Siberian-born Alissa Timoshkina has made it her mission to paint a “more authentic portrait” of Russian and Siberian cuisine beyond the stereotypical images of blinis with caviar or grey, lifeless plates of meat and cabbage.
It’s quite an undertaking with pervasive images such as these. Separated into starters, sides and salads; soups; main dishes; pickles and ferments; desserts; and drinks; the more I read, the more intrigued I was by the culinary context in which Timoshkina sets her cookbook. Siberia is a vast region that, due to its size, extreme climate and history of resettlement and exile, has become a melting pot of culinary traditions, from Ukraine and the Caucasus to central Asia, Mongolia and Korea.
In some ways the books meets expectations, such as in the salmon and caviar blini cake recipe, with its thin lacy crêpes layered with fresh herbs, cucumber, salmon and caviar and smothered with cream cheese. But it was far less carnivorous than expected and many recipes, such as the traditionally meaty soup okroshka, have been given a vegetarian makeover.
The crayfish and spinach ‘rice pudding’ and bird cherry cake served with sour cream particularly piqued my interest, while the pan-fried cod on a vibrant red bed of pepper, carrot and tomato purée will quickly dispel any notion of Russian food being grey.
Salt & Time may contain plenty of cabbage, potatoes and beetroot, and numerous recipes rely on sauerkraut, kvass (a low-alcohol beer) or rassol (a type of pickling liquid) – fermentation being a means of coping with shortages during the long winters – but as well as celebrating traditional Russian food, it elevates it and lightens traditionally heavy dishes for the modern palate.
Timoshkina has lovingly curated Salt & Time, drawing on research, experience in hosting pop-ups and supper clubs, her own food memories and her family’s culinary traditions, resulting in a book that celebrates the Russian kitchen while also providing a fresh perspective that infects even a cynical reader with enthusiasm.
Salt & Time: Recipes from a Russian Kitchen, by Alissa Timoshkina (Mitchell Beazley, £25)