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At Belarussian Xata, Hearty Fare to Keep the Spirits Light

Fanned out on a platter are swirled bouquets of salo (cured fatback), in three varieties: Belarusian, plush and quick to liquid on the tongue; smoked, its flavor shading toward aged Cheddar; and Hungarian, aflutter with paprika. Stalks of green onion, cherry tomatoes and a broken-down head of garlic crowd around, with splendidly fuming potatoes in a skillet alongside. (A more modest, singular helping of salo is accompanied by batons of rye bread as fat as French fries, crisped in butter, rubbed with garlic and tumbled into a cone of newspaper.)

In borscht, the sweetness of the beets is kept in check by salty nubs of pork and beef. Yellow split pea soup, soothing and mild, lands on the table with a pork rib jutting out, the hilt thoughtfully wrapped in foil and the meat smoke incarnate.

A night at Belarussian Xata can feel as though you’ve crashed a dozen parties at once, all in full swing. Credit Sasha Maslov for The New York Times

The main courses bring more pork. For machanka, hunks of rib, shoulder and a peasant-style sausage made in-house are left to commune in a pot for hours and presented with draniki or kerchiefs of blini, the better to soak up the stew. Neat bundles of cabbage divulge pork, beef and carrots, gently sweet. A monumental pork knuckle is braised and then baked until the fat wobbles off its flanks, calling to mind a slow avalanche.

The first Belarussian Xata opened in 2012 in the Basmanny District of Moscow, a few blocks from the Belarusian Embassy. Its Brooklyn outpost followed this past September, taking over a two-story building once home to Cafe Glechik, a Ukrainian spot. Marat Novikov, a businessman from Minsk who brought his family to Brooklyn in 1989, as the Soviet Union was reeling from internal unrest, runs both restaurants with the help of his son, Andrey; his daughter, Olga; and her husband, Steve Palanker, a native of Moldova.

A few recipes come from Mr. Novikov’s mother, like a perfect dessert of little orbs of tangy yogurt cheese, flecked with poppy seeds and simmered in sour cream. Room, too, should be made for sour cherry dumplings in crimson-stained skins and a trompe-l’oeil chocolate salami conjured out of crushed biscuits, cocoa, hazelnuts and prunes.

This is plenty, to be embraced and shared. A night at Belarussian Xata can feel as though you’ve crashed a dozen parties at once, all in full swing. One night, a group of women lingered for hours in a corner, deep in talk and growly laughter; only around 10 p.m. did their first zakuski arrive. They were in no hurry. They knew the value of time.

Belarussian Xata

1655 Sheepshead Bay Road

(Voorhies Avenue)

Sheepshead Bay

718-332-4292

bel-xata.com

Recommended Dishes Salo platter; herring “village style”; borscht; pea soup with smoked rib; draniki with sour cream; kolduni with mushrooms; machanka; stuffed cabbage; mini cheese balls; chocolate rulyada; sour cherry dumplings.

Price $ $ (moderate)

Open Daily for lunch and dinner.

Reservations Accepted.

Wheelchair Access The first-floor dining room is on the same level as the sidewalk; the second-floor dining room is accessible via elevator. Restrooms are equipped with a handrail.

NYT > Food

Recipe: Make Cauliflower and Broccoli More Compelling

 

Pan-roasted cauliflower with garlic, parsley and rosemary. Credit Evan Sung for The New York Times

Vegetables go in and out of style. These days, the darlings of the vegetable set tend to be cruciferous. Cauliflower is simply adored, and broccoli, a close relative, is nearly as well loved. Kale is still in vogue, as is broccolini, a hybrid cross of gai-lan and broccoli. All have a certain humble, cabbagey, shabby-chic aspect.

 

The darlings of the vegetable set tend to be cruciferous, like cauliflower. Credit Evan Sung for The New York Times

There is no need to settle for plain steamed cauliflower or broccoli, however. There isn’t a cruciferous vegetable that couldn’t be made more compelling with garlic, red pepper and lemon, more delectable with a bit of oil, butter or cheese.

The classic Anglo baked cauliflower, smothered in cheesy cream sauce and long cooked until completely tender, is comfort food for many, as homey as mac and cheese. I confess I like it that way too. But I am usually more inclined to head in a different direction.

 

Butter-steamed broccoli with peppery bread crumbs makes an elegant dish. Credit Evan Sung for The New York Times

Many vegetables are good candidates for roasting in a hot oven, lightly coated with oil, or over high heat in a skillet. Cauliflower certainly is. Roasting concentrates its flavor and sweetness, producing lovely crisp browned edges. Some cut it into medium-size florets, but my favorite way is to slice cauliflower into rough random-shaped slices a quarter- to a half-inch thick. The slices have flat surfaces for better browning, and there are always some nice crumbly bits that brown too, which add varied texture.

Roasted cauliflower slices may be seasoned simply with salt and pepper, or more complexly with a mixture of Indian spices like cumin, mustard seeds and turmeric. A more Mediterranean approach is to shower them with garlic, parsley and rosemary during the last minute or two of cooking. Cauliflower’s benign nature begs for a hit of lemon and hot pepper too.

 

Baked romanesco broccoli with mozzarella and olives. Credit Evan Sung for The New York Times

In Sicily, cauliflower comes in many colors, displayed in abundant piles at the market. You see the familiar white ones, but also a pale-green variety in Palermo, or a violet-purple kind from Catania. To confuse matters, most Sicilians call cauliflower broccoli, even though the Italian word for it is cavolfiore.

A traditional way to prepare it is baked with a topping of soft sheep’s milk cheese and black olives. It is quite a tasty combination, but some versions are somewhat underwhelming or bland. I think the addition of a little anchovy, garlic and hot pepper perks it up admirably. I use a combination of fresh cow’s milk mozzarella and pecorino cheese to stand in for the Sicilian sheep’s cheese. I also substituted romanesco broccoli — those curious-looking bright chartreuse spiky specimens — with delicious results. You may use any kind of cauliflower for this hearty dish.

The standard bushy green broccoli, the kind with one thick stem you can find everywhere, is serviceable, sturdy and long-lasting. But the fresher the broccoli, the more flavorful it is. In my experience, the organic broccoli at the supermarket (which is mainly from California) tends to be fresher and tastier than conventional. Also look for so-called sprouting broccoli, smaller and multi-stemmed, which you’ll find at farmers’ markets in temperate climates.

The way you cut the broccoli can make a difference too. Instead of chopping off large puffy florets, which often end up overcooked, try making longer thinner spears. I like to use a method called butter-steamed, which essentially means simmered in a shallow butter-and-water bath, covered, over high heat. In the process, the broccoli absorbs all the savory cooking liquid, or nearly, and takes no more than five minutes or so to cook. Broccoli steamed this way may be enhanced further with a generous application of crunchy, peppery homemade bread crumbs.

Feel free to make any of the three following recipes with cauliflower, broccoli or romanesco; they are fairly interchangeable. And, being crucifers, all are equally stylish.
NYT > Food