The foundations of Russian cuisine were laid by the peasant food of the rural populations in an often harsh climate, with a combination of plentiful fish, poultry, game, mushrooms, berries and honey. Ingredients for bread, pancakes, cereals, kvass, beer and vodka were provided for by corps of rye, wheat, barley and millet. During the 16th – 18th centuries smoked meat and fish, pastry cooking, salads and green vegetables, chocolate, ice cream, wines and liquor were imported from abroad.
From the time of Catherine the Great every influential family imported both the products and personnel – mainly German, Austrian and French – to bring the finest, rarest and most creative foods to their table. Many of the foods that are considered in the West to be traditionally Russian actually come from the Franco-Russian cuisine of the 18th and 19th centuries, and include such widespread dishes as Veal Orloff, Beef Stroganoff, Chicken Kiev, and Sharlotka (Charlotte Russe).
During the 19th century till the Bolshevist revolution, there developed a vegetarian tradition. Along Peter Brang Vegetarian cuisine and lifestyle, vegetarian restaurants and communities built up by followers of Leo Tolstoy, e.g. by early feminist and devote vegetarian Natalia Nordman became a symbol of the intellectual opposition. The orthodox tradition of separating meat and vegetables and specific meals for fasting and other holidays contributed to a rich variety of vegetarian dishes.
Most Russian appetizers are served with various seasonings and condiments, such as horse-radish, mayonnaise, kvass, garlic and piquant tomato sauces. As many of the soups and main courses in the Russian cuisine are very nutritious, the appetizers are rather light.
Fish jelly – Fresh water fish such as perch, carp or sazan is cut into small pieces. Then water is poured over the fish heads and tails and boiled with spices. The broth is strained and the fish pieces are added and boiled till done. Then bones are removed and the pieces are placed into molds. Then gelatin and a beaten egg white are added to the broth and then the broth is poured on the fish in the molds and placed in the fridge to solidify.
Julien (Small Mushroom Casserole) – Mushrooms are sautéed and chives are added. Cheese is stirred in and removed from heat. Then sour cream, parsley and salt and pepper are added. The mushroom mixture is divided among ovenproof ramekins placed on a baking sheet, sprinkled with Gruyere cheese and baked.
Okroshka – Chicken stock is prepared and set aside to cool. Cucumbers, ham or Kohlbasa, celery and hard boiled eggs are chopped. When the broth is room temperature buttermilk and lemon juice along with the vegetables, eggs and ham are mixed in. Salt and chopped dill are added and the soup is chilled.
Pskovsky Hot Vinegret – Potatoes, carrots, turnip are stewed. After they are done the vegetable broth is drained off and canned peas are added. Then oil is heated in a pan and flour is added. The vegetable broth is poured in slowly so no lumps form. Cubed onions, celery, mushrooms and salt are added. This is cooked for 15 minutes. This sauce is served with the vegetables.
Salted Herrings, home style – Fillet of salted herrings have the skin removed and the fillets are smeared on both sides with mustard. They are then folded in a thick roll and placed in a glass jar. Oil is poured over them and their place in the fridge. The herring can be served with hot boiled potatoes topped with parsley or dill.
Most Russian soups are light because the main course is usually very nutritious. When the main meal is lighter then thicker soups are served. Soups like noodle soup or borsch are also popular.
Fish Soup with Onions, Cucumbers and Tomatoes – Sturgeon, Halibut or Haddock steaks are put to boil with onion, bay leaf, parsley and some salt. Once the fish is done it’s removed from the stock and cut into chunks. Then the fish stock is strained. In a casserole onions are sautéed then cucumbers and tomatoes are added. The fish stock is poured over all and the fish pieces are added and heated through. After the soup is removed from heat capers, lemon, parsley and olives are stirred in and served.
Kubanski Borsch – A meat broth is prepared with beef with or without bones. Beets are cut into sticks and simmered in a little broth along with sugar, tomato paste or sliced tomato. Simmered for an hour and a half and the vinegar is added. Chopped onions and carrots are sautéed separately. Then the broth is heated to a boil and chopped cabbage and potatoes cut into bars are added. Afterwards bell pepper and the simmered beet go into the soup. Add salt, black pepper and grated garlic. Served with chopped dill and sour cream.
Rassolnik (Soup with Pickled Cucumbers) – A meat broth is prepared with beef. Chopped onion, carrots and parsley are sautéed and when about ready chopped tomato is added. Chopped pickled cucumbers are simmered in a little meat broth. Rice is added to boiling meat broth then potatoes and the sautéed vegetables. When nearly done the simmered pickled cucumbers are added. Served with sour cream.
