The Best eBook Solyanka You’ll Ever Make6 min read

 In Review, Reviews, Russia
Who is Chloe Tucker? Is she a real person? The “about the author” page at the back of The Official Kremlin Cookbook: Exploring Russia through Simple Dishes, Treats, and Drinks offers some clues. It shares that “for decades, [Chloe Tucker] graced our screens with her incredible talent and performance in movies that captivated the script and emotions of the viewers. Well, life rarely goes as planned, but we should always make the best out of it, like Chloe. Originally from the bubbly city of Los Angeles, she has moved from the movie industry into the food scene.” I’ve certainly never seen any of the movies she has been in. These words seem eerily AI-generated, so I’m intrigued.

Upon an internet search, I located a press release in similar wording deeming Tucker now a real estate mogul and an Instagram influencer, along with being an actress (and cookbook author). Which brings us back to the original question – is she even real? 

Tucker is among one of the thousands of authors who have popped up in the digital publishing world. With the advent of eReaders like the Kindle and Nook, .mobi files have become a hot commodity. From fan fiction to cookbooks, the internet has become a marketplace of new literature from authors who have never been published. The exciting aspect of this new age in publishing is access to more information than ever before. Anyone can stumble upon a digital book, much like one can find a treasure at a bookshop. At the same time, we encounter ghostwriters who pump out books on topics they might not necessarily be an expert on just to get the Amazon top-seller rankings. The low price points and zero carbon footprint needed to manufacture a physically bound book make it easy for anyone to access these books. In comes Tucker, the jack of all trades, trying her hand at culinary writing.

Tucker has written sixty-eight books, all self-published through Amazon. Titles include The Million Dollar Brownies, Puree: The Baby Food for Adults (hilarious title, right?), and The Aspiring Frenchy’s Guide to Quiches. Perhaps The Official Kremlin Cookbook resembles the latter: the aspiring Russophile’s guide to Russian food. Browse her offerings and you will see cookbooks for just about anything – desserts, low-carb, chocolate, cocktails, artichokes, pizza, toffee, and more. Tucker is prolific, to say the least.

As an American, I would say that The Official Kremlin Cookbook is good for, well, your typical American. Tucker writes, “we’ve been right where you are right now, so we wanted to give you a simple taste of Russian food, a level one or starter’s kit if you will.” This book is a good starting point for newcomers to Russian cuisine. For that reason, I think a better title for this digital book would be Exploring Russian Food at Home for Beginners, or a title to that effect. The Official Kremlin Cookbook might be banking on the dramatic title, despite the simplistic nature of most of the recipes that the book contains.

Salads to begin with

The first recipes in the book are for garden salad and beet salad.These are good dishes to ease curious cooks into the culture. It’s not all vodka, caviar, or pickles. The garden salad is shockingly ordinary but can settle anyone apprehensive about Russian food – that it can resemble standard Western fare more often than not. 

Then the book takes a turn for the unusual. The next recipe is a Cheese Potato Filling. The image that accompanies the recipe looks like the crust and half-eaten innards of a sweet-potato-filled pie. The picture is hardly appetizing. The recipe also does not say what the cheese-and-potato mash is used for. Is it to stuff chebureki? Or for pelmeni? The reader will never know. As the reader may never know if Chloe Tucker is real.

Simple, logical steps to make soup 

As someone who knows more about Russia than my own country, I may not be the best judge of this cookbook. So I wanted to put the actual recipes to the test and let my taste buds have the final say.

I first tried making the recipe for ukha, fish soup. The recipe requires four cups of water, cubed cod filets, one lemon, two cubed potatoes, a chopped onion, and a bunch of chopped parsley. Like my mother and everyone else before me taught me how to make soup – their recipe is simple. First, boil the water and throw everything in. Then boil some more. Unshockingly, Tucker’s recipe also has two steps. Number one – boil the water, add the potatoes. Boil some more, add fish. That’s basically it. I tried this exact experiment at home, with cubed cod (from frozen) as the recipe requires. Instead of four cups, I used a lot more water for a less powerful fishy taste. It was delicious and I would certainly try it again, with fresher cod filets. Perhaps with bone would have given more heart and texture to the oil content of the broth.

The book also contains a recipe for borscht. Within the recipe is a hidden tablespoon of honey. Is this a secret everyone has known about all along? I have never included honey in borscht, but I tried it this time.

Despite having my own beloved borscht recipes, reading books like this always enhances my toolkit in the kitchen. I always learn something new to try out in the kitchen. Another soup in the aforementioned chapter is the potato and green bean soup, which I have yet to try to make. Green beans are frequently the forgotten canned food item in most American pantries that could easily be used to make a soup in a pinch.

Most challenging dish: Solyanka

Perhaps the most complicated recipe in the book is solyanka. The recipe for solyanka requires both marinated and dried mushrooms and a cup of diced cooked veal among the twenty or so ingredients. Interestingly enough, there is a different process for the dried mushrooms, and then the marinated ones. As readers learned in my review of Beyond the North Wind, mushrooms are my absolute favorite food to work with in the kitchen. I used foraged chanterelles for the marinated mushrooms. I did not use veal, but just chuck instead.

The third step is to create a garnish bouquet out of cheesecloth, something I have never done. I was also apprehensive about the ¼ cup dill pickle juice… However, when all the ingredients were combined, it was hardly noticeable. The mushrooms, tomatoes, paprika, olives, ham, marjoram, and pickles all melded nicely into a completely unique taste. About three hours later, the kitchen smelled amazing and it was indeed the best everything-but-the-kitchen-sink style soup I have ever made. The Eastern side of me wants to try this recipe again, but with shrimp, tofu, or corn – instead of ham and steak next time. 

Even though I had very little faith in this eCookbook, I was impressed with all the dishes I did make. The directions were clear enough. Despite my low expectations for this Amazon discovery, I was pleased with the simplicity of the recipes. I can forgive the misleading title as the recipes are reasonable and not too difficult for a cook of any level. I would recommend this download to any of my fellow American friends who enjoy cooking.  

Book details: Tucker, Chloe. The Official Kremlin Cookbook: Exploring Russia through Simple Dishes, Treats, and Drinks. Kindle edition. Independently published. It is available to buy here.

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