Thursday, February 22, 2007

Cheerfully Heretical Borshch

First, the heresy -- there’s no meat in this soup (except for the broth, which only counts if you’re a vegetarian), and it's not chunky. I’ve been told more than once that proper borshch has to have meat; the more the better. Given the joke about the Kazakhs ranking second only to wolves as the world’s biggest meat eaters, I can forgive the funny face Gulnara made when I told her how I make it. But I’ve been making it like this for years, the family recognized it right away, and it’s cheap and delicious. What’s not to like?

The cheerful part? The gorgeous ruby claret color, which turns to a creamy raspberry after swirling the required dollop of sour cream. If it ain’t got beets, it’s just cabbage soup.

As it turns out, my recipe isn’t all that different from her Moscow mother’s “frugal vegetarian recipe” described by Anya von Bremzen in Please to the Table and The Greatest Dishes! (I love cookbooks with commentary as interesting as the recipes). And, again because I like it this way, I whiz it all in the food processor before serving for a smoother texture. A thick slice of dark pumpernickel (hold the caraway) and you’ve got a wonderful winter meal.

Nyura’s Cheerfully Heretical Borshch
8-10 servings

1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 large potato, peeled & chopped into chunks
1 smallish head of green cabbage (about 4 cups chopped)
1 - 1 1/2 lbs. beets, peeled & shredded (about 4+ cups)
2 14 oz. cans chicken or beef broth
3 c. water
2 tbs. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp.dried dill, or 1 tbs. chopped fresh dill
2 tsp. salt or to taste
Sour cream (NOT optional)

Heat a couple of tablespoons of cooking oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Saute the onion, carrot, potato & cabbage 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally Add remaining ingredients beets through salt, cover & heat to boiling. Turn the heat down and simmer a while (until you feel like it’s done, 20-40 minutes), stirring occasionally. Cool somewhat, then whiz in the food processor in batches. Return to pot and heat through. Or better yet, put in the refrigerator for a day, then reheat and serve.

Sour cream container goes on the table with a spoon, for each person to plop and swirl into his or her own bowl. Mmmm-mmmm-good.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Serzhan Bashirov in America

Arts professor and master silversmith Serzhan Bashirov, whose work inspired the start of this blog, is in the United States this month. He exhibited his work at the Pueblo Gem & Mineral Show in Tucson, and is now in town visiting Gulnara and exploring local galleries. Handmade jewelry from Kazakhstan is rarely found outside Central Asia because not enough is made for large-scale export.The opportunity to see an artist's collection here in the US is a rare treat.

On Saturday Gulnara hosted a private reception to showcase Serzhan's work. Yes, I came away with a pair of modest but beautiful silver earrings, with Serzhan's signature spiral motif. But what really struck me is how the photographs just don't do justice to his work. The bone incorporated into several pieces is brighter and creamier than the pictures show, and the silverwork is both sturdier and finer. He also had many newer pieces not shown in the store; one large filigree pendant, with green and blue gemstones, is just stunning.

Serzhan is currently Professor of Applied Arts at the State University of Almaty. He has been working metal by hand for most of his life, beginning as a child watching his father work in their home workshop. In his studio now, Serzhan works alone, using the old simple tools employed for generations by Kazakh craftsmen. His contemporary jewelry is firmly rooted in historic Kazakh traditions, often using signs of the four elements -- sun, fire, water, & earth.

Fire and the sun are both enduring, radiant, pure and life sustaining for the artist; the cross and spiral are their symbols. A spiral symbolizes eternal life and spiritual growth; Serzhan's spiral is always clockwise, following the sun's movement. Ancient Kazakhs went round their yurts only with the path of the sun; otherwise, chaos.

A cross with four equal points represents the 4 directions: south, west, east, north. The four elements enclosed by a circle represent the sun. Other motifs often found into Serzhan's work are the ram's horns (richness & fertility), and the shanyrak (the crown of a yurt, and symbolic center of the family).

Serzhan is married and has 2 daughters. His hobby is collecting
antique rugs. In 2004 Serzhan's "Umai" silver jewelry was the first from Kazakhstan to be awarded a UNESCO Seal of Excellence; in December 2006 he won the award again for a silver bracelet. His art is in museum collections in Astana, Moscow and Warsaw. Serzhan showcases his art at a gallery/shop in a yurta in downtown Almaty.

More information on Serzhan and his work:
West-East Dialogues
Bio at Karavan-Art
Review of Gallery Opening ("interestingly" translated)
Artist Info at the Tumar Art Group site (Kyrgystan)
Photo of a piece shown in Tucscon
Description of a 2005 joint Navajo-Kazakh exhibit in Almaty