Classics Also Quarrel: Russian Pot Pie

The rich also cry, as we all know. It is less known, however, that the classics also quarrel. We tend to perceive them as larger than life, rather not susceptible to flaws and frailties  of us, ordinary humans.  Take, for example, Leo Tolstoy, “the greatest apostle of non-violence that the present age has produced” (Mahatma Gandhi), staunch defender of the peasants’ rights, and a patriarch of a huge family.

Ilya_Repin_-_Leo_Tolstoy_Barefoot_-_Google_Art_Project

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Ilya Repin. 

Undoubtedly one of the greatest writers of all times, a philosopher and proponent of social justice, the barefoot Count Tolstoy had a judgmental, unforgiving personality. A brilliant officer, decorated for bravery, he became disillusioned by the tragedy of warfare, resigned his commission, and repaired to Tolstoy family estate Yasnaya Polyana.  The famous “War and Peace” epic appeared a few years later.

The Coming Out, known as “Natasha’s First Ball” from the remarkable 1967 Mosfilm production of “War and Peace” by Sergei Bondarchuk, enchanting music by Dmitri Shostakovich. This is the high society, aristocratic atmosphere surrounding young Count Leo Tolstoy (Tolstoys considered themselves more ancient, and thus more truly princely, than the Romanovs).

From the same film: Natasha Rostova is visiting her uncle in his estate, uncle is persuaded to play guitar, and Natasha spontaneously breaks into a Russian folk dance. Peasant women, at first skeptical of a young aristocrat faking simple peasant moves, eventually smile with obvious pleasure and approval. The voiceover reads straight from Tolstoy’s text: “When, where, and how did this little Countess, raised in silks and velvets, brought up by a foreign governess, absorbed – it must have been from the Russian air itself! – the spirit of this dance, the inimically, unmistakably Russian movements?”

Tolstoy working in the field

Leo Tolstoy Working in the Field by Ilya Repin.

By the same token, how did a dashing young officer, a scion of the creme-de-la-creme of Russian aristocracy, transition from roaming St Petersburg ballrooms to ploughing the fields? Many had asked this question, but none more insistently than his closest friend, another Russian classic, Ivan Turgenev, who, although criticizing useless aristocracy in the character of Oblomov, continued leading the same lifestyle himself. Best fiends for many years, they had a squabble caused by one of Tolstoy’s contemptuous comments and Turgenev’s vehement reaction to it. They didn’t speak for 17 years. You can find many fascinating details in a post by lovely Yulia who runs a “Literary Food Blog” https://gingerpage.com/2018/06/28/tolstoy_turgenev. I found her through another great blogger, Brigitta Moro of https://alksnisvindans.wordpress.com. Both ladies blog in Russian, but Mr Google is always ready to help – believe me, it’s worth it!

leo-tolstoy-with-his-wife-in-yasnaya-polyana-ilya-efimovich-repin

Leo Tolstoy with His Wife by Ilya Repin.

Eventually, Tolstoy made the first move by writing to Turgenev. Turgenev eagerly responded, and Tolstoy’s wife, the eternal peacemaker Sophia Andreevna, cooked a very special “truly Russian” dinner for two literary giants. Turgenev had requested a chicken pot pie, her specialty, and it was gladly made for him.

tolstoy_turgenev2.jpg

This is not the pie made by Sophia Tolstoy, but the one made by Yulia, who tweaked the original recipe somewhat (photo credit is hers). I picked up her recipe and tweaked it a lot more. I must admit that Yulia’s pie looks gorgeous – much prettier by far than mine!

Fish pot pie 1   Fish pot pie 2

The first tweaking step was my decision to use fish instead of chicken. You can use chicken, if you wish, and follow the same recipe, but fish pies have always been a major part of traditional Russian cuisine, and that salmon filet in my freezer just begged to be used. So I listened to it and cut it into bite size pieces. I sautéed some onion and quickly seared my salmon pieces with onion.

