Saturday, July 30, 2011


We didn't learn much about Belarus growing up. During my childhood years it was a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, and was locked safely behind the Iron Curtain. For this, I am forgiving myself for having next to no knowledge of the country.

Many people in the West have heard of the 'Axis Of Evil' - an unholy trinity between Iraq, Iran and North Korea coined by George W Bush. Well it seems Condoleezza Rice went further, and included Belarus, Burma, Zimbabwe and Cuba to form the super bad ass 'Outposts Of Tyranny' (inset evil laugh here). I don't want to downplay any human rights abuse that may occur in these countries, but I get the feeling Bush and Rice have been reading too much fantasy fiction and/or listening to death metal. Then again, when Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko sympathises with Adolf Hitler on national television, perhaps Ricey has a point. You may notice the President's name is very similar to the antagonist in the Millennium Trilogy: Alexander Zalachenko. Was Stieg trying to tell us something?

Politics aside, Belarus and Cuba also belong to the esteemed group of nations that share their name with a well known cocktail. Cuba has the Cuba Libre and Belarus the White Russian. I don't believe the drink has any actual association with the culture of Belarus, however Belarus literally translates to 'White Russia'. So if not tia maria, vodka and milk, what do the Belarusians ingest?

During the Soviet years, Belarusian folk were scornfully known as bulbashi or 'potato eaters' for their seemingly insatiable desire for the tuber. There are over 300 recorded Belarusian potato based dishes according to wikipedia. I don't know where they are recorded though: I was unaware nations were in the habit of recording recipes, and if they are it would make my job much easier. As for proteins, meat was scarce for ordinary Belarusians and apart from pork, meat does not feature regularly in the alleged tome of Belarusian recipes. At one time Belarusians were known to serve up whole fried aurochs (the huge wild ancestor to domestic cattle). Now the most common meat dish is the 'finger stuffed sausage' made from raw pork mince stuffed by hand (or more precisely finger) into a pigs intestine. I have not tried to replicate this delightful dish, but have combined the Belarusian love of pork and potato to come up with...

Belarusian Pork and Potato Pie (Babka)

1 Onion
1.3kg High-starch potatoes (eg. 
1/2 Tbsp Olive oil
1 Onion, diced
250g Lean ground pork
1/2 Tsp Dried thyme
1/2 Tsp Salt
100g Mushrooms
2 Tbsp Milk
4 Tbsp Sour cream
Salt and pepper to season


Grease a cast iron or ceramic pot and preheat the oven to 180 degrees c.

Roughly grate one of your onions and potatoes and place it in a large bowl as you go (prevent potatoes from oxidising).

Squeeze the potato-onion mixture over a sieve using your fists, letting the juice run into another bowl. Get the shreds nice and dry, and set it all aside.

Saute the diced onion in the oil over medium heat, then brown the ground pork before adding thyme and salt.

Slice the mushrooms and add them to the meat. Saute until the mushrooms start to release their juices. Deglaze the pan with one tablespoon of milk. Repeat.

Mix in half the sour cream and continue to heat the meat mixture to dry it a little. Taste for salt and pepper.

Decant the reserved potato liquid off of the settled potato starch and discard the liquid. Mix the starch and 1/2 tsp salt into the dried potato-onion shreds. 

Press 1/3 of the potato mixture into the bottom of the greased pan. Place the meat mixture on top of this base, leaving the outer 1″ bare all around. Press half of the remaining potato mixture around the sides of the meat filling, and them top the tart with all of the remaining potato (basically you want a meat filled potato crust pie).

Spread the remaining sour cream over the top of the tart. Bake for one hour.

Serve with greens, salad, whole fried auroch, finger stuffed sausage and/or white russians.

The results were not overly delicious, I suspect reasonably unhealthy, and particularly unattractive to look at, but you can't win them all.

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