I served this stew to my book club during the monthly dinner we hold in conjunction with our book selection. We try to prepare food that has a connection to the book, and in this case, it was Amor Towles, “A Gentleman In Moscow.” It’s a book that I’ve read twice now, and could read it again and again, for its witty, elegant style and its urbane central character, a Russian count who is confined by the Bolsheviks in Moscow’s famed Metropol Hotel, and is relegated to a tiny garret from his opulent suite. The book is filled with myriad references to food and wine, as well as history, music, politics, friendship, family ties and more. But the overarching theme of the book to me, at least, is one’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances and not only tolerate them, but find the joy in them.
At one point in the book when the count is in the hotel’s main dining room, he sees a young man struggling to order something from among the extensive (and mostly expensive) items on the menu to impress his date, but one that won’t break the bank.
“The young man’s gaze drifted back and forth between these opposing hazards. But in a stroke of genius, he ordered the Latvian stew. While this traditional dish of pork, onions, and apricots was reasonably priced, it was also reasonably exotic; and it somehow harkened back to that world of grandmothers and holidays and sentimental melodies that they had been about to discuss when so rudely interrupted.”
Further, when the headwaiter, who is later to become the count’s nemesis and manager of the Metropol Hotel, suggests an expensive Rioja wine, the count overhears this and recoils, knowing that the Spanish wine is not only too expensive for the young man, but the wrong wine to accompany the stew. Overriding the headwaiter’s suggestion, (and foreshadowing a future perilous confrontration) the count interjects and says “If I may, For a serving of Latvian stew, you will find no better choice than a bottle of Mukuzani.”
While there are food references galore in the book, the Latvian stew scene cinched the deal for me, and I was determined to find the Mukuzani wine to serve along with the stew to my book club compatriots. It was easier to find than I imagined, and was not only delicious, but at $10.00 a bottle, was a real bargain.
There are several recipes for the stew on the internet, but the one I settled on came from the website “A Little And A Lot.” Even so, I changed it somewhat to eliminate the liquid smoke she used, to add more carrots and increase the amount of pork. I also found that after cooking the stew at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours, it was bubbling too much and the liquid was reducing and thickening too quickly. The meat was already nearly tender, so rather than cook the meat for another hour at the same temperature as the recipe suggested , I lowered the temperature to 200 degrees, added a little more water, and let it gently simmer for another hour in the oven until my guests arrived. Make sure to use a boneless pork shoulder because it needs the fat marbling to produce succulent, tender meat. I bought mine at Costco and there was actually too much outer fat on my pork roast, which I trimmed. From a piece of meat that weighed 6 pounds at the start, it was only 4 1/2 pounds after I finished trimming it — more than enough to easily serve 8-10 people.
The other members of the bookgroup contributed other foods either mentioned in the book, or aassociated with Russian or Slavic cuisine, starting with a delicious appetizer of ponzu salmon and avocado toast:
First course of borscht:
Traditional vegetables served in Russia: salad, potatoes and cabbage:
And for dessert: a multi-layered honey cake —
and chocolate “kielbasa”
Check out Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram here to find out what’s cooking in my kitchen each day (and more).
- Inspired by Amor Towles and a Latvian Stew recipe from the website, A Little and A Lot
- 4 lbs (48oz) boneless pork shoulder
- salt and ground black pepper
- ¼ cup (60ml) extra virgin olive oil.
- 1 large yellow onion, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoon tomato paste
- 6 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 4 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 5 cups (1183ml) water
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 7 oz dried apricots
- 7 oz prunes (dried plums)
- ½ cup (about 1oz/ 13g) chopped fresh Italian parsley
- Cut pork into 2-3 inch pieces.
- Trim any excess fat.
- Lay the pork on a plate or baking sheet that has been lined with paper towels. Blot the pieces of pork on all sides with another paper towel to dry.
- Sprinkle the pork on all sides with a generous amount of salt and pepper.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (232 degrees C).
- Add oil to a large, heavy bottom, ovenproof saucepan or dutch oven.
- Set it over medium high heat until the oil is very hot and shimmering.
- Add the pork and cook, turning the pieces in the hot oil every so often, until the pieces are browned on all sides.
- Remove the pork from the pan with tongs or a slotted spoon.
- Add the chopped onion to the pan and cook over medium heat until soft and translucent.
- Add minced garlic, tomato paste, and 1 teaspoon of salt.
- Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.
- Add carrots and browned pork to the pan, stirring to combine.
- Remove the pan from the heat.
- Stir together the paprika and flour, sprinkle it over the meat and vegetables, and toss everything around in the pan to coat.
- Put the pan in the preheated oven, uncovered, and let bake for 5 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat, stir, and then bake uncovered for an additional 5 minutes.
- Remove pan from the oven.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F (176 degrees C).
- Add 5 cups of water and worcestershire sauce to pan.
- Stir, being sure to scrape up any brown pieces from the bottom of the pan.
- Set it over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
- Stir in the dried apricots.
- Cover the pan and place back in the oven.
- Let cook for 1 ½ hours.
- Remove pan from the oven and stir in prunes.
- Cover, place back in the oven, and cook for 1 hour longer - OR, until the meat is very tender. (NOTE: Although the original recipe says to cook for another hour, it was tender much before the second hour was over, and bubbling a lot, so I lowered the temperature to 200, added a little more water and let it cook for another hour at the lower temperature, waiting for my guests to arrive. It was perfect.)
- Remove the pan from the oven and taste; add more salt if needed.
- Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.