Blinis, Russian in origin, are small pancakes that are traditionally made with buckwheat flour. It’s served with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraîche on top, along with either caviar or smoked salmon. Other smoked, pickled or salted fish can be substituted; the slightly sweet almost nutty-flavored pancakes are incredible with the contrasting salty fish and creamy crème fraîche. Paired with Champagne, it’s a classic appetizer to serve during the winter holidays, and is popular for Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday, but there’s no reason not to prepare blinis year-round. It’s wonderful not just with a flute filled with something bubbly, vodka is the drink of choice in Russia and makes a crowd-pleasing drink with this pancake.
Blini and caviar is a dish that’s on the Mad Men menu for those who are fans of the hit television show. Season one, episode six, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism finds itself shopping for an advertising agency and delegates pay a visit to Sterling Cooper. Early 1960s, Roger Sterling proposes positioning the young Jewish state as a land of “exotic luxury”. There’s a lot of thought behind serving the blini which speaks to the roots of many early pioneers of Israel of whom hail from Eastern Europe and Russia. More details can be found in The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook: Inside the Kitchens, Bars, and Restaurants of Mad Men. Regardless if you’re preparing a Mad Men cocktail party, buckwheat blini is a hint sweet and savory hors d’oeuvre to add to your menu any time of year. As I often say, it’s a party for your taste buds.
recipe adapted from Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous
My Search for Jewish Cooking in France by Joan Nathan
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast
3 teaspoons honey
2 1/2 cups warm whole milk
3 tablespoons melted butter
3 eggs, separated
butter, canola oil or cooking spray for frying
makes approximately 24 blinis
In a bowl dissolve the yeast in the milk and add the honey (or substitute with sugar) and set aside until bubbly for about 7-8 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix the first three dry ingredients together. Pour the dry ingredients into the yeast mixture, add the egg yolks along with the melted butter and blend well. Cover with a dish towel and set aside in a warm area for an hour.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff then slowly fold into the batter just before it’s ready to prepare on the stove. The secret to relatively round blinis is a squeeze bottle usually used to serve condiments. Pour the batter into the bottle. Heat a skillet or griddle to medium heat and coat lightly with butter. Squeeze a small amount of the batter in a circular motion onto the pan. When the batter starts to bubble on the surface, flip the blini over with a spatula and cook for roughly an additional minute. Transfer to a plate and keep warm. Serve with sour cream or crème fraîche topped with caviar or smoked fish such as salmon or lox, whitefish or trout. Garnish with dill or chopped chives.
The caviar captured here is called Tobiko, Flying Fish roe or Tobiuo in Japanese. Tobiko is referred to as the “poor man’s caviar“. Sustainable seafood is the preferred choice for any recipe; a few tips on selecting sustainable caviar on a budget. For more appetizer ideas to nibble on, try Bagna Càuda, a scrumptious and easy garlic and anchovies recipe, and try delicious freshwater prawns prepared as Gambas au Beurre d’Escargot. Cheers to happy eating!