Lavender Liqueur

Dear Oleńka,

It seems that all I ever talk about with anyone anymore is the weather (it's either that or, you know, grad school). New England weather is famously fickle, but here it is May and I still haven't put away the last of my winter clothes...


Last weekend I spent my Saturday at the annual ohanami party organized by a friend of a friend. It was (finally) sunny and (kind of) warm, but unfortunately the cherry blossoms did not oblige. I had to console myself with the colorful company and the colorful sailboats on the Charles. 

MIT sailing

I’m leaving dreary Cambridge behind for a couple of days in (hopefully less dreary) San Francisco. In the meantime, I will leave you with my favorite recipe for imbuing life with a little more floral flavor, perfect for when the weather won't cooperate (or on any other occasion!). 

Lavender liqueur

1 liter of vodka
1 cup lavender buds
2 cups honey
Zest of one lemon

Combine ingredients in a 1.5 liter jar. Seal tightly and shake to mix. Let infuse for two weeks, shaking periodically. Strain through cheesecloth in order to remove the lavender buds. Store in a tightly sealed bottle. 

lavender liqueur
Posted on May 9, 2016 and filed under Recipes.

Spiced Coffee Cookies

Dear Oleńka,

Supposedly it’s already April, and in theory spring should be firmly established by now, but this week the charming Boston climate has been treating us to snowstorms, hailstorms, and veritably arctic temperatures. The Sunday snow frustrated my ambitious plans to go grocery shopping and decidedly discouraged me from going outside. Clearly in such cases the only solution is to bake something.


Because I was snowbound, I was confronted with a paucity of ingredients, and I had to get a little creative. These cookies have a bit of everything—warm spices, coffee, maple syrup, booze. They turned out subtly sweet with a rich, nutty flavor. They would be really good with walnuts, and even better with pecans (but that would have required a trip to the grocery store).


Spiced Coffee Cookies 

1 cup oil
1.5 cups sugar
1 tsp baking soda
6 tbs coffee
3 tbs maple syrup
1 tsp crème de cacao
1 tsp amaretto
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
½ tsp ground ginger

2 eggs
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour

-Using an electric mixer, beat together oil and sugar until smooth.

-Beat in coffee, maple syrup, crème de cacao, amaretto, spices, and baking soda.

-Mix in eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth.

-Add in flour, one cup at a time, and mix until combined.

-Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes.

-Scoop dough onto parchment-lined baking sheets by the teaspoonful.

-Bake in preheated oven at 350F/180C for about 10-12 minutes.

Posted on April 7, 2016 and filed under Recipes.

Coffee, Chocolate, and Salted Caramel Pain Perdu

Dear Marysia,

First of all, don't you think that this recipe sounds fancy? I feel like I have finally achieved the ultimate combination of laziness and efficiency. 

I came up with the idea for this dessert because I thought it was about time to post a recipe for something sweet, but as you know, I'm not very good with baking, so whenever I have to serve a dessert I always try to avoid anything that involves the oven.

Pain perdu, which is just a sophisticated name for French toast, is my ultimate go-to in this scenario, but I wanted to give it a little spin and, to be honest, it turned out better than I could have expected. The whole trick is that I added some espresso to the usual egg and milk mixture. The effect is really surprising, because it somehow gives the toast a kind of nutty twist. As to the rest of the ingredients—you just can't go wrong with caramel and chocolate, the final result just had to be delicious!

For this recipe I use a day-old classic French brioche, but feel free to use any other kind of sweet bread.

Also, I don't make my own caramel—I buy it (I'm soooooooo lazy), so feel free to do the same. If the caramel is not salted, just add a little sea salt. If you want to make it yourself, use this great recipe from Saveur.

For 2 servings:

4 small slices of day-old brioche (or other sweet bread)

1 free range egg

4 tablespoons of full fat milk

1 shot of espresso 

1 teaspoon of sugar

A generous tablespoon of butter

Salted caramel (I used about 2 tablespoons per serving, but use as much as you like)

Very dark chocolate (Same proportions as with caramel), grated


Whisk egg, milk, coffee and sugar in a bowl until well combined and dip both sides of the brioche slices so they are evenly soaked in the mixture. 

Fry in butter on medium heat for about 3 minutes on each side until the bread is golden brown.

Place the slices of brioche on plates, pour heated caramel on top, and sprinkle with chocolate.

This is my ultimate stress-free dessert!

Posted on March 10, 2016 and filed under Recipes.

