The United States is well known for its robust food culture. Take a drive down any block in a major city and you are bound to see food from nearly every region. Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Indian and Thai seem to be the predominate eateries you will find.
What about Eastern Europe? While there is definitely a bevy of solid Russian restaurants in the U.S. many people view the cuisine much like they view country itself—cold, unappetizing, and foreign. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Russia has a rich history of delicious food that has yet to enter the American gastronomy. Here is a quick look at some of Russia’s delicious cuisine.
Soup has always played an important role in the traditional Russian meal. From the quintessential borscht to the popular Kvass, there are seven distinct types of Soup offered in Russia. Chilled soups with a kvass base, light water based soups, noodle soups, thick meaty stews, and fish soups such as the ukha. Today we will separate the soups based on how the served, both hot and cold.
Russian Cold Soups
While Kvass itself is not a soup it is an essential ingredient in many Russian dishes. Kvass is a fermented beverage made from rye bread with relatively low alcohol content. Kvass can be consumed on its own and is even considered a “soft-drink” to the Vodka loving Russians. It is used in Okroshka, Botvinya, Cold Borscht, and Tyurya.
A classic cold soup found in Russia and Ukraine, Okroshka is a mix of raw vegetables like cucumbers and spring onions, boiled potatoes, eggs and a cooked meat such as beef, veal, sausage or ham. The ingredients are then mixed with Kvass and typically garnished with sour cream, a practice almost exclusive to Russia. Okroshka is always served cold and is enjoyed in the hot summer months as a refreshing starter.
Another cold soup, Botvinya is based on sour Kvass with a beet based broth. The basic version of Botvinya requires boiled red fish, a somewhat expensive ingredient which has led to a decline in the dish’s popularity. Traditionally, ice cubes are served with Botvinya so it can be repeatedly cooled throughout the meal.
Russian Hot Soups
While most people don’t know much about Russian cuisine chances are they have heard of Borscht. Borscht is a hearty soup typically made with beef or pork broth, and flavored with beets and potatoes. Borscht can be eaten as a meal in itself but it can also be served as a starter with Rye bread. Sometimes served with fish, pork or beef, Borscht is the meal your Russian grandmother knows how to make by heart.
The quintessential first course in Russian cuisine for over a thousand years, Shchi is a hot cabbage based soup that transcends social class boundaries. The dish is so prolific that has a place in several Russian proverbs about frugality and family life. A traditional rich variant of Shchi includes cabbage, dark meat, carrots, basil, and parsley, spicy herbs such as dill, and sour component like Smetana (sour cream) or sauerkraut. Shchi is a yummy stew that can be enjoyed year round.
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On the opposite end of the spectrum is Ukha, a light watery fish soup. Almost always served as a starter Ukha is a delicious way to begin a meal, Ukha is served with potatoes and small amount of vegetables. Freshwater fish is traditionally used in Ukha.
In traditional Russian cuisine there are three basic variations of preparing meat for a main dish.
- A large piece of meat is boiled in soup or a porridge, that meat is then used as second course of jellied in a Kholodets.
- Offal dishes (liver, tripe, stomach) baked in a pot with cereals
- Whole fowl dishes, parts of fowl, or rump baked on a baking tray in the oven.
Jellied meat. This might seem off putting to the standard observer but Kholodets is actually a delicious preparation of meat. The interesting aspect is the fact that they is no gelatin used in the Kholodets making process. The fat from calves feet, pigs feet, and other such offal provide enough gelatin to the dish itself.
Pelmeni is a traditional Russian dish similar to Asian dumplings or Italian ravioli. The dish consists of a minced meat filling, wrapped in thin dough made of eggs and flour. For filling pork, beef, lamb or any other type of meat are acceptable. The meat is then combined with various spices such as pepper, onions, garlic.
Small stuffed buns made with either yeast dough or a short party. Pirozhki can be filled with a variety of meats, the pies are either baked or shallow fried in a pan. Typical fillings include chopped boiled meats with sautéed onions, rice and boiled eggs, mashed potatoes with dill, and sautéed cabbage.
Probably the first thing you think about when you hear Russia. The popular beverage is produced in variety of ways throughout the country. Grain based and potato based vodkas are the most popular forms and they are often flavored with a variety of ingredients ranging from hot peppers to fruits and berries. Vodka comprises of 70 % of the alcohol consumption in Russia today.
A sweet low alcohol drink similar to mead, Meadouvkha is made with fermented honey with addition of various spices. The drink is the most ancient of Russian beverages and takes about 15 years to ferment. Reserved for nobility in the 14th the invention of a distilling tank made the drink more accessible to the masses. Today Medouvkha is drunk more as a novelty as vodka has become ever more popular in the country.