Russian Language Blog

Tea-kettles, Dummies and Dumplings Posted by on Aug 13, 2010 in language, Russian for beginners

«Честно признаться» [to be honest], I don’t have a favorite birthday cake or pie. Instead, I prefer «вареники» [dumplings] to any «выпечка» [baked goods] and not just any dumplings, but only «вишнёвые вареники» [cherry-filled dumplings]! After all, there are so many different fillings for «вареники» – with «творог» [farmer’s cheese], «печёнка» [liver], «капуста» [cabbage], «яблоки» [apples], etc. Pretty much anything that can be minced and stuffed inside a rolled-out «тесто» [dough] can be used for «вареники».

As the name implies, the only way to cook this delicious dish is to «сварить» [to boil]. «Варка» [the process of cooking in boiling liquid or steam] sounds so simple. Yet «В.В. Похлёбкин» [V.V. Pohlebkin], a historian widely known for his books about history, traditions, and ways of cooking Russian dishes, devoted 20 pages of dense print to the process in his «Тайны хорошей кухни» [Secrets of Good Cooking].

I personally think that not only the culinary process, but the word «варить» [to boil] deserves a much closer linguistic scrutiny. For one, it’s «исконно русское слово» [an original Russian word] derived from an old Slavic noun «вар» [tar].

Then there are lots of great «обиходные выражения» [everyday expressions] and «пословицы» [proverbs] that use this verb.

For example, the other day I stayed up well past midnight watching a movie and the next morning «я была как варённая» [I felt very tired, lit: I felt as if I was boiled]. «Муж предложил сварить кофе» [my husband offered to make coffee], but since I don’t like it «я заварила чай» [I made tea]. «Крепкая заварка» [strong brew] helped somewhat, but for the rest of the morning I felt as if «башка не варит» [my head wasn’t screwed on the right way].

By the way, the word «башка» is just one of the very informal and slightly disparaging alternatives to the word «голова» [head]. Others includes «котелок» [kettle] as in an approving «у неё котелок варит» [she’s quick on the uptake; lit: her kettle is cooking] and «чайник» [tea kettle] as in «дать по чайнику» [to hit one on the head]. If you every read any of the “For Dummies” books, you might find it interesting that in Russia these books are called «Для чайников».

But «вернёмся к нашим баранам» [let’s get back to our subject]. In addition to «супы и овощи» [soup and vegetables], you can «варить кашу» [make porridge], making you a «кашевар» [porridge-maker] or «варить пиво» [brew beer], in which case you become «пивовар» [brewer]. And don’t you look down on porridge-makers either. A good «кашевар» is hard to find (just ask any of us who attended Russian preschools with their seemingly constant smell of «подгоревшая манка» [burnt cream of wheat].

Do you know the story of a stone soup? Well, in its Russian version the soup is replaced with porridge and a stone – with an axe but the message stays the same «находчивый человек и из топора может кашу сварить» [a resourceful person can make porridge out of an axe].

Don’t get «сварить кашу» confused with «заварить кашу» either. Unlike the former, the latter means “to stir up trouble” as in «он эту кашу заварил, а нам теперь расхлёбывать» [he stirred up all this trouble and now we have to clean up the mess].

«С ним каши не сваришь» [You can’t cook porridge with him] is what Russians would say of a trouble-maker or a quarrelsome person.

In addition to various edibles, including «варенец» [clotted cream], «вареники» [dumplings], «варенье» [jam], «заварной крем» [custard], one can «варить» such non-edibles as «метал» [to weld metal], «чугун» [to smelt iron], «мыло» [make soap], «осьминога Пауля, предсказавшего победу Испании на чемпионате мира по футболу» [boil Paul the Octopus that predicted Spain’s victory in the FIFA World Cup].

Finally, if you are reading «Мастер и Маргарита» [Master and Margarita] with us, then you might remember that in Chapter 9 a certain «Никанор Босой» [Nikanor Bosoi] was arrested just as he was about to enjoy a steaming pot of «наваристый борщ» [rich or fatty borsch]. The irony is that the reason for his arrest was in «навар» [a profit, often illegal] Nikanor received after striking a dubious deal with «Коровьев» [Koroviev].

Look at these little cuties getting ready to go straight into «кипяток» [boiling water]! They tasted so good, made me think of changing my career to a professional dumpling-maker. Maybe I should give that Ocean View Cafe a call after all.

And if you’d like to make «вишнёвые вареники» [cherry dumplings], then here’s the recipe:

Pit cherries and sprinkle liberally with sugar and let stand «на пару часов» [for a couple of hours] (don’t worry about pitting too many since the ones that won’t get used for stuffing are delicious as a snack while you’re waiting for the water to boil). Drain well, reserving the juices (you can boil them down with some more sugar and, optionally, thicken with cream of tartar, arrowroot or flour).

3 cups of flour

½ cut of very cold water (you might end up needing a bit more water)

3 eggs

Mix into «крутое, но податливое тесто» [stiff, yet pliant dough]. Let rest for about 20 minutes. Roll dough to about 1/8th of an inch. Then cut round or square shapes (I prefer squares just because it’s quicker).

Fill each circle or square with about a teaspoon of the «вишнёвая начинка» [cherry filling], then close the dumplings and pinch the edges really well. They are ready to be boiled in lightly salted water for about 10-12 minutes. Once they are boiled, drain them well and serve with the reserved «вишнёвый сироп» [cherry syrup], «мёд» [honey], «сметана» [sour cream (or plain Greek yogurt)], or «вишнёвое варенье» [cherry preserves].

«Приятного аппетита!» [Bon Appetite!]

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  1. trudy ringer:

    Well, I’m hungry now. Great blog. Maybe we could read about more of your favorite foods?

  2. Arkadiy B:

    What a great post! Love the plethora of words all rooted in “вар”. Sometimes I forget “kak krepok i moguch Russkiy yazik” 🙂

  3. Sally:

    Your post is interesting and kinda funny. I think its also informative because the readers
    can be informed more about food and I think it would also be even better when its shared with a cup of tea or coffee.Btw, I’d like to share an interesting site that can also be helpful in choosing or searching quality tea kettles that are more convenient to use and affordabel too. Please check:
    Its a cool site for tea kettle lovers, for tea lovers and food lovers too =)