marshy and forested and thanks to this and the Soviet legacy its economy is dominated by agriculture and manufacturing.
Whilst researching Belarus and its food I was amused to come across Alby’s travel blog documenting the all-action Italian’s trip there in 2005:
“It’s difficult to give impressions about Belarus. From a certain point of view travelling here it’s nice: no hassle with the policemen and it’s quite safe, but on the opposite the landscape is monotonous and there’re not highlights enough to justify the trip. In addition the food doesn’t help, since it really sucks, but what can push you there is the possibility of a off-of-the-beaten-track travel in a country almost under a dictator that today turns out the most isolated in Europe.”
The dictator he refers to is Alexander Lukashenko who has held the presidency since 1994. Although not at the forefront of news stories, various European countries have imposed economic sanctions as a response to Mr Lukashenko’s authoritarian rule. Things may be changing – there are very recent BBC news reports of protestors defying the ban on public demonstrations in Minsk and making silent, peaceful protests. Something to watch as well as the higher news profile Arab Spring/Summer stories.
Perhaps understandably given travel blogger Alby’s view of the food he ate on his trip, descriptions of Belarusian food are few and far between on the web or from other sources. I did come across this little snippet from an unknown author on http://www.mapsofworld.com/belarus/society-and-culture/
“Belarusian cuisine mostly comprises of meats, vegetables and breads. The staple food of Belarus includes pork, potatoes, cabbages and bread. The diet of a typical Belarusian includes a very light breakfast with two heavy meals and the dinner becomes the largest meal of the day. Both wheat and rye breads are consumed in Belarus society and culture. Drinks are also a very popular part of the culture and society of Belarus.”
So, not much to go on. I decided a light breakfast might mean a cup of tea and a piece of rye bread. So far so good as, thanks to last year’s baking course at Welbeck, homemade 100% rye sourdough is now a regular feature of the breakfast table. It doesn’t appeal to everyone but I enjoy its dense, dark sourness. Rye bread takes well to the addition of fruit and,on a whim, I threw a handful of dried apricots into this particular loaf:
Surely that can’t be it though? I had another hunt around for Belarusian recipes and came up with Draniki, a fried potato pancake which is the de facto national dish of Belarus. I don’t know if draniki are eaten for breakfast in Belarus but that’s how we chose to eat them, with the addition of sour cream and smoked salmon as an atypical decadent touch:
The Draniki turned out pretty well and reminded me of Jewish latkes:
In fact, looking through a few recipes for latkes now, I see that the list of ingredients and the method are practically identical. In common with many simple, traditional recipes, it seems that each person has there own way of making draniki. Some say no flour, some say a little; some grate the potato very finely almost to a purée, some have more distinct potato pieces. The draniki recipe I give below is the one that I used having looked at a number of different Belarusian recipes. What’s important is to get the grated potato as dry as you can by draining off the excess water.
If emerging Belarusian tennis star Victoria Azarenka breakfasts like this today she’ll certainly power through her match to make it the Wimbledon semi finals – I’ll be watching later…
Recipe for draniki
Makes 8-10 individual pancakes serving 4 people in a modest way
6 medium potatoes
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons flour
flavourless vegetable oil for frying
Grate the potatoes finely into a bowl. Drain off excess water, pressing with kitchen roll to absorb more liquid if necessary. Finely chop the onion and add to the bowl. Add the beaten egg, flour and seasoning to the bowl and stir together vigorously with a wooden spoon to make a thick batter.
Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan until hot but not smoking. Drop in spoonfuls of batter which will form thick round pancakes. Fry until golden brown then flip over and fry on the other side. Drain on kitchen paper to absorb excess oil and serve.
Recipe for rye bread
You can find this in a previous post here