Pickled Daikon Radish

Dear Oleńka,

This past weekend the East Coast was hit by its first major winter storm of the year. In the U.S., this type of extreme weather event is always accompanied by a particularly American ritual: constant news coverage featuring increasingly hysterical weathermen, bizarre nicknames with apocalyptic overtones (snowmageddon, snowzilla, frankenstorm), runs on grocery stores. This time around Boston was mostly spared—in stark contrast to last year—and I was very fortunate not to have my travel plans for returning to campus disrupted (though I did have the pleasure of flying over the storm on my way back from Charleston). My friends in New York and DC were not so lucky, and as far as I know they're still digging out.


I always see snow days as a great excuse to undertake some kind of kitchen project—what better use of your time when you’re stuck indoors? In such instances I am particularly fond of canning, maybe because it evokes childhood memories of the pantry at my grandparents’ old house in Poland, which was perpetually filled with jars of jams and compotes and marinated vegetables.

Snowy Harvard

Snowy Harvard

This particular recipe was introduced to me by Emily when she came to visit way back when in 2013 with not only a toddler but a couple dozen pounds of produce from her Upstate New York CSA in tow. I put it to good use when I was snowed in a couple of weeks later, and I’ve been making it regularly ever since, even in the absence of extreme weather.

Pickled daikon radish
makes enough to fill a one-quart mason jar

2 cups water
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar
¼ tsp red pepper
1 tsp cumin
2 bay leaves
3 dried red peppers
3 garlic cloves
1 medium daikon radish (about 8")

Peel daikon and slice thinly.

Combine water, salt, sugar, peeled garlic cloves, and spices. Bring to a boil and cook until salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove from heat and add vinegar.

Arrange daikon in prepared jar. Cover with hot brine and seal jar tightly. Keep refrigerated, and allow at least one day to cure. 

Posted on January 26, 2016 and filed under Recipes.

Super Easy Blueberry & Blue Cheese Buns

Dear Marysia,

As you know, we finally bought an apartment! The bad news is that it has not been renovated in about 50 years, so it will take some time and a lot of work before we move in. And it’s not even the work that scares me. It’s more the fact every person who goes through the process of renovation has to, in some magical way, become an expert on everything overnight. For now, I already have my share of knowledge about bathrooms and I can proudly say that I am capable of picking out my own shower and sink. We have spent multiple evenings debating the choice of toilet and frankly, I couldn’t be more glad that this part is over.

The kitchen is still way ahead of us and I’m guessing that those decisions will be the toughest to make, but at the same time I can’t even start explaining how psyched I am to finally have my own, decent-sized place to cook!

But in the meantime, we don’t live there yet, we have lots of stuff piling up in the apartment that we are currently renting, and I barely have time to cook anything. Most days we live off dim sum and hamburgers grabbed on the way from one store to another, so lately I’ve been craving something that I can cook myself in the midst of this mess and that would give me a certain feeling of coziness that I need right now. That’s how I came up with this very simple recipe for a slightly decadent supper. 


Pizza dough (you can replace water with milk to make it smoother)

150 grams/6 oz of blue cheese 

Good quality blueberry jam

1 free range egg beaten with a tablespoon of cold water

Nigella seeds to sprinkle

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C. If you have a pizza stone – use it, if not, prepare a baking sheet. Divide the dough into 6 parts, roll them into balls and flatten them using your hands. Place one teaspoon of jam and one teaspoon of cheese on each piece of dough and close them, forming round buns. Brush the rolls with egg and sprinkle with nigella. Using a fork make holes in top of the buns. This is very important. Otherwise they will crack open while baking.

Bake for about 15 minutes, until golden, then let them rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Enjoy with your feet up, while watching a good TV show and sipping hot Darjeeling tee.

Posted on January 10, 2016 and filed under Recipes.

Buckwheat Apple Cake

Dear Oleńka,

Almaty is a city famous for its apples. The name itself comes from “alma,” the Kazakh for apple. The best-known variety of apples in Almaty is the famous aport, which is hefty and red with a heady, honey-like aroma. For a while aports became less common as the city expanded at the expense of apple orchards, but recently they seem to be everywhere. Vendors at the bazaar set them out by the bucketful, often underlining their local origin.

apple cake

The foothills of the Tien Shan mountains, just beyond the city, are considered the ultimate source of all domesticated apples. But the aport came to Almaty by a very circuitous route. Accodring to some scholars, this particular type of apple has its roots in the Ottoman Empire and found its way to Russia not from Turkey but from Poland, where it was being grown already in the twelfth century. The aport was brought to Almaty from around Voronezh in the mid-nineteenth century, and has since become firmly rooted in the local consciousness. That’s probably why the last culinary endeavor I undertook before leaving Almaty was an apple cake, a slight twist on a classic Polish recipe.

