Day 4 of The Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks hosted by Food52 — food blog, recipe guru and cookbook creator — sparred off two homey restaurant-centric cookbooks. Granted, a specifically stylish hominess possible only in a city like London or Portland, cities where these restaurants reside.
Ducksoup: The Wisdom of Simple Cooking is written by chefs Clare Lattin and Tom Hill of London’s popular restaurant Ducksoup. Its sparring partner, Kachka: A Return to Russian Cooking comes from beloved Portland chef Bonnie Frumkin Morales. Both have a hearty dose of hip styling, approachable recipes (unhampered by the fact that they come straight from a restaurant kitchen), and both come to this round punching a fair fight.
I picked Ducksoup for the win, because it won the coin toss.
Both books have a lot to offer, much Piglet judge and Bridesmades actress Wendi McLendon-Covey had to cook through to finally pass judgment. When it came to McLendon-Covey deciding, she named Kachka the winner because it offered something new in a cuisine unknown to her kitchen.
Ducksoup inspires simple seasonal recipes with boho styled photography and friendly instructions. But it’s a way of cooking most of us have seen before — beautiful with intriguing flavors, but similar recipes to what we find in Food & Wine magazine, or on the Food52 site itself.
Kachka, despite it’s locale, takes us someplace much farther — to a comfortable kitchen inspired by Morales’ Belarusian heritage. Ironically, Morales has written for Food & Wine magazine (as well as for many others), but her styling nods to the bygone Soviet era and her food feels more like a polished version of her mother’s recipe book. Kachka puts the one-up on Ducksoup by taking simple cooking and making it both personal and time-honored.
Ducksoup may have won the coin toss, but Kachka deserves the Piglet win.
Herring Under a Fur Coat
селедка под шубой
”This is the dish I was initially afraid to put on the menu,” writes Morales, “with its beets-herring-mayo triple punch, perhaps it’s too Russian?” But this combination of briny herring, sweet beets and meaty potatoes has proved a customer favorite. A beautiful dish to present your guests with, be sure to use a glass-sided dish, or for even more drama, opt for the terrines. Makes 4 four-inch terrines or 1 large bowl.
2 medium beets
2 large or 3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
2 carrots, peeled
2 fillets salted herring in oil (pickled herring can be substituted, but it’s sweeter and a bit less decadent—seek out the oil-packed stuff in your local Russian market if
¼ cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh dill, plus a few sprigs for garnish
½ cup mayonnaise (preferably homemade, page 349)
2 large hard-boiled eggs
Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Give the beets a quick scrub (but don’t peel), wrap them in foil, and bake until they’re fully tender so a knife slides easily through the center (about 1½ hours, depending upon size). Remove the beets from the oven, and as soon as they’re cool enough to handle, rub off the skins, using a paring knife or your hands. Let the peeled beets cool to room temperature.
While the beets are roasting, place the potatoes and carrots in a saucepan, and add water to cover by 1 to 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat until it’s just high enough to maintain a simmer. Cook until the vegetables are tender when pierced with a knife, 5 to 10 minutes, depending upon size. The vegetables may not be done at the same time, so remove as needed—you want to be sure that the potato isn’t overcooked, lest it fall apart, but that the carrot is cooked until soft all the way through, with no resistance. Drain the cooked vegetables, and let them cool to room temperature.
While the vegetables are cooking and cooling, make the herring mixture: Remove the herring fillets from their package, reserving the oil. Give a taste—if they’re too salty, soak until they’re to your taste. Dice the fillets into ¼-inch pieces. Place the diced herring in a small dish with the onion, dill, and 3 tablespoons of the oil the fillets were packed in (if you’re using pickled herring fillets, drain them first, soak them for ½ hour in cold water to draw down the pickled flavor, and add 3 tablespoons sunflower or vegetable oil). Mix to combine, and set aside.
When the vegetables have cooled, peel the skin off the potatoes, and grate them on the large holes of a box grater. Rinse the grater, and grate the carrots into a separate pile. Rinse the grater again, and grate the beets, being careful to keep them from bleeding onto the other vegetables.
In a small dish, mix the mayonnaise with 2 tablespoons of the grated beet, turning it a brilliant pink.
