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Chanakhi and Salat Olivier #CooktheBooks

For this round - our June-July selection - of Cook the Books, the book selection was chosen by Simona from briciole.

She chose Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen.* You can read Simona's invitation in the book announcements: here.

Simona wrote: "In Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food & Longing Von Bremzen tells a fascinating story of life and foods interspersed with historical references that come from within a composite, complex country going through monumental political and social changes in a relatively short period of time."

On the Page...

I have to admit that I tried to read this book several weeks ago. I plodded through the first couple of chapters, but I was not captivated. Then I had to report for jury duty on Monday and I put it in my purse along with two other books from my bookshelf. With four hours in the waiting room and a two-and-a-half hour lunch, I was able to restart the book, read it from cover to cover, and start a second book. So, I definitely didn't do my civic duty; but I did finish my Cook the Books assignment.

I will say that with this, more dedicated, read, I still wasn't entranced, but it was passable. I actually felt this was three distinct books - one about her family, one about her and her food, and one about Russian history - and they didn't mesh very well in my mind. The history was dry and the food took a back seat. I think it would have been more effective if each narrative chapter included a recipe. Maybe that would have made it more cohesive. But I did like her writing style, so I think I will search for another book and see what I think. Her cookbooks look interesting - The Greatest Dishes!: Around the World in 80 Recipes, The New Spanish Table, and Fiesta! A Celebration of Latin Hospitality.*

On the Plate...
Still, I was inspired to make a meal out of it. So, on my way home from the courthouse, I stopped at the market to pick up what I needed for two different dishes. I was intrigued by the Salat Olivier she shared because I have never put apples and fresh cucumber in a potato salad before.

Salat Olivier
Von Bremzen shares a recipe for this in the book. I slightly adapted it based on what I had and I skipped the peas completely because I forgot to buy them. Maybe next time. It was a hit; I think my husband had three helpings. "This is the best potato salad you've ever made!" he gushed.


  • 3 medium organic potatoes, diced
  • 3 hard boiled eggs, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 organic cucumber, diced
  • 1 large organic apple, peeled, cored, and diced (I used a Granny Smith)
  • 1/4 C diced dill pickle (I used cornichons)
  • 4 sprigs fresh dill, chopped
  • 6 sprigs parsley, chopped
  • 1⁄2 C mayonnaise
  • 2 T apple cider vinegar
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste

Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan, cover with cold water, and gently boil over medium heat until tender, approximately 20 minutes. Drain and let cool. Place in a mixing bowl with eggs, cucumber, apple, and pickles. Sprinkle in herbs. Mix in mayonnaise and vinegar until well-combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside until ready to serve.

Very popular in Caucasus region, there are slight variations from Azerbaijan to Georgia. And though this dish is traditionally baked and served in individual clay pots, I cooked it in a Dutch oven. I did get to use some meat from my lamb share that I got from Farmer Shep. So happy to have ethical meat producers in my circle. Please bear in mind that this is not a traditional recipe, it's my take on the dish, so if you have a Russian grandmother, this probably isn't like hers. Sorry.

  • 2 pounds meat, cubed (I used boneless lamb)
  • 12 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
  • 1 onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 T butter
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 3 organic tomatoes, cored and diced
  • 1 C stock (I used beef stock)
  • 1/2 C red wine
  • 3 organic potatoes, cubed
  • 3 to 4 small organic eggplants, peeled and cubed
  • 1 C fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 C fresh basil, chopped
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste

Melt butter in olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add in the garlic and onions, and cook until the onions are turning translucent. Add in the meat and brown the edges. Stir in the tomatoes, stock, and wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, and cover. Let the meat braise for 90 minutes. 

Stir in the potatoes and the eggplant. Add water, if needed to mostly cover the vegetables. Bring to a boil, again. Then reduce the heat to a simmer, and cover. Cook until the eggplant is softened, but still holding their shape, approximately 30 minutes.

Stir in herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

*This blog currently has a partnership with in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to and search for the item of your choice.

I am also linking this post to the Foodie Reads Challenge. 
Here's what everyone else read in June 2017: here.


  1. I didn't think there would be a whole lot to write about Soviet cooking. I always imagined it to be very dull cuisine.

  2. I struggled with this book as well, Cam but I was listening to it. Maybe it would have been better had I read it. I am going to have to try that potato salad.

  3. I like the photo of your bag with the jury summons. My last one also lasted over 6 hours. I am glad that though the reading was not easy, the recipes were successful. Both dishes you made look great! Thank you for participating to this edition of Cook the Books :)

  4. The book was probably more enjoyable for history lovers, which is why I found it more readable, though with reservations. Good meal you got from it though.

  5. I agree--I wanted more of the food and thought much of the history was dry. I will have to make the Salat Olivier one of these days, it looks so interesting and good. ;-)

  6. At least you could put your down time at jury duty to good use! :) Both of your dishes look amazing. I guess I wanted more food too from the author and maybe some more emotions. I felt like she might have been being too ironic and I wasn't getting it.

  7. I just couldn't get through the book! Your recipes sounds absolutely divine!!

  8. I love potato salad in its many forms. My mother in law made with boiled dressing -- a delaware favorite - Cathy Branciaroli


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