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Mum’s Recipe Box with Marina Bryl



For Marina Bryl, growing up behind the Iron Curtain was a simple, uncomplicated life where the motto “waste not, want not” held true. Looking back, Marina believes those formative years in the former Soviet Union gave her a solid foundation and a strong, disciplined work ethic, something that she hopes to impart to her three young boys: 11-year-old Nikolai, five-year-old Marco and baby Maximus.

Making the best of things

While media images of long store queues and empty shelves were published around the globe, for Marina the reality was quite different. “It was a very stable life. Nobody was concerned about tomorrow. My mum always used to say that life was good,” Marina recalls. “We never felt we missed out on anything although we didn’t have a lot. It was a hard time but we didn’t feel it was hard. We certainly didn’t have anything handed to us and didn’t feel less of ourselves. My mum couldn’t afford a loaf of bread but she would buy half a loaf and add potatoes to make a delicious meal. We wanted a better life and we made the best of everything.”

Though not exactly a consumer’s paradise, Marina tells stories of farmers’ markets filled with locally produced products such as cottage cheeses, oil and honey. Government stores offered a selection of products from other Soviet Union countries such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Ukraine with fresh seasonal and regional produce. Marina says that it was not uncommon to own a summer house where vegetables and fruit were grown for use in traditional jams, preserves and pickles. These helped families prepare for the long, cold Russian winters. “I used to have a greenhouse and grow strawberries, blackcurrants, pears, everything! My mum, sister and I would prepare everything from scratch. We didn’t have cake mix or convenience food in those days. Cooking was never seen as a task or chore—it was a natural part of daily life.”

Cooking with her boys

A natural cook with a love of baking, Marina loves whipping up traditional pastries and desserts for her entire family, including husband Mario. She’s often found in the kitchen with her two eldest sons Nikolai and Marco. “My kids have grown up watching me in the kitchen. My five-year-old son Marco loves to try anything—even sushi. He loves it! Nikolai, my eldest son, makes his own omelettes now. Hopefully my boys will not see cooking as a burden—I want them to enjoy preparing food for themselves and their future families.”

So what does her young family enjoy the most? Hearty, rustic Eastern European soups such as borscht, made with beetroot, is a favourite alongside international classics such as lasagne. Marina also loves to offer healthy meals featuring salads, chicken and rice. Meals are made in large quantities (great for freezing!) while leftovers are often used for snacks and school lunches. “We try to utilise food and not throw it away. You can be very creative when using leftovers!”

For Marina, food is a naturally enjoyable part of life as well as an important skill to be passed onto her young family. It’s also a perfect way to spend time with her children and share in her cultural heritage. “Cooking is important to me. I like my family to eat well and healthily. It brings me so much happiness.”

Eastern European Salad

Serves four to six

Ingredients

  • 2 large potatoes
  • 2 carrots
  • 100g sweet peas, drained
  • 50g dill pickles, chopped
  • 50g fresh cucumbers, chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped (can substitute with spring onions)
  • 4 medium-sized chicken sausages, chopped
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
  • 100g of mayonnaise
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Place unpeeled potatoes and carrots in a large pot and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil
  2. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water until room temperature. Peel and dice potatoes and carrots
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the potatoes, carrots, sweet peas, pickles, cucumbers, onion, sausages and eggs
  4. Stir mayonnaise, salt and black pepper gently into potato mixture until well combined
  5. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, at least 30 minutes

Rogaliki Crescent Cookies

Makes 12–15 cookies. You can fill the cookies with sultanas, berries or chocolate by rolling the filling into the centre before you bake them. Sprinkle the baked cookies with powdered sugar or drizzle with melted chocolate before serving.

Ingredients

  • 400g ricotta cheese
  • 200g unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 250g all-purpose flour
  • 225g sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven 220 degrees

  1. In a large bowl whisk together ricotta, butter, eggs, baking powder and baking soda
  2. Add in the flour a few spoonfuls at a time, and use your hands to mix the dough
  3. Divide into two portions. Shape each pastry portion into a round, circular base. Cut into pizza-like triangles (approximately 12–16 pieces)
  4. Sprinkle the sugar evenly over the triangles
  5. Starting from the wide end of the triangle, gently roll the dough until the shape is similar to a croissant
  6. Transfer the cookies to a greaseproof baking tray, leaving about 3cm of space between each cookie
  7. Bake for approximately 12 minutes or until golden

Marina's Top Tips

  • Soups are great for using leftover produce
  • Garnish salads with superfoods such as quinoa or buckwheat
  • Freeze fresh herbs such as dill, parsley and coriander for garnish on soups and salads
  • Buy cheaper vegetables to bulk up meals
  • Use leftovers for lunch boxes, snacks or next-day meals
  • Buy store-bought pastry dough—use it to make sausage rolls and fruit-filled desserts
  • Avocados are healthy and versatile—try adding them to smoothies, salads and dips

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