Russian Roast – Potatoes and onions are cooked in oil until onions are tender then removed. A beef rump roast is browned on all sides. Then the potatoes and onions are added. Mix sour cream, water, flour until smooth and pour over beef/potato mixture. Simmer for an hour and stir in lemon juice then simmer till beef is tender.
Pork Kotlety – Ground pork is mixed with egg, bread slices soaked in milk, mayonnaise, chopped onion, salt and pepper. The meat is shaped into rounds and browned on all sides. The placed in a pan with a thick bottom and cooked on low heat 10 – 15 minutes. Served with mashed potatoes.
Moscow Chicken – Chicken fillets are fried with onion and mushrooms. Then placed in a baking pot. Flour is added to the frying pan and fried until golden then sour cream is added and brought to a boil. The sauce is poured over the chicken and chopped dill is added. A dough is made and rolled out to cover the pot. Once it is covered it is baked in the oven. Served in pots with rice for garnish.
Khinkali – Dough is made with flour, water and salt. Kneaded and rolled out. Lamb and onion are ground and pepper and chopped greens are added. Then rounds are shaped and the lamb filling is rolled into them. They are cooked in boiling, lightly salted water.
Russian Zharkoye – Potatoes are cut into cubes and fried golden brown. Sliced onions are sautéed. Cubed carrots are fried. Cubed beef is fried until light brown. In a ceramic pot, put beef, potatoes, onion, carrot, roots, garlic and season with salt and pepper pour over a little broth. Stewed in the over for 30 minutes. 10 minutes before it’s done sour cream is added and greens are sprinkled on.
Fish Rolls with Vegetables – Carrots, celery, potatoes, peas and other vegetables are stewed together. Then each fish fillet is sprinkled with salt, chopped onion and pepper and rolled up and secured with a toothpick. The rolls are placed over stewed vegetables and milk mixed with egg are poured on top. Covered and baked. Sprinkled with chopped greens and served.
Fish Baked a la Russe – Fish (pike, cod, cat fish or perch). Sliced potatoes are placed around in a pan with fish slices in the center. Sour cream is mixed with oil and flour and poured over all. Sprinkled with cheese and baked.
Pisken Blayk (Boiled Fish) – Sazan (carp) or cat fish fillet is cubed. Chopped carrots, potatoes along with fish are placed in a skillet. Chopped onion is fried and put on the fish with tomato paste. Boiling water is poured over all and salt and spices are added. Stewed on low heat until done. Served with chopped greens.
Among traditional Russian drinks one of the most ancient is Medovukha which is derived from the word "med" meaning honey. Medok is made with water with small amounts of honey and sometimes hops. Stavlenniv mvod is an alcoholic drink not unlike wine, based on large amounts of honey and berry juices. Kvass and sbiten were always mass-produced drinks.
The most widespread being kvass. Tea was introduced to Russia from China in the 17th century. It has become the most popular national drink forcing sbiten out of the competition. Black tea being the most popular type. There is however a rising interest in green tea. Russia now imports most of its tea from India and Sri Lanka, of which Darjeeling is the most prized. And of course there is always Russian vodka and beer.
Julien (Small Mushroom Casserole)
2 tb unsalted butter
1 pound Mushrooms (any kind), cleaned, trimmed, and cut into quarters or sixths, depending on their size
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tb thinly sliced fresh chives
1/2 c sour cream
3 tb chopped fresh parsley
salt and freshly ground pepper
3/4 c grated Cheese
1. Melt the butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the Mushrooms and sauté, stirring, until most of the liquid they release has evaporated and the Mushrooms are nicely browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the chives and remove from the heat.
2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
3. Stir in the sour cream and parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the Mushrooms among 4 or 5 ovenproof ramekins placed on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the top of each one liberally with the Gruyère Cheese.
6 potatoes, cubed
2 onions, sliced
3 tbs vegetable oil
1 kg beef boneless rump roast
1 c sour cream
1/2 cup water
1 tb flour
1 ts lemon juice
Cook and stir potatoes and onions in oil over medium heat until onions are tender, about 10 minutes. Remove potatoes and onions with slotted spoon. Cook beef in remaining oil, turning occasionally, until brown on all sides, about 15 minutes; drain.
Add potatoes and onions to beef; sprinkle with water and pepper. Mix sour cream, water and flour with fork until smooth; pour over potato mixture. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 1 hour.
Stir in lemon juice. Cover and simmer until beef is tender, about 30 minutes longer.
Garnish with fresh dill if desired. By Rasma Raisters
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