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Comfort food from Russia, made with love

13 May 2009 2,365 views No Comment

After Sunday morning church services each week, members of St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church – a Russian Orthodox Church in Boise – break their fast with a communal potluck meal.

“It emphasizes the fact that we are a family, that our parish is a family É that we’re linked to one another, that we’re connected to one another,” Father David Moser said of the meal, called trapeza.

Those members of the church who hail from Russia and former Soviet republics regularly share favorite dishes from the old country with fellow congregants, half of whom are American by birth.

You, too, can get a taste of Russia on Friday and Saturday during the Fourth annual Russian Food Festival.

“A lot of this stuff is comfort food. It’s not extravagant,” Moser said. “It gives you a warm feeling inside.”

Foodies who have attended the festival in years past took home bags of tasty items, including everything from blini (pancakes filled with beef and mushrooms or cottage cheese) to cabbage provencal (dilled cabbage salad with cranberries, grapes, apples and almonds).

This year, a beef Stroganov lunch will be offered as part of the festivities.

Preparations for the two-day festival typically begin two months in advance and entail a lot of time in the kitchen.

“It brings us together. We really get to know each other,” said Elena DeYoung, whose Meridian home was a beehive of culinary activity last week.

Making more than 5,000 pelmeni, or Russian-style stuffed dumplings, by hand takes a lot of time.

“It comes from Siberia. The winter is very long there, and the whole family was making pelmeni,” said DeYoung, whose familial roots are in Russia, though she grew up in the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan.

Pelmeni, which look like ravioli, are typically topped with sour cream, ketchup, barbecue sauce or soy sauce.

Beef and beef-and-pork pelmeni are just two of more than a dozen food items that will be sold at the festival this year. Everything sold at the food festival is made from all-natural ingredients, with no additives or preservatives.

“We don’t like junk food,” DeYoung said.

What makes the food at this festival special isn’t just the right blending of natural ingredients, Boisean Yelena Brooks said.

“When you cook with love and passion, when you cook for people, it makes the food different,” said Brooks, who left Moscow 14 years ago but never gave up the foods of her native home.

Look for Brooks’ tasty desserts, including Anastasia’s coffee shariki (vodka in these dessert balls give them kick) and Russian chocolate log (chocolate, almond and dark rum).

The top selling items are usually the piroshki (turnovers stuffed with meat), the vodka dessert balls, borscht (beet soup) and blini.

Last year, the Russian Food Festival raised about $14,000. Proceeds go to the construction of a new church and community center, which will feature Russian architecture, including roof-top cupolas, or domes.

Bells are another highly desired feature. Brooks recalls hearing her grandmother – and other babushkas – talk about how bells ward off evil.

“They tell you the best gift you can have at the end of your life is to be buried near a monastery or cemetery because there’s bell-ringing,” Brooks said.

St. Seraphim attracts 30 to 40 people on any give Sunday. What they share is faith.

“It was the original church that dates back to the time of the Apostles,” said Matushka Rebekah Moser, David Moser’s wife. Some of church’s services (liturgy) date back to the 4th century Orthodox Church.

“It’s awe inspiring and humbling. You’re carrying a tremendous tradition, based in centuries,” David Moser said. “It’s also very comforting and secure. This is stuff that has been tested by time. By good years and bad years, by praise and by fire.”

The festivities also will include college students reading great Russian literature aloud (in English). Books, wooden dolls and scarves will be among the other items on sale.

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