Anya Kassoff

Tell us about yourself.
My name is Anya Kassoff. I grew up in Russia and moved to the United States in the late nineties. I have always been interested in food, inspired by my mother’s love for cooking and the incredible meals she raised me on. I’ve had several professions throughout my life, but always came back to the kitchen to find the most inspiration and comfort. My interest in preparing healthy meals came about naturally, as I love a challenge in the kitchen and believe in the healing powers of fresh ingredients. I write the food blog Golubka and just finished writing my first cookbook, which came about as a result of the blog. I live in Florida with my husband and younger daughter.

What is beauty to you and how do you define beauty?
I see beauty as an emotion or a thing that triggers a very perfect, pleasing set of emotions. Having lived in two very different countries, I’ve noticed how much the definition of beauty varies from individual to individual, town and nation. And that fact is fascinating – beauty is not universal. I often find the simplest things to be the most beautiful, and of course anything originating in nature is beauty itself.

What’s beautiful about food?
The beauty of food comes from its origin – the freshness and seasonality of ingredients and, of course, the way they are prepared. Sometimes, a ripe apple right off the tree can be the most beautiful thing in the world. And then the process of turning that apple into a tasty dish is beautiful in itself. When I come up with a recipe, colour is the second thing I consider after flavour. It’s important to me that a dish is colourful for visual and nutritional reasons – the more natural colour on your plate, the more benefits you are getting from the meal.

What inspired you to begin blogging?
I started the food blog Golubka when my second daughter, Paloma, was born. I was determined to raise her on a whole foods, vegetarian diet and originally, Golubka was a space where I documented Paloma’s meals. It quickly became a general healthy recipe journal and a true passion in my life.

Your blog name, Golubka, is quite unique – translated, it means “dove” in Russian. Why did you settle on this name as opposed to a name associated with food
Golubka is a version of my maiden name. My second daughter’s name is Paloma, which of course means “dove” in Spanish, so it all intersects. When I was naming the blog, I didn’t consider the marketability of the name but rather went with my instinct.

Food is quite seasonal. What are your favorite foods each season?
I am a Libra and Libras are notoriously indecisive. I have the hardest time picking favourites. Quite literally, anything in season is my favourite. A few highlights are figs in the late summer and early fall, persimmons in the winter, fava beans in the spring, and heirloom tomatoes in the summer.

In what way do you prepare food differently for your children? What are your young ones’ favorite meals?
Ideally, I would like to feed Paloma the same food that the adults eat, but it’s not always possible. At five, she has become a pickier eater, and it takes more tricks to get her to eat vegetables than it did when she was two or three. I often have to come up with new and attractive ways to serve her healthy foods and it’s quite a commitment. Paloma loves to cook with me and is generally more open to meals she helped prepare. Her ultimate favourite is the Key Lime Pie smoothie, which is made of freshly squeezed apple and lime juices, avocado and bananas. Lately, she’s been obsessed with crepes, which I usually make vegan, out of different sprouted flours (buckwheat, quinoa or spelt) and often add vegetables like spinach or shredded beet right into the batter. I devoted a whole Play Time chapter in my upcoming book to different healthy dishes that Paloma and I make together.

You’re known for choosing sprouted flour, for meals like sprouted pancakes. Why sprouted versus normal flour?
Sprouted flours are easier to digest – sprouting breaks down the starches in grains into simple sugars, so your body recognizes and digests them like vegetables, which is a fascinating fact. Sprouting or soaking grains and nuts neutralizes certain enzyme inhibitors that prevent proper nutrient digestion. The amount of vitamins and enzymes multiplies during the process of sprouting. And finally, sprouted flours taste better and produce lighter, fluffier baked goods.

You are quite the wanderluster, as one who loves to travel! What cuisines are you partial towards? Are there certain meals you dying to try?
Picking a favourite cuisine is impossible for me, I have many! Healing Asian flavours come to mind immediately, so do Middle Eastern, Indian and Mediterranean. French cooking is amazing and of course I’m partial to many homemade Russian dishes that I grew up with. I will most likely love any authentic meal, as long as it’s prepared with fresh ingredients, tradition and love. In every country I travel to, I dream of visiting a local family and participating in their traditional dinner preparation and then eating with them.

You must have eaten in hundreds of thousands of restaurants. If you had to compile a list of favorite restaurants, globally-speaking, what would they be?
When I travel, it often happens that the best meals I have are not at big name restaurants but at small, family type places, open markets or street cafes. The most flavourful and fresh meal I had in Paris was while walking from stall to stall at the farmer’s market and eating what I bought there. A tiny Indian place in London was where I had the best Indian food of my life. If I had to pick out of all the health food oriented restaurants I’ve eaten at, I would pick Cha-Ya, which is an amazing vegan Japanese restaurant in San-Francisco.

Would you consider yourself a savory or sweet gal?
Savory all the way, although I really enjoy coming up with recipes for sweets.

Is a cookbook in your future?
I just finished writing my first cookbook, which will be published by Roost Books and is coming out in the Spring of 2014.

What are your favorite dishes that you’ve tasted in your lifetime?
My mother’s Kurnik – a multi-layered savory pie with layers of mushrooms, rice, fish or chicken, separated by thin crepes and encrusted in beautiful golden pastry.

Who are your favorite food bloggers?
My latest blog crush is The First Mess – I can’t get enough of Laura’s clever recipes and photography. The two blogs that I cook from the most are Green Kitchen Stories and My New Roots. There are so many other blogs that I read on a regular basis, some I love mostly for photography and aesthetics and some for ideas. I’d like to mention Hungry Ghost, Manger, Oh Ladycakes, Pure Vegetarian, and The Vanilla Bean Blog.

What songs are on your personal playlist?
La Chanson De Prévert by Serge Gainsbourg has been playing in the kitchen every day. Paloma is currently going through a Beatles obsession, so there is a lot of that.

What are three things most people don’t know about you?
I have an electric engineering degree, I’m an agnostic, and I am a Russian who can’t stand the cold.

My favorite ice cream flavor is:  Cassis (blackcurrant) flavour.
My prized possession is: a set of Swiss Zepter pots and pans.
The secret to a tasty cocktail is: Good liquor!
On Thanksgiving, I always look forward to: friends gathering around our fireplace with good food and wine.
My guilty pleasure is: sleeping til noon and eating potato latkes – a whole batch to myself.
Fried foods are: often tasty, but don’t make me feel very good.
My mother taught me to: always stand behind my children.
If I could have dinner with five people, dead or alive, I would invite: Vladimir Pozner, Alexander Pushkin, Frida Kahlo, Coco Chanel, Vivien Leigh.

For more of Anya’s work, check out her blog.

Image guide: (1) Roasted Yellow Plum and Rosemary Popsicles. (2) Blood Orange and Fennel Salad. (3) Pineapple and Mango Tart. (4) Beet Mille-Feuille. (5) Zucchini Blossoms with Roasted Eggplants. (6) Rooibos Poached Pear Tart.