mighty russian morsels

Bored of tapas? Over at NPR, I have a guided tour of Russian hors d’oeuvres, called zakuski, each as unsubtle, garlicky and brined as you should expect from my husband’s pickled-crazed people. It includes recipes for my mother-in-law’s famous eggplant caviar, Georgian kidney bean salad, salted mushrooms and the most complex, flavorful best black bread I have ever eaten. I hope you love it as much as we do.

Elsewhere: Mighty Russian Morsels

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48 comments on mighty russian morsels

  1. Addy

    Congrats on the NPR from a longtime reader, but mostly lurker! I’ll have to see how these recipes compare to my own family’s – you’ve got some of my favorites there, so I’m not sure I believe that they can get any better, but it’s always fun to experiment. Fun fact… the eggplant caviar is indeed called “seeniye” in Russian, but as far as I know, only in Odessa (where I’m guessing your husband’s family is from). My family is from there as well, although I grew up mostly here and I found out the hard way that most other Russians had no idea what I was talking about when I used that term!

  2. Wow…I really have to try this! I so enjoy your blog, it’s one of my daily favorites. It’s encouraging to read your recipes and see the beautiful photos, and congrats on the NPR feature. I hope when I try the black bread recipe, it’ll turn out…I dont have a mixer, unless you count my two arms, and I’m not sure it’ll come out the same. That 20 ingredient list isn’t so daunting since there are only a few of the ingredients I don’t have (surprisingly!). Thank you for the cooking and experimenting inspiration your site has become! I’m actually trying things I never would have attempted from even the most enticing cookbooks…

  3. Oooh, everything in the article looks so delicious!
    I especially can’t wait to try the mushrooms, yummy.
    Reminds me of my grandma Feodora’s cooking, 90+ and still kickin’ butt in the kitchen!

  4. I had no idea your husband had Russian background! We have ‘borrowed’ many dishes from our mighty Eastern neighbours here in Estonia, so black bread, eggplant caviar, pickled everything, and various zakuski are really popular here. Your pickled mushrooms with lots of dill seem especially interesting!

  5. DianeF

    Oh, my, that Black Russion Bread must be just this side of heaven with all of those flavors! I think I may be making a loaf this weekend!

  6. I am referring your site to two friends of mine who adopted twins from Russia and are currently there with a church-related group that reaches out to the children left behind. They are interested in maintaining some Russian traditions fortheir children… and I will try some too. At least twice a month we da “tapas night” with friends and are alwasy looking for new tidbits to try!

  7. melanie

    I loved this article on Russian morsels. When I visit Brighton Beach I see all these salads and have sampled them. Now I can recreate them at home. Thanks.

  8. Congratulations ~ it’s a great piece for NPR and I’m being pulled four ways, black bread? the mushrooms? but no there’s the kidney bean salad (yes, that’s it) but no, wait, what about the eggplant? Hmm. All four it is.

  9. LyB

    I can almost smell that black bread… Wow! All those flavors blending together, it must have such an interesting taste and texture. But now, I’m torn: Italian Bread, Russian Black Bread, what to do? I have a feeling I’ll be doing a lot of baking this weekend!

  10. Dear Deb,
    I’m the author of another cooking blog “Cooking with Yiddishe mama” ( and the biggest fan of your blog. I event tried several recipes from your blog. Everybody LOVES a grapefruit light bread. It became one of the best recipes. I checked you blog almost every day. I really like what ever you do. Plus I will link my blog to your article on NPR.

    Do more!
    With respect,
    Alla Staroseletskaya

  11. Ani

    My parents use to pickle their own foods. Since Armenia and Russia were both once of the Soviet Union. We happily sampled each countries meals. I love Russian cuisine! So glad you do as well:)

  12. ann

    slap me on the bottom and color me happy, that mushroom recipe is so, SO straight up my alley i feel like i should run uptown and plant a big wet kiss on your forehead for bringing it to my attention!!!
    i am SO making that this weekend. people say that all the time, but seriously, check the blog… it’ll be there, i promise!

  13. deb

    Thanks everyone for the great feedback!

