Back in 1973 or so, when I took my first cooking class (Vegetarian Gourmet cooking), I was just starting to go beyond the meat-and-potatoes and pedestrian vegetables of my youth and to strike out into uncharted territory. I seem to remember that the vegetarian cooking class was the only one I could fit into my schedule, so that’s what I took. Because Martha Rose Shulman, the woman who taught the class, was so passionate about food and cooking, and made it so accessible, I was inspired to start my own journey. Martha Rose, who was just starting out, went on to become rather well known in the food world–she came out with her own cookbooks and is still a food columnist for the New York Times. But that was 1973, Martha Rose was just another Austin hippie, and I didn’t know much about cooking. So the first thing I did was to buy the cookbook she recommended. It was called The Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas. I still have a copy (actually, I’m on my second one, because the first one finally fell apart) and I still love it. And Russian Vegetable Pie is my favorite recipe in it.
The recipe in the book calls for a whole wheat pie crust, homemade of course. I really prefer that, because the nuttiness of the whole wheat complements the filling so well, but I was in a hurry to make this pie, and packaged pie crusts are so darned convenient. I think they taste pretty good, too–as long as you buy the rolled up dough ones and not the ones that are sold frozen in pie tins. I think those taste like cardboard. Anyway, I used the prepackaged dough. I’m not spending too much time feeling guilty over it.
These are the ingredients for the filling. Imagine that those eggs are hard-boiled and sliced, the onion and cabbage are chopped, and the cream cheese is cut in half and softened. Once you’ve done all that, half the battle is fought.Put your chopped cabbage and onions in a giant frying pan with some melted butter, and let them cook and soften till they look like this, then add lots of tarragon and basil. I use dried in this recipe, but I guess you could use fresh if you have them. Season it with salt and pepper, and remove it from the pan.Add the mushrooms to the skillet with a little more butter, and fry them until they are brown and have lost their juices. Let them and the cabbage mixture cool a bit, and you are ready to assemble the pie.
Spread the softened cream cheese on the bottom crust, then start layering the hardboiled egg slices on top of it. Sprinkle heavily with dill, salt, and pepper.
Top the eggs with the cabbage, and then with the mushrooms. Fit the top crust over the mushrooms, and cut some slits in the top.
Bake it at 400° F for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 350° for about another 20 minutes, until the crust is brown.
This pie needs to cool for a while so that it will slice nicely. And actually, if I can wait that long, I like to eat it cold.
Russian Vegetable Pie
1 small cabbage, coarsely shredded
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, chopped
basil, marjoram, and tarragon to taste
3 tablespoons butter
4 oz softened cream cheese
4-5 hard boiled eggs
1 9-inch pie crust, plus another circle of pastry for the top
In a large pan melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add the onion and cabbage and sauté for several minutes, stirring constantly. Add herbs and seasoning to taste. Cook until the cabbage has wilted and the onions are soft. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add another tablespoon butter to the pan and saute mushrooms for 5-6 minutes, stirring. Spread the softened cream cheese in the bottom of the pie shell. Slice the eggs and arrange the slices in a layer over the cheese. Sprinkle them with a little chopped dill, then cover with cabbage. Make a final layer with the mushrooms. Cover with the circle of pastry, press pastry together and flute edges.