After this lunch, who needs dinner?

Stuffed eggplant, mushrooms in sour cream, Creamed chicken soup and kompot. Source: Anna Kharzeeva

Stuffed eggplant, mushrooms in sour cream, Creamed chicken soup and kompot. Source: Anna Kharzeeva

The Soviet lunch was supposed to be the big meal of the day. But how did Soviet housewives find time to cook it all before time to eat?

Last Friday, I wrote about the apple, carrot, fig, cottage cheese and spinach zapekanka I made for that iconic Russian meal – second breakfast. And I promised to report on my grandmother’s reaction to it. She said that it “looks pretty, tastes very good, it’s very light. But I wouldn’t make it for second breakfast every day – too much work with all the grating and frying!”

This week’s Soviet meal is lunch – which oddly is supposed to be consumed a couple of hours after work, followed only by light dinner or even snack. This Soviet version of lunch sounds more like dinner to me.

I remember hoping that all the meals I make as part of this project would be quick and easy to make, as the Party line clearly stated that women needed their time for self education and family. I guess the authors define “quick and easy” differently from me – in part, no doubt, due to general laziness and ease with which we are used to cooking these days (forgive the generalization).

The book has recommended lists of lunch options for summer, autumn, winter and spring and even for different days of the week. It does say in the introduction that “you have to keep in mind the influence of the season.”

I complied and chose autumn and then Sunday, as it seemed to be the only day I would have time to make four – yes, four! – courses for lunch. Now, I must explain that a Sunday lunch to me is a sandwich, or leftovers, or even lunch out with friends.

Dinner is often fresh spring rolls (watching my husband cursing while trying to roll them never gets old) or a chicken wrap with vegetables. “Healthy and tasty,” I think, and with just 20-30 minutes required to prepare them, there is plenty of time for education (watching Modern Family or Mad Men counts, right?).

In contrast to my typical lunch, the Soviet lunch took just under two hours to make and included baked mushrooms with cheese, baked eggplant with vegetable stuffing, cream of chicken soup (tastes as weird as it sounds) and the omnipresent apple kompot, which is kind of drink that is like fruit juice.

The book tells housewives “before starting to make lunch, breakfast or dinner one must estimate by what hour they should be ready and count how long they will take to prepare.” If you add the amount of time you needed to procure all the ingredients, the recipes should start with “take the day off.”

Note that my cooking time for lunch was no doubt helped by my well-equipped, enormous 95-aquare-foot kitchen. My kitchen is huge by Soviet and even modern Russian standards. In comparison, my grandmother’s kitchen is about 45 square feet.

In this space, she manages to cook for any number people and also seat and feed three. Until the 1960s, she didn’t even have her own kitchen. She lived in a kommunalka, an apartment that was shared by many families.

“The house belonged to a merchant before the revolution,” my grandmother told me. “It had one-an-a-half floors, and each was turned into a separate kommunalka. There were five families in ours, including a former countess who lived in the entryway, with one kitchen, no fridge, one toilet and one sink. Before World War II, we used a primus [ed. A kind of burner heated by compressed kerosene], and after the war we had gas stoves, which was fabulous. Our neighbor, an old lady from a village, would gasp each time she walked into the kitchen: ‘Thank you comrade Stalin for providing us with gas!’ When we wanted to keep something cold, we would get a big bowl, fill it with cold water (the only kind there was), place a pot in it with a little bit of butter, or salami, or soup, cover with a cloth and put the ends of the cloth into the cold water.”

I don’t think the kind of lunch described in the book was a typical one for my grandmother. When I described the feast-like lunch to her, she said: “Wow! Amazing! We never had cream soups though - didn’t have the equipment to make them.”

I wouldn’t recommend cream of chicken anyway.

I enjoyed the mushrooms, eggplant and kompot, and felt like a proud Soviet housewife having made it all. But next Sunday at lunchtime, you’ll find me at the French restaurant across the road.

Stuffed eggplant

The recipe from the Soviet Cook Book, page 218. Click to enlarge the image

 

Wash eggplants, take ends off, cut open (not to the bottom), and take seeds out with a teaspoon. After that, put eggplant into salted boiling water for five minutes, stuff with chopped vegetables or mushrooms. Put in a greased, oven-proof baking dish, cover with sour cream and bake approximately 1 hour.

Mushrooms in sour cream

The recipe from the Soviet Cook Book, page 222. Click to enlarge the image

For 500 grams (about 1 lb) fresh mushrooms, use 1/2 cup sour cream, 25 grams (1/4 lb) cheese, 1 teaspoon flour, 2 tablespoons oil

Clean, wash and pour boiling water over mushrooms. Drain, chop up, salt and fry in oil. When almost fried, add a teaspoon of flour and mix, then add sour cream, boil, add grated cheese and bake.

Before serving, sprinkle mushrooms with parsley or dill. You can also baked pickled mushrooms. In this case, drain the marinade, wash and chop up the mushrooms and fry.

Continue as with fresh mushrooms.

Apple or pear kompot

The recipe from the Soviet Cook Book, page 308. Click to enlarge the image

Peel apples, remove the core and cut into 6-8 pieces each. So that the apples don't go brown, before boiling, put them into cold water with a little lemon juice. Put sugar and 2 cups hot water into a pot, then add the apples and boil on low heat for 10-15 minutes until apples are soft.

Creamed Chicken soup

The recipe from the Soviet Cook Book, page 363. Click to enlarge the image

100 grams chicken meat; 15 grams butter; 10 grams onion; 10 grams white root vegetables; 10 grams flour; 50 grams cream; 1/2 egg yolk; 750 grams water

Boil chicken until ready. Fry onions and root vegetables in oil with flour until yellow, add broth and boil 15-20 minutes, then strain.

Mince the chicken meat twice then add it to the broth. Mix well. Add cream mixed with egg yolk.

You can serve with white bread croutons or meat pies (pirozhki).

Read more: The Soviet breakfast of champions>>>

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