How to Build a Cheese Pyramid

Nothing in Russia is a medium-sized deal.

The options are twofold:

  • huge, glitzy and over-the-top
  • bare-bones, dirty and offensively underwhelming

For example, it’s perfectly acceptable to walk on the street in 8 inch platform rhinestone stilettos and a mini dress when it’s snowing. Preferred, even. This last week alone I saw a Bentley stretch limo, a neon orange Cadillac Escalade and a sleek matte-textured Jaguar. Today I saw a lady at the gym wiping her butt sweat with a Louis Vuitton towel. There’s a chance that once a tiny child next to me on the bus had a grill, though it could have been something else, it all happened very fast.

I’ve been told that the average Russian would choose a nice car and a crappy apartment over the reverse any day of the week. I would not say that Russians are materialistic outright (okay, maybe) but rather they really really appreciate the aesthetic. That’s why I was only moderately surprised when the Russian Orthodox Easter rolled around this year and people went ape wild for beautiful food preparation, eccentric egg dying and very public Jesus lovin’. I was touched when my babushka offered (forced) me to help make (singlehandedly make) the “paskha”— literally an enormous pyramid of cream cheese, butter, sugar, and raisins. Well sure, I said! Since those are my favorite foods and I eat them all the time.

Before I came to Russia I made a deal with myself that if quintessential Russian cultural experiences came up I would consider trying non-vegan foods. In almost 2.5 years of veganism I haven’t broken it for anything so I was kind of nervous at the prospect (re: nervous for my bowels [re: this is my blog and I don’t care if everyone is grossed out at me talking about my bowels]) of trying something so rich. In the end I tried enough to taste the flavors (rich and sweet) and to not offend my babushka. She clearly took this as an opportunity to hint at eating dairy full time (cuz I will not be able to birth children if I stay vegan, or something), but at the end of the day seemed pretty pleased I was part of the tradition.

So I know this is a vegan blog. But it’s called VeganIZZM which in this case means this is a little more about my life and all of the ridiculous things it involves. If you’re interested in learned a bit about Russia or want to create a really Egyptian looking pile of cheese read further.

My Babushka’s Paskha

If you can find a way to veganize this and make it not disgusting I will be impressed.

  • 5 cups tvorog (Russian cottage/cream cheese, available in Russian stores)
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup raisins (soaked overnight to soften)
  • 1/4 cup chopped apricots
  • zest of 1 lemon

1. Push the tvorog through a sieve with the back of the spoon. This will take forever and make you very cynical about the whole experience.

2. Mix it up real good with softened butter, fruits and sugar. Pour into a cheese cloth-lined mould* and place in the fridge overnight.

*your mould should be pyramid shaped, made of cardboard, held together by string and at least 25 years old.

In the mean time, dye eggs. If you’re vegan don’t eat them.

3. On the day of your celebration carefully flip and remove from the mould.

Enjoy with a lovely Easter spread (those cakes are called “kulich” and they’re basically like spongey bread/challah with dried fruits inside.

Like I said. When Russians do it up, they do it right.

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