LearnRussianwith Us!Start Learning!
If you haven’t spent a significant amount of time in Russia, it would be pretty hard for you to give an accurate account of what Russian cuisine is like. Russian cuisine (русская кухня) is a massive aggregate of traditional Russian dishes (русские блюда), Russian adaptations of dishes that came from neighboring cultures, and dishes that were a result of necessity-driven ingenuity.
Good news is Russian cuisine offers many choices. Whether you prefer juicy sizzling meats or leaner, vegetable-based dishes, you are sure to find some great options. I try to eat healthy, as much as I can. Granted, this is a vague statement (расплывчатое заявление). Below, however, is a much less vague collection of some Russian dishes and food items that I grew up with and still enjoy. All of them are pretty healthy!
Борщ (borsch) – if you haven’t yet, lose the “T” on the end! Seriously, there is no “T”!
This is one of those words that most foreigners know but few can accurately explain. Traditional Russian borsch is not as much a beet soup as it is a highly nutritious vegetable soup with beets. There are many variations of borsch, some are less healthy than others. The video below gives a recipe fairly similar to mine. Note: you DO NOT have to use an ox tail (I never have), any bone-in meat with some fat will do. I prefer to buy beef back ribs, they are petty easy to find and fairly inexpensive. Keep in mind, lean boneless meat will not produce rich flavorful stock, which is a key to any meat-based soup.
Квашеная капуста or кислая капуста (sauerkraut or pickled cabbage)
When it comes to taste and health benefits, homemade and store-bought sauerkraut are worlds apart. Many Russian dietitians recommend sauerkraut for many different reasons: it is rich in vitamins A, B, C and K. It contains a lot of minerals, amino acids, and probiotics. The key to mouthwatering sauerkraut is proper preparation and no thermal processing. The recipe I found on You Tube is a quick way to prepare pickled cabbage, the longer the cabbage sits, the richer the flavor becomes. I usually leave mine out for about 3 days. It’s important not to let it become too sour, though. Berries, apples and carrots are optional. Once you get everything mixed, leave sauerkraut at room temperature: as soon as it hits the fridge, the fermentation stops.
This one hundred percent vegetable salad makes a great vegetarian dish or a nice side to any meal. The video I found has less than perfect subtitles but it will give you a very good idea of what is being said! (Click the CC icon at the bottom of the player, then choose English.) Note: the sour apple is definitely optional 🙂
It is always a bit amusing when people in the US try to tell me about this “new” probiotic drink. It’s only been a few years since kefir was popularized in the US while Russians have been drinking it for years. So if you find yourself discussing this wonderful drink with Russians, asking them about it would probably be better than telling them about it. In the meantime, if you haven’t tried kefir yet, most US supermarkets now carry Lifeway kefir (usually found in the yogurt section).
Березовый сок (birch juice, or more specifically, birch sap – the liquid that comes out of a birch, usually in the month of March, after the snow melts and right before the leaves come in).
Березовый сок was mass produced in Russia in mid to late XX century. It was always available at any store or cafeteria. When I go there now, however, I see it less and less. If you happen to have a birch tree in your own back yard, you might want to try collecting this nutrient-packed drink. Note: always remember to fix the hole after you are done, otherwise you can cause damage to the tree. Below is a Russian video that will guide you through the process or you can watch this video in English.
Салат из помидоров и огурцов (tomato and cucumber salad) that also contains onions, salt, pepper, and sour cream or oil.
This easy to make salad is particularly great in summer, when the veggies have a chance to ripen naturally. One of the things I noticed when I first moved to the US is the lack of flavor in many vegetables and fruits. Caused by the advancement of agribusiness all over the world, naturally grown vegetables are increasingly hard to find. In other words, a successful recreation of this salad requires flavorful vegetables, not the tasteless watery bargain priced ones. The choice of sour cream (1-2 Tbsp) or oil (preferably, sunflower or olive) is really a question of personal preference, I like both versions.
The most popular types of Russian каша are
манная каша which is essentially semolina cooked in milk or water. It strongly resembles American Cream of Wheat, however, Russian semolina is not typically precooked, so it takes longer to prepare.
овсяная каша which is essentially oatmeal but, just like semolina, it is not usually precooked.
гречневая каша (buckwheat kasha) is very popular and has several different variations. The one I used to like growing up is boiled buckwheat + milk + sugar. You can eat this one either hot or cold, depending on your preference.
тыквенная каша (pumpkin kasha) is usually made with pumpkin, milk, and millet or rice. Some people also add raisins, prunes or apples. There are many variation of this каша. The video below describes a moderately quick way to make this dish, plus you can turn the subtitles on by using the CC button (bottom of the player).
If you had a chance to try Russian cuisine, share your thoughts and opinions!