Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Gagra Hotel

Every hash joint in Moscow is now sporting an array of non alcoholic Mojitos to lure the soft drink at dinner crowd into the fancy drink price category while actually giving them less bang (no booze) for their buck. It goes without saying that the spiritless Mojitos are comparable in price to the more spirited, although its anyones guess how much alcohol they actually put in them when they are supposed to be 'loaded'.

My inspiration comes from the variety of slushy concoctions that have arrived, many that taste pretty good. I especially appreciate the more tolerant attitude many Russian establishments are taking towards the use of ice. Yes, many places actually now put ice in their drinks and this is, more than the exotic nature of the drinks, what draws normal people to Mojitos when it is 34 outside. I was truly inspired by one establishments combination of pomegranate juice and orange juice. This reminded me of Abkhazia and . . . voila, my original Gagra Hotel was born.


1 liter pomegranate juice
1 liter orange juice
juice of one lemon
1-2 cups sparkling mineral water (or 7 up)
tons of crushed ice


Mix the liquids in a pitcher and pour into tall glasses filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a slice of orange, lime or lemon as desired.

It may seem like a lot, but you will find that on a warm day two people can take down a pitcher of Gargra Hotel in just a few minutes.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Minestrone Tomasso with Roasted Tomatoes, Garlic & Basil

Minestrone is one of the mainstays of vegan soupdom because of the flexibility of the vegetables you can put in it. Without meat stock, however, the soup often lacks depth, in my opinion, and no amount of veggies can shore it up. This is my own vegan / fasting version of minestrone. The first 9 ingredients are key to making a superior soup base and the rest can be modified by what you have on hand - you can even add frozen vegetables for a quick 'white trash' version in an emergency. Reduction of the vegetable mass is key to the tangy consistency of this vegan soup.

¼ cup olive oil
1/3 cup sherry or white wine
1 820 g can of peeled tomatoes, chopped
2-3 basil springs, stems removed, chopped (~ 20 grams)
1 medium leek, cleaned and chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 medium white onion, diced
6-8 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp Worcestershire
1 cup each of diced carrots, potatoes, zucchini and frozen peas
1 420 can white beans (Cannellini, Great Northern or Navy)
1 bunch of beetroot greens
1 1/4 liter of vegetable bullion (No-chicken bullion)
½ cup small pasta – orzo, half shell or mini elbow pasta

In a large casserole dish, add the chopped canned tomatoes with juice, garlic, celery, leek, onions and basil with the olive oil, sherry and Worchestershire. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Make sure all the vegetables get covered by the liquids. Bake the tomato and vegetable mixture in the oven on 300 C for about 1 hour or until the liquid in the vegetable mass is reduced by about 1/3 to 1/2.

In the meantime, wash, peel and cube the carrots and potatoes. Wash the zucchini and dice. Measure out 1 cup of frozen green peas. Set aside in separate bowls. Make sure all cut pieces are similar in size, about 1 ½ cm cubes. IN an emergency, you can use the same volume of your favorite frozen vegetable combination. Rinse and chop the beetroot greens.

Heat the vegetable broth. You can use vegetable bullion cubes or ‘Better than bullion' no-chicken bullion base or a homemade vegetable bullion.

When the tomato, sherry and vegetable mixture is reduced, remove half of it and puree it in a blender. Add the both the pureed vegetables and the remaining vegetable mixture from the pan to a large soup pot with simmering bullion and incorporate well. Bring to a simmer and then add the carrots, potatoes, zucchini and peas and cover and stir occasionally for about 20 minutes. Next add the beetroot greens and the pasta and continue to simmer for another 15-20 minutes. The soup will become thicker and you may want to add more broth or water (1/4 cup at a time) to thin it.

If possible, allow the soup to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve with garlic bread or in bread bowls.