I had the hardest time figuring this blend out.
I got Tsardust as a freebie in an online order a number of years ago packed into the box with no explanation. As far as I can remember there was no official promotion, just a freebie, but I could have missed it. For some reason, the bottle I have lists a different name than the current version on the website (possibly due to having received it several years ago). Mine just says “Tsardust,” while it’s now sold as “Tsardust Memories Russian Style Seasoning.” I reached out to Penzeys through the contact form so see if it had been reformulated and they assured me that it had not.
To be honest, I was all set to write a fairly negative review of this blend. I had tried this in a number of items, but had yet to figure out a way that worked. The bottle suggests soups, stews, and ground beef, and I’ve tried it in meatloaf, beef and barley stew, sprinkled over roasted butternut squash, and a number of other hearty dishes, and in all of these dishes, I hadn’t liked it. The cinnamon and nutmeg are a just a bit too odd in savory dishes. I like cinnamon in curries, but I couldn’t get used to it in other savory dishes. I am beginning to think that I may be picky about nutmeg. I do like it in some savory dishes (bechamel sauce, popovers, etc) but at times I find it very distracting and overpowering. I don’t know a lot about Russian cooking and I am not that familiar with Russian cuisine, so I thought maybe I just don’t appreciate the flavor combinations.
In order to give it a fair shot before a bad review, I decided to search the Penzey’s website for a recipe using Tsardust, and the only recipe using this blend is for Russian Onion Soup. It’s a simple vegetable soup recipe with red onions, carrots, celery, Tsardust, which is then ladled over stale bread. I happened to have most of the ingredients already on hand, so even though it’s been reaching the mid 90’s every day where I live and this soup was not exactly seasonal, I put it on the menu. I should note though, that my first round of experimentations occurred around six months earlier than I decided to try out the soup, so some of the flavor changes may have been due to age.
My initial thoughts reading the recipe were holy wow that is a lot of butter, and holy wow that is a lot of Tsardust. The only changes I made to the recipe were to halve it, because it’s a very large yield for just myself and my one dining partner, add a little more salt, and to switch out the veggie soup base for turkey soup base (because that is what I had on hand). The recipe calls for 3 cups of any mix of carrots and celery and I decided to go with 50/50. I served it with roasted chicken legs and thighs and roasted potatoes.
I loved this soup! It didn’t taste as strongly of nutmeg as some of the other things I made with Tsardust. The recipe calls for you to add the spices to the cooked veggies which were pretty damp, so they weren’t toasted in oil and therefore not as strong. In general, it was a really nice recipe. The soup would have been too thin if you hadn’t added the bread, but with the bread it was a nice consistency. The butter gave the broth a velvety texture and rich flavor. The soup acted as a great side dish and was delicious with roasted chicken and potatoes. The Tsardust’s mild spiced flavor added a lot of complexity to what would otherwise be a very simple soup.
After making this soup, I would pair Tsardust with very simple flavors.My hope is that this might avoid the issue of the nutmeg clashing with other flavors, which turned me off to it in previous dishes. I’d also cook it with some moisture, to avoid it becoming too too strong by being toasted in fat. Using this soup as a starting place, I can experiment and create other dishes and find news ways to make Tsardust work. I’m interested in trying this soup with shredded chicken thrown in to make it more of a main dish soup instead of a side dish, or to try using barley or another grain instead of the bread. Who knows, maybe this would lead to creating a barley dish or chicken dish featuring Tsardust! This kind of experimentation is how new recipes are made, and now that I have a foot in the door, so to speak, I am ready to give it a try. If you find yourself struggling to make a Penzeys spice work, I’d definitely recommend trying out a suggested recipe on their site before tossing it out.
After making this soup, I can’t wait for the weather to cool down so I can make it again. I keep thinking that this would be a great easy dish for a family get together. However, the soup recipe used most of the rest of my bottle of Tsardust, it so looks like I’m back on the market for more!! Thanks to this recipe from Penzey’s, I am confident that now that I’ve started to crack the code of how to enjoy this blend.
Price at Time of Posting: $6.95 for a ½ cup jar
Ingredients List: salt, garlic, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, and marjoram