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Syrniki (Curd-Cheese Pancakes)

Beloved throughout much of the former Soviet Union, these pancakes make a delicious dessert or a light summer meal. They're traditionally made with tvorog, a fairly dry curd cheese. Farmer's cheese makes the best substitute, though cottage cheese or fromage blanc can be substituted in a pinch (with a bit more flour to compensate for the extra moisture). A handful of raisins traditionally adds a nice flavor and texture, but during the summer you can omit them in favor of the modern touch of fresh berries or compote. Either way, don't forget to serve them with sour cream. This recipe is adapted from one Portland chef Vitaly Paley remembers from his mother, Genya Paley. He says his grandmother was famous for adding a pinch of baking powder, dissolved in lemon juice, to produce exceptionally light syrniki.

Syrniki (Curd Cheese Pancakes)
Deena Prichep for NPR
Syrniki (Curd Cheese Pancakes)
Deena Prichep for NPR

Makes 3 dozen pancakes, 4 servings

1 1/2 cups farmer cheese (if unavailable, you can substitute cottage cheese, blended to break up the curds, or ricotta or fromage blanc, but they will require a bit more flour)

3 large eggs

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch baking soda

Few drops lemon juice

3 to 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour (depending on the type of cheese used)

Butter for frying

Sour cream and berries, jam or compote for serving

Heat a heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Mix together the cheese, eggs, sugar and vanilla. Separately, mix together the baking soda and lemon juice and stir that in as well. Add enough flour to make a thick batter, slightly thicker than pancake batter (the exact amount will vary depending on the type of cheese used).

When the skillet has heated, melt a few spoonfuls of butter in it, and plop down heaping tablespoons of batter. The batter should sizzle slightly. If the batter is too runny to set in little pancakes, add additional flour. Cook until the underside is golden, and the top has dried out slightly and holes are beginning to poke through (this will just take a few minutes). Flip, and brown on the other side (the second side should take less time). Repeat with remaining batter, adding additional butter to the skillet as needed. Serve with sour cream and fresh berries.

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