Almaty aport

Buckwheat Apple Cake

1.5 cups flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
1 cup sugar
2.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
½  cup olive oil
1 cup kefir
3 eggs

1 pound apples (about two large apples)
juice of ½ lemon
3 tbs sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cardamom

buckwheat apple cake

Preheat oven to 325F.

Chop the apples. Cover with sugar, adding cinnamon and cardomom. Mix together with lemon juice and set aside.

Combine wet and dry ingredients separately and then combine, mixing well.

Fold in apples.

Transfer to a greased baking pan.

Bake about 45 minutes. 

buckwheat apple cake
Posted on November 20, 2015 and filed under Recipes.

Samsas with Leek and Pumpkin

Dear Oleńka,

In American cuisine, one of the ingredients most closely associated with fall is unquestionably pumpkin—from pumpkin pie to pumpkin soup to the ubiquitous PSL. Although it’s already snowing in Almaty, I am firmly in denial about both the weather and my imminent departure, so I thought I’d share with you my favorite Central Asian twist on this quintessential flavor of fall (though pumpkin manty are also a strong contender). 

Uzbek samsa

Somsas (samsa in Kazakh and Russian) are a staple of Uzbek cooking, and of Central Asian cuisine more generally. In Almaty, you can find them in restaurants, grocery stores, and even at many bus stops, where freshly baked samsas are sold out of small booths. The most common fillings are meat and cheese, but my personal favorite is the elusive pumpkin samsa, rarely seen outside of its natural habitat, Uzbek home cooking.

Central Asian samsas will look familiar to anyone acquainted with Indian food. In fact, some people argue that what we now know as samosas were originally brought to India by Central Asian traders, even before the Mughal conquest introduced a strong Central Asian influence to the cooking of the subcontinent. This recipe has an equally illustrious pedigree, traveling from Tashkent to California before being passed on to me in Cambridge. The preparation takes some time, but the result is definitely worth it! 


Samsas with Leek and Pumpkin
Makes about two dozen

1 kg/2.2 lbs flour
2 cups lukewarm water
2 tsp salt
2 tbs kefir
100 g/3.5 oz butter

1 kg/2.2 lbs pumpkin
1 large leek
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin seeds

Egg wash and garnish
1 egg
2 tbs kefir
Black cumin seeds (optional)

Preparing the dough

Combine flour, water, salt, and kefir and mix into an even dough. Cover and set aside for at least 15 minutes (and up to several hours).

Divide the dough into thirds, making three even balls.

Melt butter.

Take one third of the dough and roll it out thinly (to about one-tenth of an inch/3mm). Spoon liquid butter over the dough and spread it out evenly. Starting from one end, roll the dough inward into a long, tight roll.

Roll out the second third of the dough and cover with butter.

Place the first roll at the edge of the freshly rolled out and buttered circle and roll inward to form one large roll.

Repeat with the remaining third of dough.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preparing the filling

Clean and dice the leek. Peel and dice the pumpkin into small cubes. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add cumin. Once the cumin seeds have begun to pop, add leek and finely chopped garlic, stirring occasionally, and cook on medium heat until leek starts to become soft and translucent. Add pumpkin and cook until slightly soft, about ten minutes.

Assembling the samsas

Preheat oven to 425F/220C.

Remove the dough from the fridge and roll it out a little bit with your hands to make the rope a little longer and tighter.

Cut the dough it into roughly one-inch sections and place them onto a lightly floured surface, spiral side up. 

Roll each one out from the center outwards, preserving the circular layers.


Place about 2 tablespoons of filling onto each piece of dough and fold the edges upwards to form a triangle, making sure the edges are sealed.


Place the samsas on a parchment-covered baking sheet, seams down, and brush on the egg wash. Sprinkle with black cumin seeds.

Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. 

Posted on November 6, 2015 and filed under Recipes.

'90s Style Plum Soup

plum soup

Dear Marysia,

I don't know how the weather is in Kazakhstan now, but the autumn in Poland is absolutely marvelous. It is warm and sunny, and there is something really magical about the light at this time of year. It is so warm and golden that it makes Krakow look almost like the backdrop of a Woody Allen movie.

