Inspired by the traditions of Russian Easter, we propose kulich and paskha for this relaxed Easter brunch. The tall, cakelike yeast kulich and the sweet, fresh cheese paskha must both be started well ahead, leaving little to do at the last minute, except, perhaps, to hunt for eggs.
Light meals are also needed to match light spirits that come with spring. The other two menus, which focus on vegetables, fit the bill extremely well. The first has a baked vegetable flan with salad, the second a green soup with shrimp.
Ricotta Paskha Kulich with Candied Orange Peel Hard-cooked Eggs Sliced Ham Strawberries Orange Juice
Start the paskha up to 3 days before it is to be served; the kulich dough can be chilled up to 24 hours, so you can bake and serve it warm for brunch. Fresh candied orange peel goes into and with bread and cheese.
If you use seed from a vanilla bean to flavor paskha and kulich, store the pod in a tightly covered jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar.
1 piece (3 to 4 in. long) vanilla bean, or 2 teaspoons vanilla 1/4 cup milk 1 container (15 oz., about 2 cups) low-fat or part-skim ricotta cheese 1 pint (2 cups) nonfat small-curd cottage cheese 1/4 cup sugar 1 teaspoon candied orange peel (see kulich, following)
Split vanilla bean lengthwise; with a knife, scrape out seeds and put in a blender or food processor. Add milk, ricotta, cottage cheese, and sugar; smoothly puree.
Line a strainer with a single layer of muslin or a double layer of cheesecloth. Set strainer over a deep bowl (strainer base should be at least 2 in. above bottom of bowl). Spoon cheese mixture into cloth. Fold cloth over cheese and set a plate just smaller than strainer top on cheese; set a 1-pound weight (such as a can of food) on plate. Cover entire bowl airtight; chill at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours.
Remove weight, fold back cloth, and spoon paskha into a bowl. Serve, or cover and chill up to 2 days. Garnish cheese with candied orange peel. Makes 2 3/4 cups, 6 to 8 servings.
Per tablespoon: 26 cal. (25 percent from fat); 2.7 g protein; 0.7 g fat (0.4 g sat.); 2.3 g carbo.; 49 mg sodium; 2.8 mg chol.
Kulich with Candied Orange Peel
1 vanilla bean (6 to 8 in. long), or 2 teaspoons vanilla 1 tablespoon vodka or brandy 8 tablespoons (1/4 lb.) butter or margarine About 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour 1/4 cup milk 3 large eggs 1 package active dry yeast 2 tablespoons warm water 1/2 cup sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons finely chopped candied orange peel (recipe follows) 2 brown paper lunch bags with 3 1/2- by 5-inch bases Glaze and rosebuds (directions follow)
Split vanilla bean lengthwise; with a knife, scrape out seeds and mix with vodka. Discard pod.
In a 1- to 1 1/2-quart pan over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Off the heat, smoothly mix in 2 tablespoons flour and milk; return to heat and stir until mixture is very thick, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.
Separate 1 egg and add yolk to pan; stir until thoroughly blended. Let cool until just slightly warm to touch.
Meanwhile, in a bowl stir yeast, warm water, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar; let stand until yeast is moistened, about 5 minutes. Add to cooked mixture and beat to blend; cover and let stand in a warm place until about doubled and very foamy, about 15 minutes.
In a bowl, beat 6 tablespoons butter with remaining sugar and salt until well blended. Add yeast mixture, vodka mixture, egg white, remaining 2 eggs, 2 cups flour, and candied orange peel; stir until thoroughly moistened.
With a dough hook or mixer, beat on high speed until dough is very stretchy and shiny, and pulls from side of bowl. Lightly touched, the dough should not be sticky; if it is, beat in flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, as required.
With a heavy spoon, beat dough until stretchy, about 4 minutes. Then, with oiled hands, rapidly pull handfuls of the very soft dough from the bowl and forcefully throw back; repeat until dough pulls free from bowl in a single lump, about 25 minutes. If it still sticks, add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, as required.
Cover dough in bowl with plastic wrap. (If making ahead, put kneaded dough in the refrigerator up to 24 hours.)
Let rise in a warm place until almost doubled, about 1 hour (longer, if chilled).
Fit 1 paper bag into the other. Fold tops neatly down together to make a bag 5 1/2 inches tall; gently pull bag open to straighten sides. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter; brush it over interior of bag. Set bag upright in a 4- by 8-inch loaf pan.
Stir soft dough vigorously to expel air. Shape into a ball with oiled hands and drop into bag. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place until dough has risen about 3 inches in bag, 20 to 30 minutes (longer if dough is cold).