To assemble, take a large clear glass bowl or pie plate, and lay down a layer of potatoes. Smooth with the back of your spoon to roughly even things out (but don’t tamp them down), and season with salt. Add the herring mixture. Smooth this layer as well, then add the carrots, and smooth them too. Add the grated beet—to avoid making a purple mess, place a mound of beets in the center, and then smooth outward. Season with salt, then top with the beet mayonnaise, smoothing out from the center as well.
Remove the egg whites from the yolks, and, using the back of a spoon, press them through a sieve to garnish the top of the mixture (you can also finely chop the whites by hand instead, and sprinkle them on). Repeat with the yolks. Garnish with the reserved dill sprigs and serve. If you’re making the dish in advance, wait until serving to garnish with the egg and dill.
If you want more of a showstopper, Herring Under a Fur Coat can be prepared in 4-inch ring molds: Place each ring mold on a plate, and then follow the instructions as given, using one-quarter of each mixture in each mold. When your individual herring towers have been constructed, gently slide the ring molds up and off. If you only have one ring mold and are reusing it, make sure to rinse and dry the mold between uses, so that you get nice clean stacks.
Excerpted from Kachka: A Return to Russion Cooking by Bonnie Frumkin Morales, copyright © 2017. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. Photography by Leela Cyd.
Spring Vegetable Fritters, Cucumber Yogurt & Curry Leaves
Stuffed with spring vegetables, these fritters make a tasty snack or starter. The curry leaves make the recipe, so they’re worth seeking out. Serves 4.
FOR THE FRITTERS
8 oz asparagus, woody ends snapped off, sliced into 1⁄4-in [5-mm] rounds
8 oz peas
8 oz fava beans
4 spring onions, sliced
1 small bunch wild garlic leaves (replace with 1 crushed garlic clove if wild garlic is not in season)
2 cups flour
2 1⁄4 cups ice-cold sparkling water
Vegetable or sunflower oil, for frying
Handful of curry leaves
Good pinch of sumac
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
FOR THE CUCUMBER YOGURT
1/2 cucumber, cut lengthwise, seeds scooped out
Pinch of salt
2 cups Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 garlic clove, crushed
Handful of mint leaves, coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Start with the cucumber yogurt. Coarsely grate the cucumber into a sieve set over a bowl and rub a good pinch of salt into the cucumber. Set aside for about 45 minutes to allow the cucumber to release its water.
Meanwhile, make the fritter mix. Place the asparagus into a large bowl with the peas, fava beans, spring onions, and wild garlic leaves (or crushed garlic clove). Zest the lemon over the top (keep the lemon to use in the cucumber yogurt) and season with salt and pepper.
In a separate bowl, mix the egg with the flour and then slowly add the sparkling water, whisking constantly. You want the consistency of thick cream, so go easy, as you may not need all the water. Pour this batter mixture over the vegetables and mix well.
Heat a generous amount of vegetable or sunflower oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan until a small piece of bread turns golden in 10 seconds.
While the oil is heating, finish the cucumber yogurt by giving the cucumber a gentle squeeze to remove the last bits of water. Then place in a mixing bowl with the yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and mint. Give everything a quick whisk—it should have a bit of texture to it—and season with salt and pepper.
The oil should now be hot enough so, working in batches of four, drop tablespoons of the fritter mix into the pan. (To stop the batter mixture from sticking to your spoon, dip the spoon into the oil first—but make sure the spoon is dry when you do this.) Be careful when dropping the fritters into the oil, as they may splash a little. Fry the fritters for 5 to 6 minutes, or until golden brown, and use a slotted spoon to turn them halfway through the cooking time. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to some folded paper towels to drain off some of the oil. Give them a pinch of salt, keep warm, and then do the next batch in the same way.
Once all the fritters are done, drop the curry leaves into the oil; again, be careful as they will crackle and spit as they cook. Fry for 1 minute, remove, and drain on paper towels. To serve, spoon the cucumber yogurt onto plates. Arrange the fritters and curry leaves on top of the yogurt and sprinkle with the sumac.
Reprinted from Ducksoup: The Wisdom of Simple Cooking by Clare Lattin and Tom Hill with permission by Chronicle Books, 2017. Photography by Kristin Perers.