Stuffed peppers. Source: Anna Kharzeeva
This piece is part of the Soviet Diet Cookbook, a blog about a modern Russian girl cooking Soviet food. To read more of the series, click here.
This week I decided to strictly follow the advice of Anastas Mikoyan, the Soviet bureaucrat behind the Book, mainly because that piece of advice was to have some wine with dinner. Reading a quote from the book: “Back in 1936…comrade Mikoyan…said: ‘some people think and say that we drink a lot of vodka in Russia, and that other countries don’t. That opinion is fundamentally wrong… It’s because during the tsarist times people were very poor, and they drank not because they were having fun, but because of their woes and poverty…Now life is more fun. When you’re happy and full you won’t get drunk. Life is fun, which means we can have a drink, but without losing consciousness or harming our health.”
The majority of wine in the Soviet Union was from Georgia, the land I’m happily residing in now. Georgian wine did and still does prompt a “sigh, dreamy look away – it’s so nice” reaction from Russian of about over 50 years old. The fact that Stalin came from Georgia and liked the wine gave the drink even more respect from the Soviet citizens. I suspect that Soviets didn’t add enough fun into people’s lives to make them forget about vodka though!
Granny says: “my husband was the head of a laboratory called ‘mail box’ – there were many ‘mail boxes’ and they were all secret institutions. I don’t know exactly what he did there, but something to do with the space/rocket industry. When his colleagues and post-graduate students came over to our place, they would always bring vodka and cognac for him, and a bottle of semi-sweet red Georgian wine for me.”
By the time I came around, there was never any wine on the table even for special occasions. If for some reason there was a bottle, granny would serve tiny silver shot glasses for it. My great-grandmother would gulp hers and demand another one right away – she was in her 90s by then and was allowed. My mom and granny, on the other hand, are terrified of wine and alcohol in general – as far as they’re concerned, even a little bit is too much. They’d seen a few people drink in a way that would make them “lose their consciousness and harm their health.”
Khrushchev must have agreed with my family, and not Mikoyan, as he decided to fight alcoholism in the mid 1980s and cut out whole vineyards in Georgia, among other places. On a recent trip to Kakheti, the main wine-producing region of Georgia, I was told that complete types of grapes were destroyed and they are now – slowly but surely – trying to get them back, but the process will take many years.
It was at the same place I discovered that Georgians mainly drink white wine, and not red like we’re used to. Later a friend said that Georgians joke that if they drank red wine, their veins would explode!
I got so carried away with wine, I almost forgot about the food I prepared, which was yummy: stuffed bell peppers and zucchini. Granny says there weren’t many peppers around in the Soviet time, but plenty of zucchini, which would be preserved for winter and made into “dips.” I certainly remember stuffed peppers as a kid – the goal was to eat all the rice and meat from the inside and leave the pepper behind – without the adults noticing.
This time I ate the pepper, too, and drank the wine. Although there were no adults around to praise me on the pepper, I hope Mikoyan would have approved the wine.
500 grams ground meat; 1 onion; 3 Tbsp butter; ½ cup cooked rice
Prepare sweet green peppers. Wash them, trim the tops with the stem and clean out the seeds. Put the peppers in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes. Remove from water and drain. Then, fill peppers with a mixture of already prepared ground meat and rice. Pods green sweet pepper wash, trim the tops with stem and clean out the seeds. Lay in a pan, cover with broth, butter and tomato paste and bake in the oven or simmer over a fire for 30-40 minutes. Serve with sour cream.
Fry meat with chopped onion in butter. Add salt, pepper and herbs to taste. Mix meat with rice.
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