Recipe by Julia Zouev & Tanya Zouev. Photography and styling by Tanya Zouev.
It’s been nearly ten years since I found out I have a wheat allergy and during this time, much to the disdain of my mother, I’ve eaten somewhat little Russian food.
The reason for this is that so much Russian food contains wheat: pilmeni, bread, piroshki to name just a few menu items, all contain the bearer of much gastric distress. Whilst my mother and I have managed to create gluten-free versions of many well-known Russian recipes, the vast majority remain out of bounds, including kotleti. Until now.
Kotleti are essentially, a Russian burger, and they are really good. Why they’re called kotleti (cutlet), I have no idea, but every Russian kid grows up eating copious amounts of them alongside other Eastern European favourites. I consider them to be a comfort food, something often eaten growing up with buttery mashed potatoes and crisp dill pickled cucumbers. Kotleti are traditionally made with day-old white bread soaked in milk, which contributes to their soft and juicy texture. However I wanted to create a Paleo version that had the same juicy quality, and so I set about working this part out.
For this recipe I consulted my personal kotleti expert (my mother), and together we came up with a Paleo version that works beautifully to create a succulent juicy burger. I have replaced the bread with ground cashews to act as the binder, and grated zucchini for juiciness (and to make the meat stretch that little bit further). The recipe is very simple, requiring just a handful of ingredients to create something really wonderful. It goes to show that when you have ratios just right in a recipe, magic happens.
When I make kotleti I always serve them with fried onions, horseradish (or mustard), and fresh lemon wedges. Though these days I don’t eat grains very often, I will occasionally treat myself to steamed buckwheat with grassfed salted butter melted through it. A glorious combination with the onions, and one that takes me straight back to my mother’s kitchen, every time.
Makes approximately 20 kotleti. Prep time 30 mins, cooking time 30 mins.
500 grams each minced (ground) pork, turkey/chicken, beef (total 1.5 kg)
1/2 cup ground cashews
1 medium zucchini, grated
1 large clove garlic
2 eggs beaten
1 medium onion, grated
ghee and/or macadamia oil for frying
1. Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix through with a fork until well combined.
2. Using wet hands, scoop the meat into little rounds, then shape into ovals and flatten slightly before laying on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper. I keep a bowl of water nearby and wet my hands between kotleti.
3. At this point I like to let the kotleti sit in the fridge for 30 minutes to set them, otherwise you can fry them straight away. I find they hold that little bit better if they’ve been allowed this time before cooking.
4. Shallow-fry in a combination of ghee and macadamia oil, preferably in a seasoned cast iron pan (known in Russian as a “chigunaya”. Best eaten straight away. Please note that whilst the kotleti are still tasty the next day, they are at their most delicious as soon as they are cooked, crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside.
* These freeze really well, so if a batch of twenty is too many for your needs, you can always defrost them and they’ll fry up just as well.
Photography and styling notes:
Enamel cookware and patterned Eastern European linen always take me straight back to the kitchens of my childhood. I’ve used a red enamelled pan with vintage linen and little bowls to create a scene that might have taken place in my Babushka’s or mother’s house. The inclusion of the modern blue plate is to represent my spin on a Russian classic. Equipment used was a Canon 5D Mark 3 with a 24mm L-series lens and a 100mm macro. Only light used is window light.