I ate incredibly well during my semester abroad in Paris. So well, in fact, that I am amazed my jeans still fit by the end (I may or may not have eaten pain au chocolat on a daily basis). I think my waistline was saved by two very important things: all of the walking I did while exploring my adopted city, and my French host mom’s cooking.
Her meals struck the perfect balance between indulgence and moderation that only the French seem to manage with such ease. Each meal commenced with a pureed vegetable soup to awaken our taste buds, then progressed to a delicious entree, and always concluded with a few morsels of pungent cheese and a small bowl of yogurt. These three distinct courses set a relaxed pace for eating while simultaneously allowing for lengthy conversations (that I tried my very best to follow). Each night I left the table feeling incredibly content but never uncomfortably full.
But sometimes even the French can’t muster this level of sophistication. One evening my host parents went to a party, leaving my fourteen-year-old host brother and me to fend for ourselves. Based on my American conception of dinner sans parents, I expected we would probably dine on something in the genre of boxed macaroni and cheese and bagel bites. But instead of taking a pre-packaged meal from the freezer, my host brother extracted four frozen blini and popped them in the toaster. He then set the table with crème fraîche (a French pantry staple), smoked salmon, and a bag of minced chives. The blini emerged from the toaster perfectly crispy, and we sat down to feast.
The dinner changed my life not only because it introduced me to smoked salmon, but also because it completely shifted my understanding of the exciting and elegant possibilities for a quick meal. This recipe that I am sharing took a bit longer to come together since I made the blini from scratch today, but now I have eight leftover blini in my freezer ready for future use!
BUCKWHEAT BLINI WITH SMOKED SALMON
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1 teaspoon dried yeast
¾ cup plain (all purpose) flour
¾ cup buckwheat flour
1 egg, separated
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ teaspoon white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup lukewarm buttermilk
1 4-ounce package of thinly sliced smoked salmon
1 cup crème fraîche
½ cup minced chives
Combine yeast and ¾ cup warm water in a large bowl and stir to dissolve, then stand in a warm place for 10 minutes or until foamy. Slowly whisk in plain flour, then cover with a clean tea towel and stand in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Meanwhile, in a separate bowl combine buckwheat flour, egg yolk, 1½ tablespoons melted butter, sugar, milk and sea salt and whisk to combine, then gently fold into yeast mixture. Cover and stand in a warm place for 1 hour or until risen by half.
Whisk egg white until soft peaks form and fold through batter. Heat a heavy-based frying pan over medium heat, brush with remaining butter and cook batter, in batches, for 1-2 minutes or until bubbles appear, then turn and cook for another minute or until cooked through. Keep warm.
Top with smoked salmon, a dollop of crème fraîche and chives.