Eastern European comfort food

December 21, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Our hungry hound has just the solution: Head to Eastern Europe - through the food, of course.

We're not messing around this week, as we take a single-minded approach - to see what people in cold climates on the other side of the globe do to warm up in the winter.

I'll give you a hint: there are few vegetables beyond potatoes.

We begin our series in Mundelein seeking out comfort food spanning several countries in the former Soviet Union.

Few people in the western hemisphere truly understand the significance of the post Soviet-era borders, but in terms of food, the differences between Armenian soup and Georgian khachapury can be vast; not to mention the Russian and Uzbek pelmeni, or dumplings. But at Ararat, hidden in a Mundelein strip mall next door to a vast Russian deli, the menu straddles several countries.

"Actually we have here different types of food... mostly Armenian and Georgian... and also Russian food," said Irina Melkumov, one of the owners of Ararat.

The first thing you'll notice here are the soups: hearty and filling.

"Every day, we try to have at least five, six kinds. Today, we have eight," she said.

The shurpa, for example, contains root vegetables, diced lamb and chickpeas. The Armenian side of things means kebabs - lots of them. Cooked slowly over hardwood charcoal, they typically arrive with fried potatoes tossed in garlic and parsley. All of the dough is handmade, whether it's for those aforementioned pelmeni - tiny dumplings filled with ground lamb - or khinkali, which clearly resemble their Asian cousin, the bao; these are filled with ground beef and peppers. Then there's the Georgian staple, known as khachapury.

"Hach from Georgian language translated like cheese. Pury means bread. So, it is Georgian pizza," said Melkumov.

The homemade dough is covered in feta and mozzarella, then baked for about 15 minutes. An egg is cracked onto it, and then it is baked some more. At the table, you cut pockets into the side, making sure to get the moist egg and cheese into every crevice. The menu may have several regional influences, but it's all pretty comforting this time of year.

"Food was pretty similar in Greek, Italian, Armenia and Lebanese and Arabian countries," she said.

The great thing about Ararat is that it is located right next door to a massive Russian deli and grocery store, so you can stock up on all kinds of smoked fish, sausage and caviar.

364 Townline Rd., Mundelein
(847) 566-975

Also mentioned:
Russian Tea Time
77 E. Adams St.

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