Shedding Some Light on Russian Cuisine

There is not really a mystery in Russian cuisine. In fact, most Russian dishes are prepared with the same ingredients that are used in U.S. kitchen. Many people I have met are confused, almost turned off by Russian food. True, unique names, strange smells, and peculiar visual appearance of Russian dishes can be a bit overwhelming, at first. However, once you will become comfortable, you will find that what you thought was a mystery, turns out to be a great treasure. I will not give you the exact recipes today. Instead, I will give you the names and tell you what everything means. If you would like to prepare any of the dishes I will mention, you can easily find them in a search engine {Google.com, for example), just by typing their names. Again, these are NOT detailed recipes.

“Russian” Kitchen

First, let me just say that the words “Russian kitchen” have very loose meaning. For the majority of the 20th century, Russia was part of USSR. USSR was made of many nations that are now separate from Russia. Therefore, when you are talking about Russian cuisine, you are talking about foods from hundreds of different nationalities and cultures, every possible flavor, from European, to Asian, to traditional Russian. Russian kitchen is much like a Russian personality, a crazy mix. Dishes go from being practical, economical to exotic, lavish. Today, I will tell you only about few, some of the most popular Russia dishes and beverages. So, if you are curious about finding new and exciting dishes to prepare or just interesting in what would satisfy a Russian taste, read on.

Main Dishes

Bliny is purely a Russian dish. It just does not get more Russian than that. Bliny are similar to crepes or pancakes. They consist of flour, milk, soda, eggs, and salt/sure to your taste. The unique characteristic of Bliny is that they must be very, very thin. When you hold one up, you should almost be able to see through it. When you pour the mix on the frying pan, tilt the pan from side to side, to spread the mix evenly. You must pay attention and remember to flip the Blin as needed; it will get burned in mere seconds if you do not. Also, remember to glide a stick of butter as you stack them on top of each other. If you do not, they will stick to each other and rip. Then, just use your imagination. You can wrap Bliny around meat, cottage cheese, eggs and green onions. You can make a desert with berries, fruits, or whatever you like. The traditional way to eat Bliny is to dip them into sour cream.

Pelmeni is another Russian food without which Russian kitchen would not be Russian. Think of Pelmeni as Russian ravioli. They are little pasties that you boil. Pelmeni are usually made to be bite-size. The inside consists of ground pork and beef (pork makes it more tender), finely chopped onion, and salt/pepper to taste. The outside is made of fine dough. Do not worry if you will not get the dough right the first time. It will take few tries. The dough must be tough enough to not fall apart when boiled, yet, soft enough to chew. Traditionally, Pelmeni are served with sour cream, on a side.

Golubtsy is a very popular main dish in Russia, whether for a holiday meal or as an every day. Simply put, Golubtsy are grounded meat that is mixed with rice, wrapped in boiled cabbage leafs with tomato sauce or ketchup on top. Rice also has to be boiled. Once everything is wrapped, bake Golubtsy for about an hour. Golubtsy are served with a sauce in which they were cooked, garnished with sour cream.

As you noticed, sour cream plays a major roll in the Russian kitchen.

Salads

There are many wonderful recipes for salads in a Russian cuisine. Today, I will mention only two of them. You will most likely find these two salads on any Russian table, for a special occasion.

Salad Olivier was created by a French chef, in 1860. Chef Olivier opened a very popular restaurant, called the hermitage. Since then, the salad became a household name. There are many variations of salad Olivier. The most common version consist of chicken and potato (chopped into small cubes), cucumbers (also chopped into small cubes), fresh or frozen peas, finely chopped onion, hard boiled eggs (quartered), and few olives. Mix all that with mayonnaise. When mixing, make sure you do not mash the ingredients. If is not recommended that you refrigerate the salad for many hours, due to some loss of taste.

Selyodka Pod Shuboi means “Herring under fur coal”. The salad is very popular amongst Russians. The whole idea is to make the salad look like a very colorful cake. It consists of several layers, so do this in a long/wide flat dish. Make sure to spread each layer evenly. First layer are small pieces of the salt Herring. Second layer are even smaller pieces of scallions. Third layer are diced potatoes. Final layer consists of diced beets. Finally, top everything with a layer of mayonnaise. The very top can be decorated with olives and parsley springs. I recommend spreading a small amount of mayonnaise between each layer, to keep it from being dry. It is not recommend refrigerating this dish for more than 12 hours. However, in my experience that does not make a big difference. Couple of days in the refrigerator is ok; just keep it farther away from the freezer.

As you noticed, mayonnaise also plays a big role in Russian cuisine.

Beverages

Kvas is Russian Coca-Cola, but much more ancient. There are many recipes for Kvas, but the most popular if made with
black bread and yeast. Basically, it is a sweet and sour beverage that is naturally carbonated and has a caramel color. It can be more sweet or sour, depending on the recipe. In Russia, Kvas was consumed just as much as water, if not more. It is great for quenching the thirst.

Compote is liked by most, especially children. It is very simple to prepare. Put water into a saucepan. Put all kinds of dried fruit and berries. Slowly bring it to a boil. Then, add sugar and honey. Let it dissolve. Reduce the heat and let everything simmer. After it is done, squeeze some lemon juice. Serve it chilled. It is absolutely delicious and a great source of vitamins, especially during the winter.

Tea, I have never met any person from Russia that does not like to drink tea. On any Russian table, tea is a must, when it is time for dessert. Many cuisine publications that are supposed to be the authority, often mistaken about what is “Russian tea”. So, if you would ask any Russian about what Russian tea is, what would they answer? The answer will be simple; black, Indian tea. I have been drinking black, Indian tea since I was a child, and I can definitely say that it is the best in the world. The Russian word for it is Chai. Chai is actually prepared, no tea bags here! You take a pinch of dry tea (depending on the size of the teapot) and poor boiling water into the teapot. Teapot is called Chainik. Russians love their tea quite strong. To get it extra strong, two sugar cubes are dropped into the teapot. Then, the teapot is closed. Wait until tea leafs will open and give it all they have. The color should be rich, dark-red. Then, you have Chai, a drink no Russian goes without (as far as I know). Drinking Chai is an entire meal by itself. A good host will serve it with candy, cake, or pastries.

Well, I hope that you feel much more comfortable with Russian cuisine. As you see, dishes are made with all possible ingredients. No matter where you are from or what kind of diet you need, you will always find something that will work for you in Russian food.

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