Thursday, June 14, 2012

Summer? Time for Shashlik

In the same way that Americans think of hamburgers and hotdogs as summertime, picnic food, Ukrainians think of shashlik.  Shashlik is what Americans call shish kebab,  marinated meat on a stick (I can hear Anthony Bourdain, who wasted his trip to Ukraine,  raving about meats on sticks in other places, but I believe he missed the Ukrainian version).  You can order in restaurants and in Simferopol,  we even found stands selling it in the big outdoor markets (below) but it's really picnic food--even in the rain as my friend Anatoly demonstrates above.
As Barb Wieser's post noted,  Ukrainians are serious about their outdoor food.   And shashlik is one of the most serious,  cooked, as in grilling in this country, most often by men. Of course, the recipes are as varied as the people who cook it.  Here's one, via the Everything About Ukraine website, supposedly from a famous Georgian singer:
The meat (he uses either beef or mutton) should be absolutely fresh. Cut it into medium sized pieces and mix with onion, salt and black pepper. Onto this, he pours "Adzhika" (a garlicy, hot pepper sauce). But never adzhika bought in a store, he insists, only the homemade kind sold in the bazaars. Add some freshly squeezed lemon juice to this (the more the better!) Then let it all sit for half an hour. The "secret" of this recipe is to use dried grape vines for the grill. That gives a unique, piquant flavor to the shashlik.
 It's not surprising that a Ukrainian website features recipes from Georgia, as shashlik is found all over the former Soviet Union and usually attributed to the cooks of the Caucausus region.  According to Glenn R. Mack and Asele Surina in Food Culture in Russia and Central Asia it is the national dish of not only Georgia (called mtsvadi),  Armenia (khorovats) and Azerbaijan (kebab) despite the fact that the words shasklik and kebabs are both of Turkic origin.

Whether it's along a riverbank over a campfire;  outside at your dacha,  or in the market at Simferopol,  shashlik symbolizes a relaxed,  yet important,  summer approach to a meal.  To accompany Anatoli's cooking in the top photo,  I remember new potatoes sliced in half with a piece of salo and plenty of salt,  wrapped in foil and cooked in the coals.  They were a delicious accompaniment to the meat from the grill, and together the  makings of a memorable meal with Anatoli and Anya,  and Anya's parents at their dacha on a warm May evening.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Pickle Project in Vermont

 Shelburne Farms is a member-supported, nonprofit environmental education organization with a mission to cultivate a conservation ethic for a sustainable future. Set on1,400 verdant acres of working farm and forest on the restful shores of Lake Champlain in Shelburne, Vermont, the Farm serves as a model for sustainable land use. The Farms' innovative programming, connect people and food systems, has made it a natural partner for the Pickle Project. 

Several weeks back, the Farm hosted a Pickle Project Community Conversation, like those convened in four Ukrainian cities last fall. These conversations are designed to draw on the personal experiences of the participants, including the role of food in our families, memories and communities, expanding to broader discussions of the connections between food production, economies and culture.

We were very fortunate to have been joined by a small, wonderful group of old and new friends from the University of Vermont, the Vermont food community, the Vermont Ukrainian community, the Shelburne Farms community and more. For me, it was especially lovely to have admired professors and friends attend, showing their support, as they always do.

The Farm hosted the event at Orchard Cove, a recently renovated cottage-like building, nestled beside the lake.  As silvery waves folded upon the rocks outside, we gathered in a circle, some in chairs, some sitting cross-legged on the floor. It was a potluck and there was a veritable smorgasbord of vittles, including Shelburne Farms’ own award winning Cheddar, a zesty beet salad, varenyky with creamy sour cream,  an earthy kamut salad and refreshing red grapes. There was also amazing banana bread and some delicious-looking chocolate chip cookies. (I can only attest to their appearance, as they were gone before I could nab one!) In addition to the slightly medicinal lemon infused vodka and the peculiarly invigorating horseradish infused vodka that have become the staples of Pickle Project affairs, a Ukrainian -American friend and forester brought vodka infused with golden root. This plant, is also called roseroot or Aaron's rod (scientific name: Rhodiola rosea) grows in the Carpathians and is said to be a mood enhancer. 

Like the community conversations in Ukraine, the evening’s conversation at the Farm seems to draw in threads from every angle. What does McDonalds signal about a culture, its health, its wealth? What kind of sheep are those? What makes a food authentic to a culture, time or place? What are the antecedents for a sustainable food system? Can a food practice only be valued, once it is lost or endangered?

And, like the Ukrainian conversations, we made new connections, to each other and between threads of culture, community, economy and nature.

We would like to thank Shelburne Farms’ fabulous staff and community for the warm welcome in hosting this fantastic event and their ongoing partnership with the Pickle Project. In particular, we would recognize Christie Bond for all of her planning and coordination.