Living with my Babushka, Marina Nikolaevna, has been замечательно so far. (Awesome). I have woken up on more than one occasion to her watching Russia’s answer to the Home Shopping Network and yelling at the TV whether she thought the prices were fair. From what I’ve gathered, they really aren’t.
Aside from being a highly opinionated shopper, my Bab is a great cook. She has exhibited every day since my arrival in the ice box we call Russia a characteristic which I value above all else in the kitchen: flexibility. Russia, as I have said before, is not a country for vegetarians. I’m fairly sure that smetana (sour cream) courses through Russians’ veins instead of blood (either that or vodka). My babushka has made delicious vegan meals for me day after day, noting what she leaves out from their meaty/eggy/cottage cheese-y equivalents. Still, when Maslenitsa arrived on the horizon she looked at me skeptically. You see, Maslenitsa is a week-long folk carnival with pagan/Orthodox roots that revolves mainly around eating these skinny pancakes called blini. Blini resemble French crêpes and are typically made with milk and eggs. When I assured her that it could be done my babushka gave me this look usually reserved for when I try to leave the house without a hat but agreed to try it out.
The result? Amazing. I had seven of them tonight and plan on having at least another dozen tomorrow morning. The secrets to the perfect blini are as follows:
- a very hot skillet. Cast iron. Small if you have/can find one! My babushka has one she uses exclusively for blini. Heat until it starts to smoke
- a very thin layer of oil. She uses sunflower and I recommend it, though coconut would probably be delicious too
- a thin, flat knife for flipping. I have attempted similar endeavors with a spatula and it will. not. work.
- take a small ladle and spoon it onto the skillet. Pick the skillet up and swivel your wrist to spread a thin layer all over the base. Don’t worry if they’re not perfectly round but aim to reach the edges
- patience! the first one will always suck. The second one will almost always suck. The third one will be a little burnt but good. By the end they’ll be perfect and golden like sunshine.
My Babushka’s Blini
She refuses to give me measurements for anything so this is from observing. Basically you want to achieve a loose batter which is much more watery than that of “pancakes” but has some girth to it when you pick it up with a spoon. Add flour and water as necessary plus salt/sugar to taste.
- 4 cups water
- 2 cups wheat flour
- 3 Tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 Tablespoons sunflower oil, plus more for the pan
1. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and use a handheld mixer to stir. I would say just use a spoon but you reallllly want it to be smooth so borrow one from a friend or your grandma. Mix until all ingredients are incorporated.
2. Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Once it starts to smoke reduce to a low flame. Add a bit of oil to your skillet. Holding the pan in your hand, spoon in a medium ladle’s worth of batter and swivel with your wrist to spread the batter over the base. Cook until the center solidifies and bubbles a bit, 3-4 minutes or longer. Pop any large bubbles with a knife.
3. Flip! Use your flat knife to loosen the edges then lift from the center. As my Bab said infinity times “the second side cooks quickly!” so you’ll only need to cook it another minute or so.
Enjoy with: jam, fruit, vegan nutella, nut butters, maple syrup, chocolate, whatever! They’re also amazing with savory so take that wherever your heart desires. As long as you’re wearing your hat.