For reasons which I will not elaborate here, I needed a prune fix.
A couple weeks ago my Russian language teacher mentioned there was a great grocery store next to Kyiv’s central train station, or Vokzal. I just so happened to be in the area, so I decided to stop by.
She wasn’t kidding. The grocery store had an impressive assortment of imported items that I’d all but given up on finding in Ukraine. Exotic spices, fruits, vegetables, canned goods. I could go on. I think I set my expectations of what foods I’d find here a bit too low, but I’m glad that I’ve been pleasantly surprised and not the other way around.
Just between the raisins and dried figs were piles of dark purple prunes. A fellow shopper was delicately and intensely digging through them to find just the right ones. I didn’t really care; I just grabbed the scooper and shoveled a couple small heaps into my plastic bag. But my fellow prune lover just wouldn’t have it. In a kind but instructive tone, she began explaining to me that the prunes that I chose were not good. From her tone and body language, I knew she wanted me to pick from the pile that she was digging through, but I didn’t know why. I wished I knew more Russian!
I really had no clue what made the prunes in my bag any less
effective delicious than the ones in her bag. But clearly she thought they were. I smiled and dumped out my bag as if I understood, but resumed gathering the glistening gems by scooping a few out of this bin, a few out of that bin. To cover all my bases.
When I finally tried the prunes, I discovered that they had a surprising but welcomed smoky flavor unlike any dried fruit I’ve ever tasted. I also quickly realized that the prunes that I had been selecting were far more dry than the selection that my new friend at the store recommended.
That smoky flavor stuck with me, and I knew they would somehow be perfect to share as an appetizer or dessert at the New Year’s Eve party I would be attending the following day.
So, on December 31st I was back at the supermarket picking through the prune bin, being careful to select only the plumpest, moistest fruits. How quickly I am becoming a local!
Here’s what I brought to the party…
Smoked Prunes with Goat Cheese and Toasted Walnuts
10 smoked prunes (whole & moist)
1/3 cup creamy goat cheese (more or less, depending on the size of your prunes)
10 toasted walnuts, whole or halved
Cut a slit into each prune (to create a bowl-like structure).
Roll the goat cheese into 10 equally sized balls.
Stuff each prune with a ball of goat cheese – fill them as much as possible.
Press a toasted walnut on top of the goat cheese and garnish with lemon zest.