From Russia with love: Island visitor cooks up authentic foods for friends

— Seldom have diners been treated to a more unusual and delicious repast than the one Margareta Timbur prepared for five of her friends recently. Margareta is from Moldova, a country which used to be part of the USSR.

“I’m from an intellectual family,” she says with a laugh. “My parents are retired teachers and my sister is a professor at a technical college back home. Still, we all love to cook.”

After high school, Margareta studied piano for a year, then in 2005 earned a scholarship to a university in Romania where she pursued a degree in finance. Two years later she received a master’s degree in accounting and auditing.

“It sounds like a lot of numbers,” she joked, “but recipes are numbers, too.”

An internship with the American Hospitality Academy opened up on Marco Island and she jumped at the chance, working in the food and beverage department of the Marco Beach Ocean Resort until she had to return home in 2008.

“It was a marvelous experience,” she revealed, “and I loved the meals there.”

Back home again, she was employed in a bank while also working on a scholarship for her doctorate in international business.

“I still have two yeas to go on that program,” she explained, “but I came over here for summer vacation for four months in the summer of 2010.” She became an intern at the Hilton Marco Island Beach Resort, and it increased her love of the area.

“My cooking is very old-style Russian and Romanian,” she mused, “but I love the local Florida foods, too.”

Margareta served dry red wine with the appetizers and throughout the dinner, which began with the following appetizer.

Egg Boats

6 hard-boiled eggs

1 small can of ham spread

Garlic seasoning to taste

Salt and cracked pepper

Thin slices of Swiss cheese and cooked turkey breast

Toothpicks

Peel eggs and cut in half lengthwise. Mash yolks with ham spread and season with garlic, salt and pepper. Stuff egg whites with this mixture. Cut cheese and turkey into small squares and pierce with toothpick on the diagonal. Insert toothpick into thick part of egg white and arrange attractively on tray. Sprinkle with finely chopped fresh parsley.

Russian vinaigrette salad

If you have traveled in Europe, you know that Russian salad is simply a version of the potato salad we take on picnics here in America. It is the most popular salad in Russia and contains boiled potatoes (peeled and diced), boiled beets the same way, boiled carrots, chopped onions, green peas, chopped pickled cucumbers and scallions. Everything is cut into small cubes and the salad is tossed with olive oil and salt and garnished with minced fresh parsley. Serve chilled.

Russian beet salad

Boil beets in salted water until tender, or use pressure cooker. Cool, peel and grate the beets. Toss with a small amount of garlic-flavored mayonnaise. You may add finely minced pecans to this salad, and serve it cold.

Hot red borsch

Margareta makes her version with beet broth and so you must first boil two or three cut beets in beef or chicken stock which you can buy at the market. The soup usually contains heavy root vegetables including diced potatoes and beets, but may also contain chopped onions and sliced carrots and cabbage. Margareta added diced cooked chicken breast to this wonderful classic, although some recipes call for beef. It is garnished with minced parsley, dill and scallions and it is served with sour cream and dark bread.

Grilled potatoes with fish

“This is a real country dish,” said Margareta, “and was always a favorite at home.”

Allow one medium baking potato for each person. Peel and cut potatoes into large dice and place them in an oiled baking dish. Spoon some mayonnaise, salt, black pepper and minced dill or parsley over potatoes. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, tossing with small sharp knife to see if they are done.

Allow a small fish filet for each serving. Cut fish into bite-sized pieces and sauté in garlic-flavored salad oil for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring over medium heat. Add salt and cracked black pepper as desired.

Place fish pieces on hot platter and gently spoon potatoes carefully over top. Serve with sweet pickles on the side.

Baked fruit with cream sauce

“This is such an easy dish and you can make it the day before,” suggested Margareta. Start by selecting a variety of fresh fruits. Peel and cut up peaches, apricots or mangoes. Hull strawberries wash and cut in half if large. Wash grapes and cut in half. Add orange sections and fresh pineapple chunks. Place all of these in a greased baking dish and scatter over them some sugar or sweetener and a little rum. Drizzle with a little melted butter. Bake at 350 degrees for half an hour. Allow to cool, then chill overnight.

To serve, spoon fruit into dessert dishes and cover with vanilla custard which you may make with a box of mix, using cream instead of milk. Flavor sauce lightly with rum. Garnish each serving with mint leaves.

Margareta loves to cook so much, sharing her culture with foods from her country. She won’t leave Marco until October when her work visa expires.

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