Back to Russia
Smetana (sour cream) is an indispensable staple. Too many dishes would
be unthinkable and uneatable without a topping of smetana. Whole cow's
milk, mare's milk, and fresh cream are widely used in many dishes and as
beverages hut usually well cooked. Sour milk in many forms, pot cheese
and cottage cheese, baked milk or kaimek and many varieties of excellent
local cheeses are used abundantly.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
The most available fruits are those that can survive the generally
extreme climate or are imported: apples, pears, cherries, plums,
cranberries, and lingonberries. Other berries such as raspberries,
strawberries, currants, gooseberries, blackberries, and huckleberries
are savored when they can be obtained. Some fruits are enjoyed fresh,
others are preserved or prepared as stews, compotes, or the pureed fruit
dessert served everywhere called kissel. Fruits are also used well
sweetened as fillings for dumplings, as fruit sauces or served as a
"spoon sweet" to be taken with tea.
Most-used vegetables in Russia include cabbage, potatoes, beets, onions,
black-skinned radish (rediska), carrots, turnips, and squash. Enjoyed
but used less frequently are green beans, green peas, cauliflower,
eggplant, spinach, sorrel, and pumpkin. The greens are used in soups and
the less-used vegetables are considered a special garnish to other
dishes. Cucumbers are avidly enjoyed fresh with salt to form a type of
fresh salad-pickle, or brined to form pickles that will be used all
winter. Homemade barrels of sauerkraut (sometimes with fermented apples)
are used year-round in many ways too. Mostly the vegetables are used
well cooked in soups, used as fillings or served pickled. When served
cold as salads, they have been cooked first then chilled and chopped or
sliced and served with sour cream or mayonnaise. Russian salads are
never green leafy mixtures and seldom include raw vegetables.
Citrus fruits are not in abundant supply, but very thin slices of lemon
are a special treat in hot tea.
MEATS AND ALTERNATES
Beef, veal, pork, and mutton are first on the list of meats. Most
chickens are tough unless they are capons; geese, ducks and turkeys as
well as game birds, deer, and hare are used when possible.
Fish is eaten fresh, salted, or smoked. Salmon, herring, crayfish, and
caviar from sturgeon are considered special delicacies.
Soft-cooked or scrambled eggs are beaten occasionally for breakfast, but
most eggs are consumed as garnishes, appetizers (pickled, stuffed,
chopped), in meat mixtures, and as fillings for blini, doughs,
dumplings, and other baked goods. Legumes are not widely used except in
some regions and occasionally in soups. Except in the republics,
especially Georgia, nuts are only used in baking or as an occasional
BREADS AND GRAINS
Dark and heavy wholegrain rye breads, coarse firm wheat breads, and the
ubiquitous casserole of kasha (usually buckwheat) are the most firmly
entrenched Russian staples. But there are countless shapes and types of
breads and rolls - kulitch, krendel, and bagel - to make even a diet
solely of breads an interesting one.
To this list of breads may be added the hearty list of large and small
pancakes, kulebiaka, noodle dough and yeast dough dumplings that may be
baked, boiled, or fried and filled with anything from chopped cabbage to
meats, mushrooms, or fruits, and one can see the importance and variety
of grains. Further, every kitchen and countless bakeries produce sweet
cakes, tortes, rolls, pastries, and fruited yeast doughs (kulitch) that
daily find a place on the Russian menu, if only as an accompaniment to
Bread and salt are the traditional symbols of welcome.
To a Russian, no dish ever contains quite enough butter. Butter is used
during cooking, after cooking and more is added during eating. Sunflower
oil or peanut oil are used for some dishes.
SWEETS AND SNACKS
Ice cream, available from street vendors or in ice cream parlors, is a
frequent snack. Snacks of toasted sunflower, pumpkin and squash seeds as
well as many candied fruits are munched frequently. Chocolates or
candies are special occasion treats and not used as often as sweets in
other forms. Rich baked desserts are enjoyed whenever possible and for
any excuse (one never drinks without eating). But it is more common to
sip one's tea with a sugar cube held between the teeth for maximum
sweetness or to enjoy a small saucer of sweet rich fruit preserves, a
spoonful at a time, with hot tea.
The main seasonings include dill, onion, sour cream, sour crystals
(citric or acetic acid crystals), the fermented juices from sauerkraut
or pickles, sugar and salt, butter, parsley and many types of dried or
fresh mushrooms. Foods are generally not highly seasoned; the
predominant flavors are either buttery and creamy or a blend of sweet
and sour. There is a frequent use of equal measures of both sugar and
salt to heighten flavor.
Tea and vodka rank as the great Russian beverages. Tea is always served
very weak. Kvass, a fermented drink made from black bread, sugar and
yeast, is said to be the drink of the Russian peasants. Kumiss (or
Koumiss) is an ancient Tatar drink said to have legendary nutritive and
restorative powers. It is made from mare's milk that has been fermented
in wooden tubs or horse skins. It is drunk mainly in the Central Asian
Kirghiz region. Other fermented beverages include pear and raspberry
liqueurs, cider, beer, and Med (similar to mead). Soured or clabbered
milk and whole milk are also enjoyed as beverages.