This past weekend I spent a lot of time just wandering around, trying to soak in all this beauty, before the greyness of winter starts. Saturday morning I went to the farmers' market and I was just overwhelmed by everything. I think this is the best time of year for buying fruits and vegetables (way better than summer) because everything is perfectly ripe and incredibly cheap at the same time. I came back home carrying literally as much as I was physically able, including 4.5 pounds of crazily sweet plums. 

As I was bolting down my fourth or fifth apple, I decided that I should cook at least some of the piles of food that I just bought. As always, an old recipe came to my mind. 

Do you remember how popular fruit soups were in Poland in the '90s? I used to eat a lot of them, but lately people have somehow completely forgotten about them. I have no Idea why, because they were delicious!

And to be clear—serve this as a first course, not as a dessert. Although the soup is quite sweet, the addition of sour cream and wonderfully buttery croutons gives it a savory spin.

Polish plums


Ingredients (serves eight, but easily cut in half)

4.5 lbs of ripe plums

4 tablespoons of brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon of sea salt

1 teaspoon of bourbon vanilla

8 slices of slightly stale white bread - cut in small squares

3 tablespoons of butter

Sour cream - a tablespoon per serving


Heat the butter in a iron skillet, add the bread and fry until golden and crispy. Set aside.

Pit the plums and place them in a pot with the other ingredients. Add just enough water to cover the plums. Cook until the fruit starts falling apart. Then blend everything using a hand blender until completely smooth.

plum soup

*I wrote this a couple of days ago. Today it’s snowing. In October. But the good thing is that the plums are still available.

Posted on October 12, 2015 and filed under Recipes.

Sorrel Pineapple Smoothie

Dear Oleńka,

You’re already familiar with both my obsession with sorrel and my profound love for Central Asian jewelry. Last week I had a chance to visit another silversmith’s workshop, so I figured this would be an opportune moment to share yet another sorrel recipe with you (I promise I do occasionally eat other things).

sorrel pineapple smoothie

September in Almaty is a month filled with festivals. In order to commemorate the city’s official birthday, the municipal authorities organize numerous events on an almost daily basis, including concerts, exhibits, and crafts fairs. The latter always represent a significant danger to my wallet, as I am usually completely powerless against the lure of Kazakh jewelry. Last weekend was no exception. A friend and I stopped by a crafts fair in Panfilov Park, and I may or may not have made off with three rings and a pair of earrings (I regret nothing). The work of one craftsman in particular stood out to us, and the director of his gallery told us we could stop by his workshop for a visit later in the week.

serik rysbekov

Serik Rysbekov is a well-known Kazakh artist who works primarily with silver and enamel. It turns out I’ve been an admirer of his jewelry much longer than I realized—I happened to be wearing a pair of earrings I received as a gift years ago, and when we met with him he immediately recognized them as his own work! He showed us around his workshop and demonstrated his technique. Most of his finished pieces had just been sent to Moscow for an exhibit, but we got to see his works in progress and a few favorite items that he keeps for his personal collection.

serik rysbekov

Clearly such a successful expedition has to be toasted with sorrel!


Sorrel Pineapple Smoothie
Serves 1-2

200 grams pineapple (about ¼ of a medium-large pineapple)
150 grams sorrel (about one small bunch, with stems)
1 medium banana
1 tbs chia seeds
¼ cup coconut milk (the refrigerated kind) or almond milk

Blend until smooth and enjoy!

sorrel pineapple smoothie


Posted on September 28, 2015 and filed under Recipes.

Sorrel Salad with Lentils and Potatoes

Dear Oleńka,

I know many people see it as a tedious chore, but I love the process of buying groceries. When I lived in Paris, grocery shopping was basically my hobby. This led to several dangerous discoveries, like crème de marrons and this one store brand guava jam from Franprix that I was addicted to for a while. To this day, whenever I’m back in Paris I wander the aisles of the Monoprix on rue du Temple for old times’ sake. In addition to its purely practical applications, grocery shopping is a great way to observe local particularities. In France it’s the seemingly infinite varieties of yogurt and yogurt-like substances (caillé de brebis may be the greatest dairy product known to man). In Kazakhstan, the most striking thing about grocery stores is the almost complete lack of fresh produce. 

sorrel potato salad

Relative to their American and European counterparts, the produce sections of Kazakhstani grocery stores are virtually nonexistent. Initially I found this quite confusing, but it actually makes a lot of sense. It’s not that the entire population of Almaty is courting scurvy by eschewing vegetables (although traditional Kazakh cuisine does consist primarily of meat and dough). The grocery store is just not the place to buy them. Instead, most people rely on the bazaar or on the many produce stands that dot residential areas and bring their wares in from wholesalers on the outskirts of the city (or sometimes from their own gardens).