Bake on lowest rack of a 325 |degrees~ oven until richly browned and a long, slender wooden skewer inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool loaf in pan about 10 minutes. Tear off bag. Spread glaze on top of loaf, letting excess drip down sides. Set roses in glaze. Serve kulich warm or cool; cut vertically into thin slices. Makes 1 loaf, about 1 1/2 pounds. Serves 6 to 8.
Per ounce: 124 cal.; 36 percent from fat; 2 g protein; 5 g fat (2.9 g sat.); 18 g carbo.; 71 mg sodium; 37 mg chol.
Candied orange peel. With a vegetable peeler, cut colored part only from 3 large oranges (about 1/2 lb. each); cut peel into slivers. Ream fruit to extract juice.
In a 2- to 3-quart pan, cover peel with water; bring to a boil. Drain; repeat step.
Add 1/4 cup sugar and juice to drained peel. Boil, uncovered, on high heat until liquid is almost gone and syrup forms big bubbles, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir often; watch closely to avoid scorching. Serve, or chill air-tight up to 2 months. Makes about 1/3 cup.
Per teaspoon: 11 cal. (0 percent from fat); 0 g protein; 0 g fat; 2.7 g carbo.; 0 mg sodium; 0 mg chol.
Glaze and rosebuds.
Smoothly blend 1 cup unsifted powdered sugar with about 1 tablespoon water to make a mixture that is just thick enough to spread. Decorate bread with 2 or 3 fresh tiny rosebuds (pesticide-free, or candied rose petals) and fresh citrus leaves (pesticide-free), rinsed and drained.
PEPPER FLAN AND SALAD LUNCH
Red Pepper Flan with Bean Salad Crisp Breadsticks Mineral Water with Lemon Slices Chocolate Brownies
Handy canned mild red peppers and beans give this light menu a quick start; everything can be made ahead if you'd like to serve a cool lunch. Purchase crisp breadsticks, and buy brownies, or bake them, using your favorite recipe.
Red Pepper Flan with Bean Salad
2 cans (7 oz. each, or 1 cup) roasted red bell peppers, drained and parted dry 3 large eggs 1/3 cup regular-strength chicken broth Bean salad (recipe follows) 4 to 8 large butter lettuce leaves, rinsed and crisped Fresh cilantro (coriander) sprigs
In a blender or food processor, smoothly puree peppers, eggs, and broth. Pour mixture equally into 4 small ramekins or baking dishes (each 3/4 cup and 2 in. deep). Set ramekins, side by side, in a larger pan (at least 2 in. deep). Set pan on center rack of a 325|degrees~ oven.
Pour boiling water into pan up to level of pepper mixture. Bake until flan no longer jiggles in center when gently shaken, 25 to 35 minutes. Lift ramekins from water. Serve hot or cool; if making ahead, cool flan; cover and chill up to 1 day.
Set flan on plates; serve bean salad on lettuce leaves alongside. Garnish with cilantro. Serves 4.
Per serving: 233 cal. (27 percent from fat); 14 g protein; 6.9 g fat (2.6 g sat.); 30 g carbo.; 573 mg sodium; 167 mg chol.
Bean salad. Drain 1 can (about 15 oz.) black beans. In a bowl, combine 1 cup finely chopped jicama, 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, 3 tablespoons lime juice, 1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro (coriander), 2 tablespoons chopped green onion, 2 teaspoons honey, and 1/4 teaspoon crushed hot dried red chilies. Mix well. Serve; or if making ahead, cover and chill up to 8 hours.
SPRING SOUP SUPPER
Spring Vegetable and Shrimp Soup Italian Bread Dry Johannisberg Riesling or Iced Tea Biscotti Espresso
The soup is ready almost as quickly as the broth base comes to boiling; the soup not only tastes fresh and light, but also is very low in fat. For dessert, dunk dense biscotti cookies into the strong coffee.
Spring Vegetable and Shrimp Soup
6 cups regular-strength chicken broth 2 cups diced carrots 2 cups thinly sliced asparagus 1 package (10 oz.) frozen petite peas 1 1/2 pounds shelled cooked tiny shrimp, rinsed 1/2 cup chopped green onions 1/4 cup minced parsley
In a 5- to 6-quart pan over high heat, combine broth and carrots; bring to boiling. Add asparagus and peas; simmer until asparagus is just tender to bite, about 2 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine shrimp, onions, and parsley. Ladle soup into bowls and add shrimp mixture. Serves 8.
Per serving; 155 cal. (13 percent from fat); 23 g protein; 2.3 g fat (0.6 g sat.); 10 g carbo.; 244 mg sodium; 166 mg chol.