Russia, world’s largest country that stretches from the borders of Finland to the Pacific Ocean, is multiethnic and multicultural.
The cooking is based on locally grown and widely available ingredients and is mostly simple but nutritious.
The foundation of Russian cuisine are poultry, game, mushrooms (Russians are avid mushroom hunters), potatoes, berries, honey, butter, rye, wheat, barley, and millet.
Herbs provide flavouring, spices play a secondary role in recipes.
Aristocrats and gentry brought fish and meat smoking, pastry making, salads, green vegetables, chocolate, ice cream, and enjoyment of wine to the country beginning in the 16th century for two centuries.
From Catherine the Great onwards, rich families hired French and Italian chefs to cook fro them and to learn their refined cooking techniques. They also imported many vegetables that simply cannot grow in the country’s cold climate.
After the October 1917 revolution, the government was faced with catastrophic crop failures, therefore a completely different “cuisine” emerged by necessity. Shortages of even basic foods forced the population to become hoarders whenever any sort of food was available, except bread.
While the political elite was shopping in unmarked grocery stores stocked with every imaginable staple food most of
the population had to line up for hours on end to buy the basics, and had to share communal kitchens with several families living in apartments.
Anastas Mikoyan, Stalin’s food minister, travelled to the U S A in 1950’s to see how Americans were mass producing food and copied several items i.e ice cream. A version of hamburger here called kotleti, and canned vegetables to the Soviet Union
During the cold war that started in the 1950’s, the Russian cuisine was reduced to a few traditional and famous dishes like blinis (mainly served with caviar), borscht, pelmeni, pirozhki and a few others.
In reality, the Russian cuisine consists of a large repertoire, the best of which can only be sampled in well-to-do residences, not in restaurants.
Soups have always played an important role in Russian menus. Borscht, based on beets, shchi, ukha, rassolnik, and solynake are only a few that come to mind. Some are clear- others are pureed. Stew-type, cabbage-based, thick, grain or root vegetable based.
Pelmeni and vareniki are fried in butter, topped with fried onion and served with sour cream.
The preferred and widely available vegetables are – cabbage, cold resistant greens, rutabagas, swedes, potatoes, carrots, leeks, onions, celery root, parsnips, and turnips;;
Salads are mostly based on mayonnaise dressing, generally heavy, containing potatoes, carrots, pickles, and hard boiled eggs.
Although blinis are now served with caviar, originally they were offered during religious ceremonies and festivals. Generally, Russian cuisine desserts are cakes, crepes, and fresh fruits.
A typical Russian menu consists of cold appetizers (zakuski),
Soup (hot or cold borscht, ukha, solyanka, okroshka are only some).
Main course, dessert.
Vodka is undoubtedly the most popular alcoholic beverage, followed by beer, and kvass, a low alcoholic beverage
Some soups are served cold and those based on kvass.
Borscht can be served hot or cold pending on season.
Russian cooks employ three basic meat preparation methods – boiling, roasting (variety meats (offal) baked with cereals, or whole fowl), and grilling (skewered meat) adopted from Azerbaijan and Tatarstan.
Pelmeni are stuffed dough with pork, or beef or lamb, similar to Ukraine’s vareneki, cottage cheese or vegetables.
Tea is the preferred non-alcoholic beverage and is consumed several times daily along with cookies, or pastries, or pies.
Here are some Russian specialties created for the ruling elite before the Bolshevik Revolution.
Truffeled goose liver dumplings
Filet of Beef Voronow
Filet of Beef Stroganoff
Filet of Beef Nishni Novgorod
Zrazy Pojarski (Pojarski cutlet)
Caviar, blinis, and vodka
Koljanka (may be made with meat, poultry, game, fish, or shellfish(
Crabmeat Chabarovsk style
Rublenaja Sjomka (poached spiced salmon)
Pressowanaja sterlet zarskoje selo (caviar mousse and potatoes),
The main course may be filet of beef Stroganow, or – Nijny Novgorod, or – Voronov, salmon kulibiaka.
Pirozhky or vareneki, skewered grilled fish, or lamb, or beef, or pork may also be served in very festive days..
Russian meals last long, studded with long speeches before downing a glass of vodka.
By tradition all zakuski are placed on the table. Individuals help themselves, and drink copious amounts of vodka
Zakuski are followed up by soup, main course, pastry (pelmeni stuffed with cherries, or cottage cheese or whatever fruit is available)
Tea or coffee are served to finish the meal.
Noble families like Orlov, Romanoff, Smirnoff employed chefs who invented recipes in their honour.
After 1990’s, the rich started splurging again on fine foods and now preferring refined wines to vodka.
The Russian cuisine is still evolving, except for the peasant cooking.