Books and the Dishes They Contain (part 1) featured a cold Russian soup that the character Sophia from the book A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW loved. Count Rostov, a character in the same book, enjoyed a Latvian stew while staying at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow. For some people, this stew might taste bland. Latvian food originated from the peasant culture and generally is highly fatty with few spices, wine, or stock used to add flavor. Most of the recipes only use black pepper, dill, and caraway seeds. The ingredients used in the stew might be rye, wheat, oats, peas, beets, onions, carrots, apricots, prunes, cabbage, potatoes, pork products, and fish.
Latvian stew, although simple in composition, is a delicious comfy food. It is the blending of the flavors that makes this simple stew something people enjoy eating over and over again. To achieve the best stew possible, it is imperative to use a fatty pork shoulder or butt. The onions need to cook until they turn a deep golden brown and give off a smoky essence. Try the recipe below and see if you agree with Count Rostov who described the onions in the stew as being thoroughly caramelized, the pork in the stew as being slowly braised, and the apricots as being stewed just so briefly.
3 pounds boneless pork shoulder (trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces)
Salt and black pepper (for seasoning the pork shoulder)
6 tablespoons vegetable oil (divided into two bowls of 3 tablespoons each)
6 carrots (peeled, trimmed, sliced crosswise)
4 tablespoons tomato paste
5 cups dried apricots
1 pound white boiling onions (peeled and cut into 6 wedges each)
1 cup pitted prunes
Season pork with the salt and pepper
On medium-high, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large heavy bottomed pot
Cook the pork in the oil (stir occasionally) until the meat releases its juices and is no longer pink (about 5 minutes)
Add the carrots to the pot (cook until slightly tender)
Add the tomato paste and water (stir until mixed)
Add the apricots
Bring pot to a boil
Reduce heat to medium-low (gently simmer for 45 minutes)
While the pot ingredients are simmering, do the following:
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil
Add the onions, stirring often until the onions are a deep golden brown (about 15 minutes)
Add the onions and prunes to the stew and simmer over medium-low heat until the pork is tender and the sauce has thickened (about 30 minutes)
For added fiber, serve boiled potatoes garnished with butter and chopped fresh parsley.
Part 3 of Books and the Dishes They Contain will feature a Hungarian dessert from the book A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW. It is a sinfully rich layered pastry with chocolate buttercream and caramel topping. It was invented in 1884 and remained a secret until 1906. It was so popular, it was transported by horse-drawn cart to Vienna, Berlin, and Paris.