Fish pot pie 1a

While the barely cooked salmon was cooling, I got the rest of the staffing ready. Contrary to American pot pies, full of vegetables, Russian pies are stuffed with rice or buckwheat, in addition to meat or fish. I prefer to use brown rice, and I added some Smart Balance to it, and lots of fresh cilantro (coriander). Meanwhile, I hard-boiled an egg and left two more eggs raw.

Fish pot pie 3

At this point, you might decide to do layers, alternating the fish or meat with rice, or you can go the lazy way, which is what I did, by mixing fish, rice, fresh dill, chopped hard-boiled egg and one raw egg, adding salt and pepper, and putting it aside for a while.

Fish pot pie 4   Fish pot pie 5

I am making cut dough in my food processor by pulsing Whole Wheat flour (another tweaking) with Smart Balance (tweaking #3), and I think you can see the crumbles. When you achieve this consistency, turn it over to a floured board, add some cold water and the remaining raw egg, and kneed until soft, pliable dough doesn’t stick to your hands. Wrap it in wax paper and refrigerate for about half an hour.

Fish pot pie 6.jpg

Meanwhile, we can take care of the last and most important part of this creation – the sauce. The original Sophia Tolstoy’s recipe, repeated by Yulia, calls for chicken stock, but I was cooking fish, and I didn’t have any fish or vegetable stock on hand. I did have some lovely white Zinfandel (it’s actually pink, as you know), and that’s what I whisked together with some more Smart Balance and very little flour, while heating it up on very low flame. That was my final tweaking.

Fish pot pie 7   Fish Pot Pie fin

Assemble this pie as you would any other closed pie: roll out approximately 2/3 of the dough, press it into pie form, fill it with stuffing, pour sauce over stuffing, and seal the lid, which is the remaining 1/3 of the dough. Glaze it with whisked egg yolk, punch a few holes to let steam out, and 40 minutes later – voila! – you have this beauty.

Fish pot pie Fin 1

It has proven to be quite versatile; served hot right out of the oven, served reheated the next day, or served cold as a leftover, with strong horseradish on the side, it was equally delicious and so very Russian!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 lb chicken or fish
    1/2 cup cooked rice
    3 eggs + 1 egg yolk
    1/5 large onion, diced
    1 cup + 1 tbsp. whole wheat flour
    1/2 cup + 1 tbsp Smart Balance or any butter substitute of your choice
  • 1/5 cup chicken stock or white/rose wine
    Cilantro and dill, chopped
    Salt and pepper to taste

PROCEDURE

  • Cut flour with cold butter substitute until crumbles. Add 1 raw egg and 2 – 3 of cold water. Kneed until soft and pliable doesn’t stick to hands. Wrap into wax paper, refrigerate for 30 minutes.
    If making chicken stuffing,  cook chicken in water with a pinch of salt until ready. Cool, debone, cut into bite size pieces.
  • *Note: fish does not have to be pre-cooked.
    Mix warm rice with 1/2 cup butter substitute and cilantro. Hard boil and chop 1 egg.
    Sauté onion until soft, add chicken or fish pieces, sear for a few minutes, cool.
    Combine chicken or fish, cooked with onion, with rice, chopped hard-boiled egg, one raw egg, and dill. Add salt and pepper, mix well. Put aside.
    Melt 1 tablespoon of butter substitute in sauce pan, add chicken stock or wine, gradually add 1 tablespoon of flour, whisk to avoid curdling. Simmer until thickens.
    Preheat oven to 400 F. Oil pie form. Roll 2/3 of dough, press into pie form. Fill with stuffing, pour sauce over stuffing. Roll remaining dough, seal, paint with egg yolk whisked with water. Punch several holes to let out steam.
    Bake for 35 – 40 minutes until golden. Serve hot or cool and refrigerate.

Enjoy!

72 Comments Add yours

  1. Narine says:

    Thank you for a very interesting and touching article!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for a lovely comment, dear Narine!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The pie looks lovely, and the tale of the reconciliation of two great novelists (both of which I have enjoyed) is marvellous

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment, Derrick

      Liked by 1 person

  3. weggieboy says:

    That version of “War and Peace” was eight hours and four minutes long! Bring your pajamas, and be ready for a marathon film treat!

