Want to cook a Russian dish? Try Vinegret!

Posted on 26. Nov, 2014 by in Culture, Russian food

Russian vinegret

Vegetarians, vegans and healthy eaters rejoice! This recipe is among my favorites because it is nutritious, delicious, and fairly hard to mess up. You can either serve it by itself, use it as a salad, or even a side dish with any meat or fish.

There is no consensus on the internet regarding the origins of this dish but most sources tend to agree that it was probably borrowed from Germany around 19th century. The details of the story get really fuzzy when it comes to the name. Supposedly, the emperor’s chef, who was French, asked if the dish contained vinegar and the people making it nodded in agreement saying “vinegret, vinegret” – since then this salad officially became known as vinegret. Go figure…

Before we begin, lets gear up! Get out a big pot, a cutting board, a knife, and an apron (unless you are OK with beet stains on your clothes). Next, we’ll gather up the ingredients (this recipe make about 8 servings).


2 большие или 4 маленькие свеклы

3-4 большие картофелины

1 банка зеленого горошка

половина луковицы (или 2-3 стрючка зеленого лука)

от ¼ до ½ стакана кислой капусты (можно заменить укропом и/или петрушкой)

Заметка: на фото показана петрушка, так как у меня не было кислой капусты, но вообще я предпочитаю винегрет с кислой капустой

3 ст. л. оливкового или подсолнечного масла

3 соленых огурца

соль, перец на вкус

от ¼ до 1 ч. л. уксуса, по желанию


Russian vinegret

1. Помойте свеклу и картошку. Если свекла крупная, разрежьте на четвертинки. Отварите картошку и свеклу в кожуре; варите до тех пор, пока вилка не будет с легкостью входить внутрь. Обратите внимание на то, что свекла иногда варится дольше, поэтому время от времени проверяйте овощи вилкой.


2. Пока картошка и свекла готовятся, мелко нарежьте лук и соленые огурцы. В большой миске смешайте лук, горошек, огурцы и капусту (или укроп с петрушкой).


3. Когда картошка и свекла будут готовы, выложите их на разделочную доску до полного остывания. Затем очистите и мелко нарежьте, как показано на фото.



4. Смешайте свеклу и картошку с остальными ингридиентами. Добавте масло, соль,перец и уксус по вкусу.

5. Охладите от 1 до 2 часов.

Приятного аппетита!


2 large or 4 small beets

3-4 large potatoes

1 regular can of peas

½ medium onion (or 2-3 spring of green onion)

¼ to ½ cup sauerkraut (preferably Russian style) or dill/parsley to taste

Note: you see parsley in the photo because I did not have any sauerkraut at the time, but I personally like it better with sauerkraut.

3 Tbsp. olive or sunflower oil

3 pickles (or 5-6 pickle spears)

salt and pepper to taste

¼ to 1 tsp vinegar, optional


1. Start by washing beets and potatoes. If using large beets, cut in quarters. Boil potatoes and beets (skin on) in a large pot until the fork goes in easily. Keep in mind, beets might take longer to cook, so check your veggies periodically.

2. While potatoes and beets are cooking, finely chop the onions and pickles. In a large bowl combine onions, peas, pickles, and sauerkraut (or dill/parsley)

3. Once potatoes and beets are cooked, lay them out on a cutting board to cool off. Once cool, peel the skin off and cut in small pieces, as shown. 

4. Mix beets and potatoes with the rest of the ingredients. Add oil, salt, pepper, and vinegar to taste.

5. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

Note: винегрет is usually best the next day, once the flavors had a chance to marry :-). The nonsense on Wikipedia page about it not being safe the next day is very aggravating. Ugh….


Odd Russian Behavior? Nyet

Posted on 25. Nov, 2014 by in Culture, History, Russian life

I suppose it can be said that every culture has its share of idiosyncrasies, and Russians are no exception. What follows are examples of how some Russian behaviors may seem odd to people elsewhere. I have been caught exhibiting some of these behaviors myself. What can I say?…You can take a girl out of Russia, but you can’t always take Russia out of a girl :-)

1. Sit down right before leaving for a trip, usually in complete silence

Ironically, once most of us leave for a trip, we are seated. If we fly, we sit; if we drive, we sit. Why, one might ask, would you sit before you leave when you’ll be seated for most of the duration of the trip anyway? Based on what I dug up on the internet, this tradition goes way back to when Russia was still pagan. During that time every house was believed to have its own spirit. It was important to keep that spirit happy if you wanted him on your side. The reasons you would sit down right before leaving were several: to keep your house spirit happy by fooling him into thinking that you are not going anywhere,  to observe (in silence) for any signs of bad luck – if such signs are present, it might be best to forget about the trip, finally to pray and ask that your trip is a safe one.
Nowadays, most Russians do it either because they believe it brings good luck or simply because it is customary.

2. After having visitors, wait until after your guests (especially out-of-town guests) reach their destination before you clean/straighten your house

This idiosyncrasy also goes back to paganism. Supporters of this belief, and there are still plenty of them, think that cleaning may actually trigger a chain of unfortunate events for the traveler, so it is best to save it for after you have confirmed that all the visiting parties have reached their destination.