    Addy — Yup, Odessa, and they always call it seeniye. In fact, I had never realized people thought of it as eggplant caviar until I saw it in the Joy of Cooking. Frankly, I thought all of these dishes were things that my mother-in-law had invented until I did a little research!

    Robbyn — Definitely don’t need a mixer to make bread. I never use mine, just mix things by hand. It’s a little more of an arm workout, and a little more kneading, but definitely doable without machines.

    DianeF — I believe I bought (ha, Alex did) some Miller’s bran at Whole Foods for it. Does that help? I can double-check when I’m home later.

    LyB — Heheh. I vote that you try the black bread first. It is AMAZING, and it’s been hard to keep it from you guys this last month. It’s incredibly filling and so healthy, with all of those whole grains in there, but still moist. Let me know if you try it. Oh, and small aside, I was only able to find super-coarse rye flour (not what Henspereger suggests) so I dropped it’s ratio to white flour so it didn’t get too gritty.

    Ann — Yay! Now, personally, I found those mushrooms crazy salty (like, duh) but I was assured that they are authentic. Just different palates, I suspect. I can’t WAIT to try the pickles I made last weekend. The suspense is killing me.

  14. I’ve never had Russian cuisine. Your article makes me want to look up the nearest Russian restaurant and have B take me there ASAP. We wanted to go to the one in Memphis, but it closed before we had a chance.

    Also, I love the bread kick that you’re on. I’m going to attempt the Georgian Kidney Bean Salad soon because it appears to be pretty WW friendly and the picture made my tummy grumble!

  15. I’m now convinced that on my first trip to Russia I was too young. This food? I don’t remember it. I have horrible memories of salty … things. I never wanted to go back … until now. Everything looks – and sounds – fantastic. Congrats on the NPR piece!

  16. Deb, I’m sure your mother-in-law is utterly pleased that her daughter-in-law thought so much of her cooking that she not only learned it, she immortalized it. Great job!

  17. Jessica

    Now that you have broken into the NPR world, we will all be able to say that we knew you back in the typepad days…

    How did the NPR thing come about?

  18. What a nice article! Indeed, any time we went to eat dinner at a Russian family’s house when we lived in Kyrgyzstan, there was always zakuski…which, here, could be a full meal because of the spread they put on. Quite often, you were expected to try everything offered. However, we always knew there was more of the “real” meal to come! Some of our favorites were the salads…SO GOOD!

  19. Jessica

    I stumbled upon your blog today and with this post and the post before it, I’m an instant fan!

    My boyfriend is Russian- from Ukraine- and for the past 2 years I have been experimenting with Russian recipes. Have you seen the cookbook “Please to the Table”? It’s excellent- my boyfriend has been more than happy with every recipe I’ve made- sometimes he can’t believe it was made by an American :) His favorites are pelmeni, kotleti, amd golubtsi- and of course borscht! I’ve found that if a recipe has dill, sour cream, or vinegar, or any combination of the 3, a Russian will love it! :) I will be traveling to Ukraine for the very first time this year, so I’m trying to get used to the cuisine myself. I ended my vegetarianism on Feb. 14th, so I’m ready to dive in!

    For my birthday last year, my boyfriend bought me a Kitchenaid Stand Mixer and I’ve been hooked on bread-baking. My favorite recipe is the Daily Bread from and i have been going back and forth on whether or not to buy the 2 books you mentioned (bible and apprentice). I think your post may have finally sold me!

    Sorry for the long post- and thank you for your blog! :)

  20. Alan Takeda

    I printed out your Black Bread recipe for my wife, Elaine, and she made two loaves of it last night! Being on March break, she had time yesterday to round up some of the ingredients. Glorious aromas filled the house when I came in from work! She loved the easy to follow steps of the recipe.The bread is fabulous….tasty, richly textured, filling, and wonderfully aromatic. It’s a hit!
    Next, is the Irish soda bread. We also bought Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Bread Bible. I think that’s the end of store-bought loaves for a while!

