One of the first chapters of Anna Karenina describes a meal between the lovesick landowner Constantin Levin and the colourful Stepan Oblonsky. Oblonsky first helps himself to vodka “and a little fish” and then orders a meal beginning with three dozen oysters, followed by vegetable soup, turbot with thick sauce, roast beef, a capon, three wines, cheese, and preserves for dessert. Somewhere in this preposterous meal Oblonsky drops a little fact concerning Levin’s love interest that so perturbs Levin he is almost unable to finish his oysters. This image has remained with me. What kind of man, Tolstoy seems to be saying, would be weak-kneed enough to be put off a mere three dozen oyster appetizer by mention of love? What a sap.
My own experience with Russians is limited. In fact it is confined to a long distance bus trip my wife and I took in Thailand where the Russians, despite the bus being almost empty, chose seats directly behind ours so they could drum on the top of the seat, open cans of beer with their pocket knives, sing loud songs punctuated with cries of “Ha ha! I am American cowboy!” and generally demonstrate to us how feeble our appreciation of life was. There are times when being Russian is very important, and that inspired today’s brunch composed of smoked trout, buttered toast points, caviar, egg, radishes, and parsley salad. The fresh and tangy salad is the glue that holds the meal together and the recipe is from Fergus Henderson:
Fergus Henderson’s Parsley Salad
a healthy bunch of flat-leaf parsley
2 shallots, peeled and very thinly sliced
1 modest handful of capers
juice of one lemon
extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Chop your parsley, as Henderson puts it, “just enough to discipline it,” mix it with the shallots and capers, and at the last moment, dress the salad.