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Maslenitsa

by Olga Schafranek |


Everyone has their nonnegotiable way they drink their coffee or eat their eggs. Same goes for Russians and their blini. It’s not even the toppings chosen, but the order in which they go on the blin that is sacred, too. Standard toppings include melted butter, a variety of smoked fish, sour cream, chopped eggs, chopped green onions, and, of course, caviar. Washed down with some cold vodka. 

Monday marks the beginning of the blini “season” for Russians. It’s called Maslenitsa, and it’s actually just a week long. It officially starts Monday, but I’m sure many have had blini at least twice already and have another three to four more times to go this "season."


Stateside, Maslenitsa (usually translated to Cheesefare or Butter Week) is more of a blini eating marathon with some local Russian communities hosting parties on Friday. In Russia, it is like a Mardi Gras with festivals in all the major parks – live concerts, blini stands, a scarecrow burning, vendor stalls, snow tubing, and much more. There’s no flashing for beads, but men do get drunk and punch each other. My husband and I spent a Maslenitsa in Russia and it was spectacular.

As with any cultural traditions, people can be very dedicated to how they make or eat their blini. I find that blini among the Russian Americans on the West Coast are thicker, while thinner on the East Coast. Some have a topped stack of two that they roll up, some people don’t roll them up, some finish with a sweet blin topped with jam or syrup. In Russia, they were paper thin and crispy on the edges. I tried one that was filled with mashed potatoes and mushrooms. Not a traditional filling, but I couldn’t resist the potato option, as you already know. I usually tap out at four in one sitting. 

My mom doesn’t tend to get too attached to certain recipes and is willing to find new ones that might make something easier, healthier or more interesting. One year at my parents’ church, they made a batch of gluten-free blini for anyone who needed them. Traditionally, blini are made with a yeast batter and can take a while (the ladies at our church start at 6am for the parish blini feast). While visiting in California, my parents and I had a blini meal. This go around we found a recipe using kefir that took a lot less time, but was still so good.


We had Tsar Nicoulai’s Reserve Caviar, Gold Pearl Salmon Roe, and triple smoked sturgeon as the main toppings. Salmon roe is usually what people have at big gatherings for blini, but the Reserve Caviar was a welcome alternative and really upped the flavor level. The subtle properties of the caviar were not lost amidst the other toppings on the blin. The suggested beverage pairing for the Reserve Caviar also happens to be chilled vodka...so that’s convenient. 


The smoked sturgeon also added a different flavor profile for my blini. I normally use smoked salmon (which we also had that day) or smoked herring. The triple smoked sturgeon from Tsar Nicoulai has a much heavier smokiness to it. It’s truly farm-to-table, coming from the sturgeon farm in Wilton, CA, and smoked on California Applewood from a neighboring orchard, which you can taste in its unique flavor. It paired well with the Reserve and it made for a great blin. The best blin my dad has ever eaten, in fact. And he can be a bit of a food snob…a blin snob??

My dad is a Russian Orthodox priest. He is probably the main reason people at my high school reunion remembered who I am. The stories I have can go on for days. I’m sure he will come up again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Russian Kefir Blini (Makes about 10  9” crepes)
Adapted from Vikalinka.com
Ingredients:

2 cups flour
3 cups kefir
1 cup water
2 eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
Oil or butter for frying


Toppings
Reserve Caviar and Salmon Roe
Smoked fish of choice
Chopped boiled eggs
Sour cream
Melted butter
Chopped green onions
Smoked sturgeon

 

Method:

    1. In a mixing bowl mix eggs, flour, 1 cup of kefir, baking soda, sugar, and salt with a whisk. When the mixture is smooth and has no lumps, add remaining kefir and water. The consistency should be the same as that of heavy cream.  Let stand for 20-30 minutes. You should see small bubbles on the surface of your batter.

      2. Preheat your non-stick frying pan on medium heat and grease it with oil or butter. A common trick we use is to stick a halved raw potato on a fork cut side down. Dip the potato in the oil or melted butter and coat the pan. Do this in between each pancake. (some people also use a raw onion)

        3. With a ladle or a measuring cup pour 3/4 cup of batter in the pan and tilt the pan slightly so batter runs to the edges forming a thin and round crepe. Cook it until batter looks dry, then flip with a spatula and cook for 2-3 more minutes.

          There is a saying “s pervim blinkomom” – “with the first blin." Most times when making pancakes, your first one is a mess. It usually takes a couple tries before you get the hang of the heat, spooning the batter, tipping the pan, and flipping, etc. You have to find your rhythm. The saying is applied to all new ventures in life.

            4. Stack the ready blini on a plate and keep warm by covering, or adding them in small batches to a pan in a low temperature oven.

              5. Serve with toppings.

              My nonnegotiable blini topping method is as follows: I brush it with melted butter, spread sour cream on top with a spoon, add smoked fish, then chopped eggs and finally, caviar. I roll that up and eat it with a fork and knife. If someone offers me a shot of vodka, I usually say yes.

              Na Zdorovye!

              Olga