  21. I made the bread last night. Wow is it great! I made a couple of adaptations that I thought I’d share: 1. I used rye plus whole wheat bread flour (and the loaf was still moist and delicious); 2. I baked this as one big loaf (since I couldn’t fit two in my tiny New York City oven at the same time). I based it in a 4-quart Le Creuset oval pan. (Like the NYTimes’ No-Knead bread.) I dumped the big, very moist loaf into the preheated pan (after the second rising) and baked at 425 F covered for 15 minutes. Then uncovered and baked another 40-45 minutes. Came out perfect! (I also made this bread without the mixer — did the mixing by hand. Still worked perfectly.) Thanks, Deb! Definitely a keeper.

  22. Kit

    I made your black bread recipe this weekend, and it was delicious! Since you didn’t specify what kind of bran to use, I picked wheat bran. I think my butter/chocolate/molasses mixture was a little too hot when I added it to the flour and yeast because it didn’t rise as fast as you indicated (I think I probably killed some of the yeast because of the heat). It turned out dense, but it was a big hit at dinner. Thanks for sharing such a tasty recipe :-)

  23. Beth

    Wow! I too saw this recipe and my first thought was: a challenge, I love it! The local bulk food section provided every flour and seed I didn’t have in stock and everything went great. The bread is fabulous, and today the coworkers are devouring it like the good little kitchen vultures they are (they’ll devour anything left on the counter, but this time it comes with compliments, so I know it went well.)

    A word of caution on the eggplant caviar, though: when I bake I follow the recipe religiously. When it’s anything else, I’m a bit more free form. And whenever I see “3-4 cloves of garlic” my mind instantly translates that to “4-5 cloves of garlic.” Usually it’s fine, but my eggplant caviar is now burn-your-mouth-with-garlic hot. It’s still-tasting-it-the-next-morning-no-matter-how-much-brushing-and-mouthwash hot. It’s absolutely fabulous and wonderful with the bread, but 2nd day garlic mouth isn’t so pleasant. So stick to the 3-5 as listed.

  24. Hi Deb,
    I just wanted to tell you that I made the kidney bean salad from your NPR story.. it was so good! I am a sucker for bean salads, but it passed the true test because my boyfriend, who never eats that kind of food, loved it too. Success!!

    I can’t wait to try this bread too.. mmmmm…

  25. I just stumbled upon the NPR piece while planning my menu for a Russian themed dinner party I’m throwing this weekend. I can’t WAIT to try this bread. It looks like the best recipe I’ve tried for it so far. My only question – why no kneading? It looks as if there’s just a short mix?

  26. deb

    Hi Jesse — You’re going to love this bread. I still dream about it. It does involve kneading, but the recipe doesn’t specify a number of minutes or anything. “Scrape dough off paddle, gradually add flour mixture, and knead to make a springy yet dense dough. You might not use all of the flour mixture.” You’re looking for a smooth dough that doesn’t feel too sticky. If you pull back a piece, you should see some stringy/springiness; it shouldn’t just tear like a cookie dough would. Hope that helps.

  27. Janet

    Loved your NPR article on Russian foods. I have a Russian sister-in-law and I love her wonderful potato salads and cabbage pies. One night when visiting she had me try the bread, butter and caviar combo…not such a fan but I gave it an honest try. Can’t wait to make the bread and eggplant caviar. Maybe I’ll surprise her sometime with something delightful.

  28. Anna

    I love this article and I love you. My boyfriend and I are amateur foodies and gourmet chef want-to-be’s. Like your husband, my boyfriend is also Russian and my first experience at his parents house was exactly as you described at your in-law’s. I have been so intimidated by his mother’s cooking (and her amazing talent, as Russian, Jewish, mother for taking care of everyone in every possible way) that I have only ever been brave enough to bake a pie to take to her house. On top of it all, my boyfriend is very selective about giving out compliments, so I rarely get an excellent review despite the fact that I am a very good cook and an excellent baker. I think now I will have the courage to try making some Russian food for him and perhaps one day for his family.

  29. jjjeanie

    I want to make this bread! Can I put it into a loaf tin? what size would be best. Yes, I know it’s not traditional, but when I make (or–gasp–buy) a round loaf, I invariably end up tossing the ends, that just fall down and burn in my toaster.