Have you ever made blini? I must admit, other than knowing that they were vaguely pancake-like, mostly Russian, and usually served with caviar, I didn’t know much about them until yesterday. They are essentially a pancake, but one that relies on yeast for leavening, rather than baking powder or soda. Traditionally made with buckwheat flour, I nevertheless found a few recipes online for a cornmeal version which appealed (especially since I did not have any buckwheat flour in the house). And why, you ask (all innocence & light) am I suddenly thinking about blini? Heh. You should know better.
I had blood oranges on the counter. I had cooked black beans in the fridge. I kept thinking about some sort of citrusy, bright, black bean salad; maybe with some grains, like couscous or rice, maybe with cheese, definitely with lots of fresh herbs. (I can feel my February jones for crisp greens and crunchy vegetables coming on.) But the more I kept toying with the idea of blood orange and black bean in my head, rolling that delightful alliteration around on my tongue, the more I wanted to amp up the volume: surely there must be another “bl” food group to toss into the mix?
Enter blini. Or blinis, as we tend to say in English, but since blini is already plural, I just can’t do it. Grammar, people: it’s what’s for dinner. I’d never made blini before, and since we know that I’m not exactly the pancake master, I was a bit skeptical. But I have to say: these were fabulous. Light, fluffy, with a hearty cornmeal flavor, yet not at all heavy. (Tai has eaten at least 10 this afternoon alone.) However skeptical I was about my mad pancake skillz, however, I was even more skeptical about how a recipe that was pullled together sheerly for the joy of alliteration would fare in the only measure that really matters: taste. Yet, once again, I was pleasantly surprised: these things rock the casbah. Or the Red Square, as the case may be. Tangy citrus, smooth feta, meaty black beans, crisp and fluffy cornmeal cakes: it all works. I’m off to dream up more alliterative recipe classics: I sense a cookbook in the offing.
Blini recipe adapted from Buckwheat Blini by Martha Rose Shulman for the New York Times
For the blini
- 1 tsp active dry yeast or instant yeast
- large pinch sugar or honey
- 1/2 cup warm (about 115 degrees F), filtered water
- 1 and 1/4 cups room temperature buttermilk, divided
- 1 cup (4 and 1/2 oz) cornmeal (replace with buckwheat for buckwheat blini)
- 3/4 cup (4 oz) all-purpose flour or whole white wheat flour
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp melted butter
- 2 large eggs, separated
For the blood orange black bean salad
- 1 lb blood oranges, scrubbed and dried
- 8 oz cooked black beans, rinsed and drained
- 3 oz feta cheese, diced to 1/4-inch
- 2 large scallions, thinly sliced, green & white parts divided
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup loosely packed, coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
- salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
- 3 or 4 kumquats, thinly sliced (optional)
- Start blini batter. Whisk together the yeast, sugar or honey and water in a large bowl until cloudy and uniform. If using active dry yeast, wait about 5 minutes until the yeast begins to bubble. Add 3/4 cup buttermilk, cornmeal, flour and salt and mix until uniform. Add remaining buttermilk, melted butter and egg yolks and blend until uniform. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rest in a warm spot until bubbly, 1 hour or more. At this point, you can store the batter overnight, refrigerated, if you wish. Allow to come to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.
- Make black bean salad. Zest half of the oranges, with a microplane or by cutting off thin strips with a vegetable peeler, then slivering; add zest to a medium bowl. Suprême the oranges (reserving the unzested orange peel for another use), capturing as much juice as possible, and squeezing the membranes over the bowl to release any juices prior to discarding. Add the orange segments to the bowl. Add black beans, feta, white & pale green scallion, vinegar, cayenne and half of the cilantro. Add kumquats if using. Toss until mixed, taste and add salt & pepper. At this point, you can store the salad overnight, refrigerated, if you wish. If so, you may want to reserve some of the blood orange segments separately, as they will start to break down in the salad overnight.
- Cook blini. Whip the two egg whites to the soft peak stage. Fold into blini batter until just incorporated. Heat 1 tbsp butter over medium heat in a large skillet; once butter foam subsides, add blini batter, in 1/4-cup increments, and cook until bubbles are breaking in the batter tops, about 1 – 2 minutes. Flip carefully, cook for another 1 -2 minutes, until both sides are golden brown. Remove to a clean plate; repeat with remaining batter. Like all pancakes, you’ll need to lower the heat as you go along in order to avoid burning the blini. Burnt blini = bad.
- Assemble. Add remaining cilantro and dark green scallions to the black bean salad; toss to mix. Pile blood orange black bean salad on top of a single blini, spooning some of the liquid over the salad to drizzle onto the blini. Garnish with additional cilantro.
Yields 4 – 6 meal-sized portions.
- Either of these recipes can be made separately: the blood orange black bean salad is lovely on its own; I had it for dinner last night. The blini can be made separately and served with all sorts of toppings. Although, then, it won’t be nearly as much fun to say.
- Substitute 1 cup of buckwheat flour for the cornmeal to make a traditional buckwheat blini version.
- I had a few fresh kumquats left, so I sliced ’em and tossed ’em into the salad, purely for swank. I like the addition of the color and tartness, but they aren’t pivotal to the overall flavor.
Store salad separately, refrigerated for up to 3 days. Store any cooked blini refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen, between sheets of waxed paper, for up to 6 months.