parsley turmeric vinaigrette

Overall all this system works pretty well, but it means that I don’t always have time for proper produce shopping, since (despite my best efforts!) I don’t always make it to the bazaar over the weekend and I no longer live in a building with a courtyard vegetable stand. Fortunately for me, one of the few things the produce section of my local grocery store currently stocks more or less reliably is sorrel. So this is my Almatian version of what to make for dinner when the bazaar is closed and you have no food at home. I like it so much that I’m sure I’ll find other occasions to make it, too!

sorrel potato salad

Sorrel Salad with Lentils and Potatoes
Serves two as a main dish and four as a side

1 bunch sorrel
½ cup dry lentils
1 bay leaf
1 pound/450 grams waxy potatoes (about four small-ish potatoes)
1 medium onion + ½ tbs cumin
1 tbs olive oil

Turmeric and Parsley Vinaigrette
2 tbs parsley, chopped
2 tbs Dijon mustard
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
½ tsp turmeric
¼ cup olive oil

Bring the lentils to a boil in one cup of salted water, with the bay leaf. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, adding water as needed to keep the lentils covered until they are cooked through. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, peel and dice the potatoes. In a medium pot, cover them with about an inch of water. Add salt and boil for about 10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Drain and set aside.

While the potatoes and lentils are cooking, peel and dice the onion. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a medium skillet. Add cumin seeds and cook until they’re fragrant and start popping. Add onion and fry until it starts to brown.

Mix together the ingredients for the vinaigrette. Wash and roughly chop the sorrel.

Combine lentils, potatoes, onions, and vinaigrette. Mix well, adding in sorrel. 

Posted on September 12, 2015 and filed under Recipes.

Literally all you need to know about homemade pizza

Dear Marysia,

I know I haven’t written in a long time, but I’ve had tons of work and some other complications along the way. I thought that rather than explaining myself I should instead offer something to ‘buy’ my way back in. So I decided to share something that is not so much a recipe, but more the cumulative effect of long and persistent work.



But let’s start from the beginning. I love pizza. I know that it sounds cliché, but the heart wants what it wants. I eat pizza more or less once a week. In Kraków you can easily get great quality pizza, but only in restaurants. And nothing can replace a lazy weeknight at home, watching your favorite tv show in your pj’s, eating pizza and sipping rosé. So if you want to stay in and order your pizza, you are stuck with this weird, gooey pie that doesn’t have much in common with its Italian ancestor.

This is why long ago I embarked on the process of mastering my own recipe, and on the way I gathered a bunch of tips that will help you make absolutely the best pizza you can make at home.

The only bad news is that you will need some equipment. I use a bread maker to knead the dough. I guess you can use Kitchen Aid as well, but I’ve never tried it. My bread maker has a special program – it kneads the dough for 30 minutes and lets it rest for another hour, while gently warming the container to help it rise. Of course you can do it with your hands, but it takes a long, long time to knead the dough and you would have to use all the strength that you have in order to obtain a very well aerated, fluffy dough. To be honest I’m quite weak and I’ve never succeeded doing it manually…

The second gadget that you need is a pizza stone. And there is no way to get around that. This is because pizza ovens are able to reach much higher temperatures than the ovens at home. The stone keeps and transmits the heat in the manner that somehow simulates those conditions. It’s a great investment though, cause you can use it to bake bread, buns, focaccia, etc.

So lets get down to business!

Ingredients for the dough:

Makes two pies

13 oz all-purpose flour (type 550 if you’re in Poland or Germany)

1 oz fresh baking yeast - dissolved in 1 cup of warm (not hot!) water

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil


Firstly, place all the ingredients for the dough in the bread machine (or Kitchen Aid) and let it start doing its work. Remember to check on it a couple of times. You want it to be quite loose and fluffy, but it should not stick to your hands. If it does, add a little more flour. Remember to let the dough rest in a warm place for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 480°F. Remember to place the cold stone in a cold oven and heat them together. If you place it in a hot oven it might break. (Also, never wash stone with any liquid or detergent!)

Prepare the sauce. Usually pizza sauce is made by cooking tomatoes for a very long time, but as I am quite lazy, I’ve come up with my own alternative. I use canned tomatoes (whole, not chopped). I separate them from the juice, then I mush them using my hands in a bowl, adding a pinch of salt, about a tablespoon of olive oil, and one very small clove of garlic, grated. And that’s it. The key is in the quality of the ingredients, not the quantity.