3. Long and complex toasts

For those that think that the typical or proper Russian toast is “Na zdorovye” think again. In formal situations such as weddings, business meetings and things like that, a scripted and well-rehearsed toast is not only more appropriate, but in many cases expected. When the setting consists of you and your immediate friends and family, “to your health” may suffice. More often than not, you’ll want to wish people a long, healthy life, prosperity, happiness, and things like that. Kind of ironic that while you may be offering a toast to a long and healthy life, you’re following it with straight vodka :-)

4. When asked how they are doing, Russians will tell you the whole story

I have noticed that in America, when you ask somebody how they are doing, they’ll usually answer with a one or two word reply such as “fine, pretty good, well, very well” and so on. If they really begin to tell us how they are doing, we may mentally roll our eyes because we really weren’t expecting to hear their life story. When asking a Russian, whether in Russia or abroad, consider that you may get a lengthy explanation. If you ask somebody how they are doing, do it sincerely, or not at all. If you decide to proceed with the question, you might want to get those ears ready to listen.

5. Sitting down for dinners that last longer than most movies

Dinners in Russia, at least when I was growing up, consisted of food that was made from scratch – most of the time. Much preparation and care went into the making of the meal, therefore, it ought to be eaten in the same manner. Eating the food as though somebody is about to steal it off your plate or grabbing your food and finishing it like you were in a race is not usually acceptable. Also, make sure your jaws aren’t too tired from chewing because in addition to eating, you’ll be talking. Dinner on-the-go is something that has a slightly negative connotation in Russia. I would say that life pace in in general is slightly different in Russia, and meals are certainly a big part of this equation.

E-Commerce in Russia

Posted on 24. Nov, 2014 by in General reference article, when in Russia

credit cards

Image by Sean MacEntee on flickr.com

I recently had the occasion to have a gift delivered to a person in Russia. That experience drew my attention to the differences in how we deal with electronic purchases in Russia and abroad. I must admit I had forgotten some of the Russian peculiar ways, and new ways have emerged since I left Russia! We have talked about general finance on this blog, but I believe e-commerce is a subject that is both culturally interesting and practical.

Credit Cards

First, it must be said that Russia is far from a cash-free society. When I used to teach Russian, my students wouldn’t believe there was any value to the question “Вы принимаете кредитные карты?” (Do you take credit cards?). However, there are still many places in Russia that are cash (наличные) only.

This being said, new methods of payment (формы оплаты) have emerged in the last 5-10 years. The first of them is a credit card (кредитная карта). First of all, this is a bit of a misnomer, as this is usually a debit card (дебетовая карта – see wordstress). The free card that comes with your bank account is usually a Visa Electron/Maestro. A plain Visa/MasterCard costs extra to issue. In my experience, the identification requirements at the points of sale (пункты продажи) are fairly stringent, so have your passport (паспорт) ready.

Online Stores/Shops

If you are used to online shopping, you may find that some of you favorite online stores (Интернет-магазины) do not ship to Russia. Amazon comes to mind, although the UK, French, and German versions may occasionally have sellers that will ship to Russia. However, there are national online shops that have a large selection (богатый ассортимент) of goods. Some examples include Озон for several categories of merchandise (ozon.ru) and Wildberries for clothing and home goods. There are also online grocery stores, Утконос (literally, platypus) being one of the best-known ones. In addition, many brick-and-mortar stores are now adding delivery options on their websites.

Payment Methods

The payment methods (способы оплаты) offered on Russian websites may be different to what you are used to. The most pronounced difference is that the workflow is often less integrated than with the likes of Amazon. Instead of  “one-stop” shopping, you may need to pay for your order through third-party platforms. They may vary depending on the website, but the most common ones include

  • Наличный расчёт (cash)

Yes, you can pay for online purchases in cash! You place your order and can then pay in cash for it (наличными) either to the delivery person or at a pickup location — more on delivery methods later.

  • Банковская карта (a bank card)

Depending on the company, the delivery person or the pickup location may be able to process credit card payments.

  • Электронные платежи (electronic payments)

In addition, you may be able to pay online through e-payment systems (системы электронных платежей) — third-party websites processing electronic payments. These systems let you load cash, transfer money from an account or a debit card, or use your (prepaid) mobile phone funds. In order to load cash into the system, many people use payment terminals (терминалы оплаты) — touchscreen ATM-like self-service devices installed throughout the country that let you deposit money in one of your electronic accounts (Yandex Money, Qiwi, etc.), pay your cell phone or utility bills, and pay for your purchases.


delivery carrier

Image by Kamyar Adl on flickr.com

Delivery of online purchases is not limited to mail delivery. In fact, given how unreliable Russian postal deliveries are, most frequently people choose a different method.

  • Самовывоз (pickup)

You can place your order online and pick up the merchandise in one of the pickup locations (пункты самовывоза) in your city. This may be a convenient option for working adults whose schedule does not allow them to wait for a delivery at home.

  • Курьерская доставка (Carrier delivery)

With less than certain postal deliveries, many vendors choose to have their own delivery carriers (курьеры) on staff, who bring the goods to the person’s home at the time requested.

As you see, Russian e-commerce is somewhat less “one-stop” and automated than in the case of large online retailers, but in some ways it’s possibly more versatile and flexible. It gives the buyer several choices and adds a personal touch to e-commerce. Have you ever bought anything online in Russia? What was your experience like?