    My Scottish grandmother used to make a meat pie that was simpler than others in that it was basically browned ground beef in a bechamel sauce and the best double crust I ever ate! I don’t recall that it had more than salt and pepper to season it, or if it even had onions, but those meat pies were a treat.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That film was the first Soviet attempt at mini-series, but for lack of television, it was shown in theatres, two series at a time. It really is a phenomenal production with an all-star cast. Bondarchuk has been praised for his battle scenes, but in my humble opinion, it’s the scenes like the ones I’ve included that are the best. And, of course, the music…
      I can almost taste your grandmother’s meat pies, with your description, Doug!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. weggieboy says:

        I never thought of it as a mini-series, which wouldn’t be any big deal to sit through…in one’s livingroom!

        Like

      2. Of course, as soon as they invented television.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. weggieboy says:

        The best one ever, among several really good ones I’ve watched, is the James Herriot ones, “All Creatures Great and Small”.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I’ll have to look it up. We don’t have TV as such. We pull up what we want through ROKU and watch it on the screen.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. weggieboy says:

        It’s about a Yorkshire veterinarian in the time between the World Wars. He’s new to the job and his new boss is eccentric in a charming way and had a brother who is basically lazy and unreliable but always manages to redeem himself in some way. Anyway, that poor description does nothing to cvapture the charm of the Yorkshire countryside and the characters who inhabit it!

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I am looking forward to finding and enjoying it. Thank you for recommendation.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. spearfruit says:

    Very interesting Dolly. I love Tolstoy’s literary work and of course your delicious receipe’s!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Gary!

      Like

  5. GP Cox says:

    It looks great, but I’d use the chicken.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would’ve used the chicken, too, and I will, next time, but that salmon had to be utilized, and I’ve always been intrigued by the Russian fish pies.
      Thank you for stopping by, GP!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The Tolstoy story was fascinating, and the recipe sounds wonderful. Thanks for such a great start to a summer day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Ronnie! The recipe sounds complicated at first glance, but it’s really quite simple and easy. Enjoy your day, dear friend!

      Like

  7. Wonderful, Dolly! Every time i see the images of your backing i instantly get hungry. 😉 The best is, its healthy too. Thank you so much for entertaining with very useful postings. Best wishes, Michael

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Michael. Have a lovely day!

      Like

  8. Fascinating history, will have to return to this! 😊 ps – love the art work too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Felipe, for your kind comment. All paintings in this post are by a famous Russian artist Ilya Repin; I am glad you appreciate his work.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m glad u notated him – I esp like the “working the field” one; very impressionist & filled with life!

        Like

      2. You put your finger on it, dear Felipe. Even though Repin was unique as a “critical realist,” and his early influence was Velasquez, later he was very much influenced by Eduard Manet.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. That’s really interesting! Manet, I think, isn’t given enough credit for helping initiate the Impressionist movement. ‘Course I wasn’t there, but I got that impression from looking at his work before I “learned” he wasn’t a real impressionist, lol!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. You were luckier than I: I first learned that “Impressionism” derived its name from “Picnic on the Grass,” and then saw the works of Manet, as well as the others.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Ahhh, the plot of history and knowledge thickens, lol! I’d heard early on Impressionism came via Monet’s roughly sketched water/boat/sunset in the group’s 1st major exhibition, via a reviewer’s (?) remark the art looked like “merely” an impression 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      6. That much is true, or at least a viable historical anecdote, but the label did not become official until the the scandalous “Picnic on the Grass. Impression.”

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Ahhh, interesting to know. I was very embroiled for awhile in learning about that time period; still my fav art 💕 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      8. One of my favorite art styles as well, but I am passionate about everything that comes out of FLorence, the cradle of Renaissance.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. What a wonderful place for a fav! I’ve never been but everyone I know who has loved it! 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      10. Ah, don’t even start me on it! I can talk forever…

        Liked by 1 person

      11. Ahhhahaha, sounds like the impulse for a series of blog posts! 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      12. I’ve done some posts on Italy and specifically on Florence, but all my posts start with a recipe, and then I go wherever the recipe takes me.