Always use fresh mozzarella – the kind they sell in small plastic bags. Just drain and slice it. I use 1.5 ball of cheese for 1 pizza. Grated mozzarella would dry out in such a hot oven.

In terms of other ingredients – Please remember that in this case less is more, and try to use 2 (not more than 3) extra ingredients per pizza. Otherwise it will not bake properly. I usually use one kind of Italian cold cuts (salami Napoli, prosciutto, cooked, ham, etc.) plus one kind of vegetable (mushrooms, onion, bell peppers, grilled eggplant slices, etc.)

Remember – if you use prosciutto ham – put it on the pizza after baking, just before serving, or it will look and taste awful.

Also, I often break one egg in the middle of the pizza before baking, but I know that’s a little unorthodox and I understand that not everybody would like it.

The last thing you will need are herbs. I purposefully don’t add them to the sauce. I’ve tried many, many options and the pizza tastes best when the herbs are added separately. If you want to use oregano, choose the dried version and remember to sprinkle it on the pizza AFTER you take it out of the oven. This way it will not lose its aroma. If you are using basil (of course you can use both) choose fresh leaves and also add them after baking.

When the dough is ready, sprinkle it with flour, knead it for about a minute, then separate it into two equal parts, forming two balls, and let them rest for another 15 minutes.

Then, sprinkle your work surface with flour and roll one ball out (if you don’t have a rolling pin you can use a wine bottle) until it is quite thin.

Take the stone out of the oven – preferably on its metal stand.

As you probably don’t have a large pizza peel to transfer the pizza onto the stone, transfer the crust without the toppings, and once the dough is already on the stone add the sauce, cheese and other ingredients.

Bake the pie for about 10 minutes—Every oven is different, so you have to observe the pizza carefully. The cheese has to bubble and the crust has to get slightly golden (while remaining quite pale).

Once you take the pizza out of the oven, sprinkle it with herbs. Wait one or two minutes before you cut it. This way you are letting it steam, so the pizza isn’t too wet.



Well, this turned out to be quite an essay, but believe me—I’ve never worked so thoroughly in my life to achieve something! And if I you want to master something, what better skill than making pizza??

Enjoy with a chilled glass of rosé wine!

Ps. I hope I’m forgiven…?


Posted on September 1, 2015 and filed under Recipes.

Halva-Flavored Banana "Ice Cream"

Dear Oleńka,

As its residents seem fond of saying, Almaty has a rezko kontinental’nyi klimat—a “sharply continental climate”—meaning that it's very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. When I got here everyone kept telling me that the winters aren’t actually that bad (especially compared to the truly arctic temperatures in Astana), just very humid. The idea of a humid winter seemed completely foreign to me—I couldn’t even really conceptualize what that meant. For me, humidity is closely associated with summer (when in the Northeastern U.S. it can reach 100 percent) and the feeling of being cocooned in a warm blanket as soon as you set foot outside. It turns out wet winter air is, more than anything, hazy, so much so that you can go for days without any visual evidence of the Tian Shan peaks right outside of town. 

halva banana ice cream

Now that summer is in full swing, the air is very dry, the mountains are very visible, and it is very, very hot. So hot that, even in an air-conditioned apartment, the idea of cooking—much less baking—can sometimes seem like too much to bear. I'd been meaning to try banana-based ice cream for some time, and the recent heat wave gave me the perfect excuse. This recipe is almost magical—it has very few ingredients and requires very little labor, but the is quite impressive.I decided to flavor mine with dates and tahini to approximate the taste of halva.* I hope your summer is turning out equally sweet!

bananas dates

Halva-flavored banana “ice cream”
Finally realizing a long-ago inspiration from the kitchn

Serves 1-2
2 medium bananas
4 dates
2 tbs tahini
1 tbs honey or mulberry molasses (optional)
1 tbs coconut oil
1 tsp cinnamon 
.5 tsp cardamom


Peel and slice bananas. Freeze them in an airtight container until solid (preferably overnight). Blend the bananas in a food processor until they reach a smooth consistency (resembling soft serve). Blend in dates, tahini, honey, coconut oil, and spices. Refreeze for at least two hours. Allow a couple of minutes for softening before serving.

* As an aside, although it's probably not something most people associate with Polish cuisine, halva is actually nearly ubiquitous in Poland, apparently a legacy of centuries of close contact with the Ottoman Empire.

halva banana ice cream
Posted on August 10, 2015 and filed under Recipes.

