Popular Nutritious Russian Dishes and Food Items Posted by Jenya on Feb 18, 2014 in Russian for beginners
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 last item in my lineup is каша (kasha, some people also refer to it as porridge) – a dish made with grain, water or milk (or both) and usually flavored with salt, butter, and sometimes sugar.
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!
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Random thoughts (about my trips to Russia and Russian cuisine):
– I love Russian cuisine, and I still use to cook Russian food at home – especially Борщ;
– When I prepare a Салат из помидоров и огурцов, I always think of the first few words I learnt to order food in Russia (and always eat that salad with sour cream);
– пельмени (not in the list) are absolutely a must 🙂
– каша (with sugar) is my dream breakfast. I tried to prepare it as my Russian friend does, but it’s not the same and I long to taste it again!
@Alice Alice, thank you very much for your thoughts!
I agree, well-prepared пелемени are great but to make them juicy, you have to use meat with higher fat content which makes them not too healthy. That is the only reason they did not make my list. 🙂
I guessed that was the reason, but if good mood is healthy, then пельмени are in my list 😀
I recently made Bird’s Milk for a potluck! Generally I’m not a fan of jello/pudding, due to texture, but this wasn’t bad. One piece was plenty, but it went over well with my co-workers and boyfriend…plus it was extremely easy to make. I’m all for trying more Russian cuisine just to further the already “unusual” obsession.
@Ashley Thank you Ashley! Yes, птичье молоко (Bird’s milk) does have very specific texture. Russia used to make, maybe still does, candy named Bird’s Milk (chocolate covered Bird’s Milk). It was very good because you didn’t have to eat much, just a piece or two. The dessert idea sounds good but I can see where you’d have to serve small pieces 🙂 Good luck with all your cooking endeavors!
To me, a great addition to this list are the Блины which can make a really good breakfast. I haven’t tried to make them yet but one of my colleagues sometime makes a bunch of them (with кефир) and its always so delicious. Those are not like the French ones I’ve the habit to cook or pancakes for the like (but, here in Belgium, pancakes are not common so I’ve never tasted a real American one).
Professional chefs makes the accent on last A, блюдА.
@Piper Bernadotte Piper,
I am not sure where you are getting your information from but I can assure you that “блюдА” is incorrect, in the word “блЮда” the stress falls on the first syllable. Let’s face it, professional chefs are still chefs, not linguists 🙂
I love Russian cuisines.. I enjoyed watching the video and I guess its time to try this recipe and cook it for My family this Sunday evening..
The spelling of borsch/borscht various in different parts of Russia. In the north i.e. Moscow, St. Petersburg, it is spelled without the t. Southern Russia it is spelled with the t.