Oladi and Grilled Zucchini (later)

I have to get a couple things out of the way.

  1. You know what's good? Toast.
  2. One cannot survive, it turns out, by sheer pluck. (Except in the filums.) There. Sometimes I just have to get the declarative out of my system. These shiny sentences (okay, really not so shiny) just must be put down, however pointless.

I also have to say I find that as the weather gets colder I want to cook more. I find myself cooking new things, because, well, I am bored and stumble into things on the Internet. For instance, oladi. What are oladi? Russian kefir pancakes. Although some recipes I found called for sour cream or buttermilk. It's all roughly the same image--small pancakes made from fermented dairy products.

Most every site skips the kefir part in their English translation of their name though, choosing simply "Russian pancakes." I will of course turn this molehill into a mountain of linguo-cultural powerplays. I know you count on me for this sort of thing. English has a word, "pancake," hence there is a category of things called pancakes, of which "Russian pancakes" are one. There are pancakes all over the world of various forms. "Pancake" offers us a way of seeing all these as variations on a theme. In France they do it that way, in Scotland that way, in Russia that way, and so on. Even dosa are on the Wikipedia page for pancake. It appears that all that is needed to be a pancake is to be cooked on a relatively flat surface heated from below and to be themselves relatively flat. It is a versatile word. Those Russian things can be called pancakes as well as those dry, horrible things one gets in IHOP. But one wouldn't call the Russian kind simply "pancakes"--this is a special pancake. Oh lord--what am I trying to get at with this tiresome rhetoric? That perhaps in some universe not permeated by English, oladi are their own thing, and not a subset of pancakes. But the cold war is over, and the "Traditional Russian Food" blog that is the first Google hit for "oladi" declares "American recipes are my new passion!"

Some of you are perhaps laughing and rolling your eyes that I'm seeking some "Traditional Russian Food" idyll of otherness, defending oladi as a Thing when I don't even know really what they are. Well, let's move on to exhibit two, the ingredient that defines oladi's difference and requires "Russian" to be tacked on to "pancake"--kefir. How do you say kefir? Being one of those annoying people who tries to pronounce foreign or even foreign-looking words correctly, I had always pronounced it "kehfeer". At some point I discovered that everyone else pronounces it "keefur". I won't bother defending my pathetic way of saying it, but I will say that "keefur" sounds like some kind of Americana--like one could, rather than getting a milkshake with your burger or hot dog, you could get kefir. It sounds, I don't know, hammy enough, drawly enough. Somehow it sounds not like a weird health food item at all, but something almost lude in its ordinariness, some kind of greasy staff of life. My point being that sounds matter. But sounds do not echo in a vacuum, either--in that sense "Russian pancakes" is true enough because all I hear in "oladi" is some kind of slavic-sounding word, and only that because I already read that they're Russian.

Here is another way of looking at it: I made pancakes (for the fourteen millionth time), but this time I made them with kefir (ooh la la), enabling me to have a five-hundred-word wank about "oladi" and English translations thereof.

Well, anyway. Let me tell you: Do not attempt to follow the recipe in the first Google hit for oladi. Leave that to poor schmucks like myself. You, not being a schmuck, will probably recognize the problem with this recipe immediately from the ingredient list:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 pt kefir = 0.5 liter
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 7-8 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda slaked in vinegar

Yes, that's 1 pint kefir (of course, you may wonder, as I did: U.S. or Imperial pint, neither of which, by the way, is actually half a liter), one egg, and 1/2 cup of flour. The batter is almost entirely kefir. That's like trying to pan-fry a yogurt parfait. (As a side note, yogurt might be another substitution for kefir, but for reasons I don't fathom, a wrong one. If I made pancakes from only yogurt, eggs, flour, and baking powder, they would come out horribly flat, dense, uncooked, and pudding-like on the inside. Pancakes made with kefir on the other hand can be made to be fluffy, I promise.) It sputtered like someone's effervescent sick in the pan--rather rude of it to do on the shiny cast-iron pan I cleaned for the occasion--and burned almost immediately. Despite being nearly ashen, the exterior was not crisp, and the interior was goo. For some reason, I ate it.

Also for some reason (well, actually, that's doubtful) it was only at this point it dawned on me that this recipe might be a bit dodgy. So I took immediate resuscitative action: I cracked another egg in there, and another half cup of flour. Still they hardly rose and their texture could hardly be called "cake". Another half cup of flour, and another teaspoon of lemon-juice-soaked baking soda. (I forgot to mention that this was the most unfamiliar part of this recipe: baking soda with vinegar poured over it. But I chose to use lemon juice, because I don't know--vinegar pancake = ew?) Hallelujah, I had finally arrived at something resembling a pancake, and even resembling the pretty photos of golden discs that had drawn me to this recipe in the first place. It was too bad I didn't have any raspberries, rustic baskets, or unidentifiable green herbs. I would write down the recipe that actually worked, but I have unwittingly encrypted the proportions in the fact that I had already poured out some unknown portion of the batter before adding my extra ingredients. But basically it would be the second Google hit, which I turned to for guidance.

It's a bit late to tell you anything about grilled zucchini, isn't it? Well, except that the deck where the grill stands is now too covered in leaves, dog shit, and bits of paper and plastic that the dogs have decided to chew for grilling to be an appealing proposition.

Here's my recipe.

19 October 2011



take one

take one

take two

the photo from Traditional Russian Food

take three

take three