Strawberry Tarragon White Wine Spritzer

Dear Oleńka,

Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that my academic work is closely tied to a country with strong nomadic traditions, since I myself seem to be leading a semi-nomadic existence. When I was a kid, the end of the school year meant leaving for my grandparents’, or moving to Poland, or moving from Poland. In high school and college, it meant packing up my dorm room and moving out for three months. After college, my two suitcases and I migrated to Paris. And now in grad school I still nomadize for the summer, leaving for Moscow, for Poland, or for Kazakhstan.


So, in accordance with tradition, the onset of summer meant packing up my things and moving, though this time only to a different apartment (which I will be sharing with the lovely and talented Michelle Brown). Once we moved everything in and unpacked, we celebrated with a light white wine spritzer with strawberries and tarragon. Perfect for all kinds of summer events!

tarragon simple syrup
tarragon simple syrup

Strawberry Tarragon White Wine Spritzer 

2lb/1kg strawberries
1 bunch tarragon
2 cups + .5 cup sugar
2 cups water
2 bottles dry white wine, chilled
1 liter sparkling water/seltzer

For the simple syrup:
Combine 2 cups sugar and 2 cups water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over low heat.
Add coarsely chopped tarragon.
Simmer until sugar has dissolved, stirring frequently.
Remove from heat and set aside to cool (I left mine overnight).
Strain out tarragon.

For the strawberries:
Hull the strawberries and cut them in half.
In a large bowl, combine the strawberries with .5 cup sugar and set aside for at least 30 minutes, until the juice is drawn out.

In a large punch bowl, combine wine, seltzer, and simple syrup. Stir. Add in strawberries with juice. Serve with ice. 

P.S. It turns out my great-grandfather—the one I was named after—used to make something similar. Maybe this recipe is genetic?

strawberry tarragon white wine spritzer

Posted on June 30, 2015 and filed under Recipes.

Jewish Caviar

Dear Marysia,

Today I have another of my old school family recipes to share with you. This one seems very fancy, tastes great, and is very cheap at the same time. That's probably why it has survived for so many years. I asked my Grandmother, and she actually doesn’t even remember where it comes from. It's also interesting that one of our favorite family recipes is Jewish, even though nobody in my family is. 

chicken liver pate

Anyway, since you and I started writing I've begun to ask my Grandma for advice very often, for two reasons. 

Firstly and most obviously, I want to be as accurate as I can be when it comes to keeping my family legacy alive.

But most of all I've found that talking about food brings us closer together. Every recipe has a story. Some of them are even about my great-grandparents. So I call my Grandma and a simple question about ingredients evolves in an hour-long conversation. Then when it finally comes to discussing the food itself, it turns out that we cannot agree about some little detail, so she runs across the hall to my Aunt's, and that’s where the heated discussion really begins. Usually they don't come to a conclusion before the next day, so I have to remember to ask my questions in advance.

The cutest moment in the whole process is when I visit Grandma after each one of those talks and she already has a tiny piece of paper with a handwritten recipe waiting for me.

Sometimes I make small changes in proportions, like this time, but I wouldn’t dare to change anything major. I hope my grandkids won’t, either.



15 oz chicken liver – cleaned 

6 free range eggs - hardboiled

2 onions

7 oz butter


Black pepper

Optionally: 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard or mayo


Roughly chop one of the onions. Fry liver and onion in butter for about 7 minutes.

Blend in a food processor with eggs until smooth. Add salt, pepper and the other onion, very thinly chopped.

You can add mayo or mustard to taste. Grandma says not to, but my Aunt likes it. Im torn :)

Serve with Graham bread or a French baguette and sweet white wine. I recently had it with Vino Passito and it was perfect!

Posted on June 3, 2015 and filed under Recipes.

Sorrel Pesto

Dear Oleńka,

Don’t tell anyone, but the real reason I’m in my line of business may or may not be the jewelry. I have what can probably be called an unhealthy obsession with Central Asian earrings, whether Bukharan antiques or the work of contemporary craftsmen. I love the intricate geometric shapes, the colorful stones, and the creative use of materials ranging from Tsarist-era coins to animal bones.

serzhan bashirov
kazakh jewelry

I recently took advantage of the fact that the archives are closed on the last Friday of the month to visit Serzhan Bashirov, a well-known Kazakh silversmith who does a beautiful job of fusing the traditional and the modern. I drove out to his workshop on the outskirts of Almaty with a couple of friends, and we admired his work as well as his impressive collection of Kazakh antiquities, which includes a fully outfitted yurt set up in the back yard. Earrings plus homemade plov make for a perfect afternoon in my book.


