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potato vareniki

[Welcome to the Sous-Chef Series, a new, sporadic feature on SK in which I invite invite cooks I admire over to my small kitchen to teach me — and thus, us — to make one of their specialties. Spoiler: I’m the sous!]

I first heard of the Russian restaurant Kachka when I was last in Portland, Oregon on book tour (hi, Powell’s!), when no fewer than a dozen people separately told me I had to go while I was there. A few said it wasn’t just their favorite restaurant in Portland, but their favorite restaurant, period. This made me all the more sad that I didn’t have time to make it happen. My regrets snowballed when I finally dug into the restaurant’s eponymous cookbook last summer. I was no further than the first page — where the confusion as to what is “Russian” food when “food from the former Soviet Union including Russia but also the countries surrounding it like Belarus, Latvia, Ukraine…” would be more accurate is humorously laid out — when I became deeply, emphatically obsessed with all that I’d missed.

peeled and diced yukon gold poatoesadd butter and seasoning and mash

The book is a delight on every page; a bit of history, a substantial amount of wry observations, some hilarious guides (how to navigate a Russian grocery store, the rules of the “drunk fest” known as a pyanka, how to “tetris” your zakuski spread, and I will never stop laughing about the day in the life of sauerkraut, kickbacks and all, in the former Soviet Union) and recipes that will make you want to take the vodka bottle from your freezer (or start keeping it there, have I not taught you anything), have a rowdy group of friends over, and cook, eat, and drink until you make plans for next time. I immediately bought another copy for my mother-in-law and a third for a friend. I could go on and on, but then we’d never get to the wild thing that happened last month.

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