Thursday, March 17, 2011

Belarus

History: Formerly a part of the USSR.  Retained closer ties to Russia than any of the other former Soviet states did.
Location: East of Poland
Area: Over 200,000 sq km, 85th in the world
          Slightly smaller than Kansas
Coast: None, landlocked
Environment: Southern part of the country contaminated with fallout from Chernobyl
Population: Over 9.5 million; 88th in the world
Capital: Minsk
Fertility rate: 1.26 children/woman; 215/224 in the world
Cuisine: Very similar to Poland and Lithuania, Belarusians were called "potato-eaters" in the Soviet Union because of their prevalence
Leader: Their president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, has been called the last dictator in Europe.  As I was researching recipes for them, there was an article in the Washington Post where they interviewed him.  He sounds absolutely crazy.

It wasn't hard finding, at a high-level, what I wanted to make for Belarus.  Everywhere I looked seemed to be one suggestion: potato pancakes.  I had never had these before, and I knew it was something that Kevin had had growing up.  But in researching, I found that it should be a side, an addition, not the main course.  As a result, I ended up with these two recipes from this page: Draniki and Machanka.  That's potato pancakes and pork stew, for those of you who didn't look.

But to make everything a bit more complicated and way more fun, I wasn't cooking this at home!  We were on vacation to Colorado with Kevin's family, so we did everything out there.  I think you will see that we had a lot of help, and a few more people than normal to feed.  Plus some awesome views from the cabin we were at for a few days.
Skiing on day one.  Beautiful mountains in the background.
Chapel for Ash Wednesday service.  We decided we should convince Karen to get married here.
Day two, during lessons.
Day three.
SKY mountains...notice the word spelled out.
I didn't get any pictures out of Kevin's house, which is unfortunate.  There are mountains out there too.  I did, however, get a picture of their beautiful kitchen.
Two ovens!
While I was cooking, there were a lot of people in and out of the house.  That meant that I got a lot of help, and also had a lot of distractions.  And photographers.

We doubled both of the recipes so that we could be sure to have enough for everyone.  We weren't really sure what cut of pork to get, nor how big of pieces to cut it in.  Improvisation!
Stew-sized pieces.
I wasn't sure if the pork should be cooked in anything, so I didn't.  Just cooked it by itself.  I was a little worried because it says "crisp," and rightly so.  It never got crisp.  It just...cooked.  Maybe that was what was intended.  I'm not sure.

It also didn't specify if I was supposed to saute the flour in anything, but we decided that the butter was most appropriate.  It was a slightly weird concoction.
Looks kinda like frosting.
 Unfortunately, I forgot to double this part and had to do it over again.

It was a little weird working in someone else's kitchen where I didn't know where anything was.  Luckily I had plenty of help.  Not that Kevin necessarily knew either.
Indecision.  So many options!
Kevin trying to convert metric into English.  Again.  The internet ended up helping.
With the sour cream it got very, well, creamy.  And the recipe was a little vague on the multiple times beef stock was mentioned.
At this point the kitchen was getting busy, and I was feeling pressed for time.  There was a lot of running around and starting to get worried.  The pork was supposed to simmer in some spices, but the recipe didn't say which ones to use.  And we hadn't really started on the potato pancakes yet.  Time to call in the troops!
Note: all women in the kitchen.
Mother, son, grandmother.
That's a lot of potato.
Since there weren't any spices listed, we had to do some research.  The internet is an amazing thing.  We went with a good amount of paprika and black pepper.  I considered adding garlic, but decided not to.
In order to expadite the process, we used a food processor to chop up the potatoes.  The others took charge of mixing it all together while I continued to handle the pork. 

There were so many potatoes that they added another egg and some more flour.  I think they were bigger than the recipe was expecting.
The perfect amount of potato.  For the food processor.
Look, no video games!
It looked really creamy.  This is after I added the "sour cream," which I think meant the flour mixture.
The only step left was for Kevin and me to fry up the pancakes while the stew was in the oven.  He was a really great help.  So was everyone else in the family.
We put the finished ones on a plate in the oven to keep them warm.
It took a while to cook them all, and Kevin's pan was much better than mine, but we eventually got through it.  Definitely a team effort.  And while we were cooking, a wonderful table was set.
Had to expand it to fit everyone.
The stew got a little film that stirred away very easily.
Potato!  Pancakes!
Karen, Pama, Papa, Kevin's Dad, Kevin's Mom, Kevin
I guess I had to be in there too.
I was very worried for this meal.  I had a lot of people to impress, and no back-up other than order pizza.  I don't think anyone was disappointed.

The soup was very creamy, and the spices ended up working.  It was very similar to stroganoff with the sour cream in there.  Someone mentioned that it would be good with mushrooms, and it was also said that it would be good with egg noodles.  Everyone seemed to really like it.  I think my only complaint was that pork isn't my favorite.  It reminded of Albania, even though that was veal.  It may have been because I cooked it, though, and didn't like the smell of it raw.  Nobody else said anything.

The potato pancakes were also yummy.  I had never had them before, although everyone had.  If mine could live up to the ones previously eaten, I was living large.

Overall, I would definitely recommend that you make this dish.  It was filling and slightly different than I would normally make, and you have a lot of flexibilty with the choose-your-own-spice addition.  Belarus, your president may be insane, but I would eat your food.

Since Tesla didn't come with us, instead there are pictures of adorable children.  If you were at the wedding, you may recognize some of them.
Nick wanted to be cute.  It worked.
Sibling love, at least for a little while.
Natalie was headed to a slumber party afterward.
Sorry for the really long post.  Let me know your thoughts!

Last time: Barbados
Next time: Belgium

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