I’m going to take this opportunity to share another, more recent obsession: sorrel. After months of nothing but dubious Chinese spinach, the bazaar is suddenly bursting with greens, and sorrel seems to be everywhere. I’d only ever had it in the traditional Polish sorrel soup, but recently I’ve been eating it with everything—quinoa, braised radishes, lentils, eggs. I’ve been making a lot of sorrel salads, which usually leave me with plenty of leftover stems. Naturally, the result is pesto. Here’s to hoping sorrel season lasts indefinitely, or at least for a few months!

sorrel pesto

Sorrel Pesto
Makes about 1/2 cup

100 g/3.5 oz fresh sorrel (leaves and/or stems)
50 g/2 oz pine nuts
25 g/1 oz Parmesan
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
Zest of half a lemon
Pinch of sea salt


Combine ingredients in food processor. Blend until smooth. Serve with pasta, fish, salads, or wherever else you use pesto!

sorrel pesto
Posted on May 7, 2015 and filed under Recipes.

Never Say Never - Salmon and Cheese Gratin

Dear Marysia,

Have I told you that lately I've developed a crazy obsession with asking, Why not? This happens basically at every occasion when I’m told that something is wrong or when I’m forbidden to do something. It’s probably because when you get older you involuntarily start doing a lot of things in certain patterns and it gets harder and harder to keep an open mind. And staying open-minded is one of my top priorities in life. So every time somebody advises me not to do something, I ask: Why not? 

Posted on April 21, 2015 and filed under Recipes.

Buckwheat Tart with Jerusalem Artichokes, Leeks, and Gorgonzola

Dear Oleńka,

Who gets into a stranger’s car?

I don’t think I can think of any circumstances under which I would willingly get into a vehicle with someone I don’t know in the U.S., unless he was an Uber driver. Here, though, it’s completely normal (and remarkably safe) to stick your hand out and flag down a random car when you’re trying to get somewhere in a hurry. You give the driver the intersection to which you’re heading and negotiate a price (which increases exponentially in relation to how foreign you seem). Often, they inquire as to whether you’re married and how many children you have (if anyone asks, my husband’s name is Artur and he’s a lawyer in Warsaw. We have a two-year-old named Ania. I’m from Poland, by the way). Sometimes they ask you to dinner regardless. Other times they tell you about their service in the Soviet army, traversing Eurasia by train in order to accompany a shipment of tanks from Kaliningrad or buying Polish clothes in Lithuania. Sometimes they don’t talk to you at all.

Posted on April 14, 2015 and filed under Recipes.

Post-Easter Nostalgia - Eggs a la Polonaise

Dear Marysia,

I’m writing to you right after my traditional Polish Easter breakfast, lying on the couch, trying not to explode from the amount of food I just consumed. But how could I stop eating when I was literally surrounded by beautiful cold cuts, colorful salads, cakes, and eggs? I was doomed. Actually, I’m quite surprised that I can still manage to think and write about food, but I guess this is just a sign of how deep and strong my love for food is…

Anyway, one of the dishes on the table made me feel especially sentimental – Eggs à la Polonaise

Posted on April 8, 2015 and filed under Recipes.

Spicy Roasted Chickpeas

Dear Oleńka,

One of the things that surprised me when I first started shopping at Central Asian bazaars was the large number of roving food merchants peddling an impressive array of snacks. They are especially noticeable at the bigger bazaars, like Almaty’s Barakholka or Bishkek’s Dordoi, massive wholesale and retail markets that sell just about anything you can imagine being produced in China. Small carts navigate the rows of shipping containers that serve as storefronts, selling drinks and snacks to the throngs of shoppers. But even at the smaller, more produce-oriented markets like Zelenyi Bazar in Almaty or Osh Bazaar in Bishkek, you see people meandering between stalls, hawking corn on the cob, samsa (savory pastries filled with meat or cheese), doughnuts, tea, and even ice cream. One of the first things that greets you when you approach Zelenyi Bazaar is the sound of young women calling out, “Doughnuts! Warm, fresh Doughnuts!”

Posted on March 31, 2015 and filed under Recipes.

Carnivore's Feast - Steak Tartare

Dear Marysia,


When we decided to write this blog, one of the first things I said was that I was going to write about my steak tartare. And here I am. I just couldn’t wait! Actually I find writing more and more fun, as I get to treat myself to such good food along the way.

Posted on March 30, 2015 and filed under Recipes.