by Jeremy Meadows, Cordata Deli
Ahhhh, food. You are so many things: life giver, health sustainer, joy bringer…but peacemaker? Come on! But before you scoff, skeptical reader, consider for a moment how effective food can be in bringing peaceful resolutions to many of our everyday squabbles and skirmishes. Need to stop a baby from crying? Feed it! Need to halt a pack of vicious dogs? Throw ’em a bone! Seriously, just try to stay mad at someone after they’ve made you soup. But could the pacifying powers of food be brought to bear on relations between nations?
As it turns out, there are many who think they can. Guided by the belief that the best way to people’s hearts and minds is through their stomachs, thinkers such as Paul Rockower and Sam Chapple-Sokol are pioneering a new (and more delicious) brand of peacemaking—culinary diplomacy. The idea is pretty simple: the stronger the cultural relations that exist between nations, the less willing they will be to make war and the more willing they will be to make peace. And what better way to bring everyone to the table—figuratively and literally—than with some delicious food?
"consider for a moment how effective food can be in bringing peaceful resolutions"
But even though food is very often the easiest access point to the culture of another people, it should not be the sum of our knowledge or interest in that culture—especially when our respective governments are at odds. This is the motivation behind Pittsburgh’s Conflict Kitchen, a cafe that builds its menu around the cuisine of whichever country the U.S. happens to be in conflict with at the moment. The current cuisine is Afghani, but past menus have focused on the food of Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea. Once they have lured you in with tasty arepas or kebabs, they seek to provide a richer understanding of the culture and politics of the focus country than that typically provided by traditional media or political rhetoric. Their goal is not to be subversive or edgy. They simply understand that even if our countries are at war, it is imperative to acknowledge and respect the humanity of others. And what could be more humanizing than food?
Following their lead, I’ve chosen a recipe from Russia, the focus of our conflict du jour. Regardless of whether or not Russia’s recent actions are justifiable, it cannot be denied that there is much work to be done in the department of cross-cultural understanding between our two nations. So, let’s begin with pancakes! Just be sure to invite some friends—or better yet enemies—over to enjoy it.
Blini • Russian Buckwheat Pancakes
INGREDIENTS for the BLINI
- ¾ cup white flour
- 1¼ cup buckwheat flour
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1¼ teaspoon quick-rise dry yeast
- 1 egg, separated
- 1¼ cup milk (whole or 2%)
- (These can be made gluten free by omitting the white flour and upping the buckwheat flour to
2 cups, but they won’t be quite as fluffy.)
INGREDIENTS for SWEET TOPPING
- 1 cup blueberries or other berry (if large, like a strawberry, slice thin)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons lime juice
- creme fraiche
INGREDIENTS for SAVORY TOPPING
- 1–2 ounces smoked salmon
- ¾ cup creme fraiche
- 1 tablespoon each finely chopped fresh dill, tarragon, and chives
- In a large bowl whisk flours together with salt and yeast.
- In another bowl whisk together egg yolk and milk. Reserve egg white.
- Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. Pour in egg yolk and milk. Mix until smooth, then cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place to let the batter rise, at least two hours, preferably four.
- Meanwhile, make the toppings. Add the blueberries to a small bowl with sugar and lime juice and mix. In another bowl mix 3/4 cup creme fraiche with herbs. Keep in fridge.
- Once batter has risen, whisk egg white until stiff, then fold into batter.
- Cook as you would cook tiny pancakes. Coat the bottom of a large skillet with grapeseed or vegetable oil to ¼-inch depth and heat over medium high. When the oil is hot, carefully add the batter, about 1 large tablespoon for each blini. Don’t overcrowd. When the bottoms are browned and the tops are bubbling flip and cook other side.
- Remove to a plate, top each with a little butter, and keep warm while you cook the rest. Top some with smoked salmon and a small dollop of herbed creme fraiche, and others with blueberry mixture and plain creme fraiche.