        Liked by 1 person

      13. Seems to work! Maybe play with the titles to indicate the historical portion? Though I think ur titles are already fun & lightly teasing 😊 Classics also Quarrel

        Liked by 1 person

      14. Great suggestion, Felipe; thank you! I generally go wherever the recipes take me. Right now I am somewhere between Hawaii and Pakistan, with another one hanging in the air.

        Like

      15. That’s an interesting juxtaposition — Hawaii & Pakistan! 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      16. Oh, I am sorry I was unclear: those are two different recipes.

        Like

      17. My mistake 🙂 No wonder they were an interesting juxtaposition, lol! Thanks so much, Dolly! Btw, what a great bio page you have too! ❤️

        Liked by 1 person

      18. I am not surprised, darling; I do crazy juxtapositions sometimes!

        Liked by 1 person

      19. A creative talent for sure! 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      20. More like crazy, funky swirling of ideas and images, but thank you just the same, darling!

        Like

      21. Velasquez is also an interesting piece of the puzzle re Repin then. I “generally” remembered his work, dark, brooding (I thought), but Wikipedia had this, “His early works were painted on canvases prepared with a red-brown ground. He adopted the use of light-gray grounds during his first trip to Italy, and continued using them for the rest of his life.[35] The change resulted in paintings with greater luminosity and a generally cool, silvery range of color.” Then on to Manet? Yeah, another early fan of Impressionism! I’m just a layman re art history, but I think the thread is there, closely stitched and nearly hidden 😊 — thanks so much for the very cool info! — https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diego_Velázquez .

        Liked by 1 person

      22. Yes, certainly, Velasquez has picked up the lighter feeling in Italy, where High Renaissance was transitioning to Baroque, with its glorious colors. Before him, Spanish masters were still mired in Gothic darkness. I wouldn’t call Las Meninas dark, or The Bacchus. Unfortunately, reproductions very rarely convey the true ambiance of a piece of art.
        Thank you, Felipe, for an interesting conversation.

        Like

      23. You’re quite welcome & a “very” likewise thanks to you, fun stuff! 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  9. A delicious way to make peace between estranged friends!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Mimi, for stopping by!

      Like

  10. purpleslob says:

    Your stories are even better than “War and Peace”!! Because I can read the whole thing in one sitting!
    Your pie looks great. I love your versatility!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, dear purple person. I am working on another recipe, dedicated to you. In the process of experimenting!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Made and photographed, coming up soon!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. purpleslob says:

        Can’t wait, dear Dolly! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Great combination of interesting post, and hearty delicious dish. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Ronit; it really came out so good, that the guests we had on that Shabbat told their friends, and the following Shabbat I had to repeat it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s the best compliment! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  12. chattykerry says:

    Wonderful historical tale and recipe with a hilarious typo – apparently Tolstoy and Turgenev were best ‘fiends’. Don’t change it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know I will, dear Kerry, but I agree – it’s funny! In my defense, I can say that it wasn’t a Freudian slip, but a plump cat slipping under my elbow. Thank you so much for a lovely comment!

      Like

      1. chattykerry says:

        A plump cat is a perfect defense! 😺

        Liked by 1 person

  13. As always a great, fun and historical read followed a tasty recipe. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Элена says:

    Как вкусно выглядит пирог. И какая интересная история! Спасибо!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Благодарю, но историю впервые рассказала Юля. Рецепт, разумеется, мой. Очеь рада, что Бы загланули на мой блог, милая Леночка, и с большим интересом буду читать Ваши полезные советы.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Самой стыдно за опечатки! “Вы заглянули”

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    AN INTERESTING LOOK AT RUSSIAN COOKING—AND FAMOUS LITERARY FOLK—WHO ARE HUMAN, AFTERALL! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging and a lovely comment, Jonathan!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Just superb. I love pies so much. I hope you will soon visit and follow my blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Sumit, for stopping by and leaving a lovely comment. I am looking forward to exploring your interesting blog.

      Like

  17. Very touching post, beautiful painting and pie looks lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Rozina; you are very kind.

      Liked by 1 person

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