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Q&A about Russian cuisine

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 

Hi All!

 

It the past, I spent a lot of time learning Russian cuisine and I did a number of researches on history of some Russian dishes. And If you don't mind, I'm ready to share my knowledge and answer your questions about russian cuisine.

 

Is it true that russian pelmeni are of chinese origin?

When did vodka appear?

What is a difference between crepe and blini?

Is there one and only recipe of a true borsch?

 

... if you have these or similar questions, just write them here and I'll do my best to give you an answer. :)

 

 

ps.

here is my photo of traditional siberian pelmeni, just to make this discussion more illustrated and draw a little bit of attention. :)

 

pelmeni

post #2 of 19

I spent time in Russia in the early 80s. I was not impressed with the cuisine available in most places. All meats seem to be called Shishka. They were very limited in product and a bananna for dessert was a big thing. The old regal russian cuisine is not evident anywhere.

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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post #3 of 19
Thread Starter 

I believe it was a kind of misunderstanding. Russian word "shishka" means "cone of pine tree" and it has nothing to do with meats. The closest word that is somehow similar to "shishka" and related to meats is a word "shashlik", that is a kind of kebab.

 

Apparently, early 80-s were not good at all for russian cuisine. There were a lot of problems with quality foods and even good cooks could not do much about it.

 

Anyway, when it comes to more or less modern cuisine, I think that there are following different periods:

 

1. From 1917 to mid 40-s, when russian cuisine was based on a cuisine of XIX century.

2. From mid 40s to the end of 70s, when rapid industrialization of foods industry changed a lot of techniques and ingredients. At the same time, russian cuisine was enriched with some dishes from ex-USSR republics.

3. From 80-s to mid 90-s, when a lot of reasons caused overall decline.

4. And finally current state, when russian cuisine became, let's say, a little bit stunned after all what happened during XX century. smile.gif


Edited by romanas - 1/29/12 at 6:29am
post #4 of 19

 had a guide from Russian dept of tourism. He gave me all the definitions for things. I remember him well because his 3 front teeth were stainless steel., he was a good looking  well spoken english speaking fellow.He took me to a winery and through many kitchens, and factories.

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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post #5 of 19

I'm interested. Nice thread concept. When I was 12 years old and in 6th grade, one of my best friends today moved over from Moscow to our little school. He got a lot of attention at first, but that soon grew into resentment and just about the entire school with the exception of faculty shunned him. I didn't care what the class thought, I thought it was the coolest thing to meet someone my age from the Soviet Union. He tells me that I walked up to him, stuck my hand out and said "Hi.. I'm John" and apparently that was the first act of kindness he'd seen.

 

When we figured out that he lived just a mile or two from me, I started going over after school. This led to me being over when they were ready for dinner and so I was invited to join them. What I remember, were the number of courses for one.. at my house having soup for dinner meant.. well that we had soup. They would start with a soup.. very light chicken broth with vegetables herbs and some form of oil. There was plenty of bread and they often had salads of cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions with herbs and oil. I was full by this point and then they would bring out the main course! The dishes really were often what is stereotypical.. hearty dishes of meat and potatoes, often similar to what we call home fries. I also remember his mother trying to correct how I used my knife and fork, she didn't succeed and my friend would yell at her to stop bothering me.

 

I did not respect nor was I compelled to really learn about the differences in food and wish I had.. but that would have been quite odd for a 12 yr old. We were more interested in wreaking havoc in the neighborhood (with a good deal of success).

 

So.. I don't really know where to start.. how about you explain how you go into Russian cuisine, maybe what your top 3 favorite dishes are? Are there regional cuisines as there are in India that differ a great deal? What are some artisanal foods that Russians are known for if any (cheeses, breads, meat products, seafood products?)

post #6 of 19

I'd be interested in hearing about Russian charcuterie.  There is an immigrant community here in the Twin Cities and at least one small store specializing in Russian foods, including sausages and other preserved meats.  I've had some really great fresh pork sausage from them.  I'd be interested in knowing more about the types of sausages and other preserved/smoked meats.  Recipes are a bonus of course, since I dabble in sausage making as well.

 

Nice thread concept.  Thanks!

post #7 of 19
Thread Starter 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by eastshores View Post

 

So.. I don't really know where to start.. how about you explain how you go into Russian cuisine, maybe what your top 3 favorite dishes are? Are there regional cuisines as there are in India that differ a great deal? What are some artisanal foods that Russians are known for if any (cheeses, breads, meat products, seafood products?)


 

Thanks for your story! Apparently, you met a family that keeps traditions. :) Russian meal usually consists of three or more courses. First one that is soup. Second one or main one that is usually meat, fish or poultry with some kind of side dish. First and second are accompanied with bread, salads and what is called "zakousski" - sliced meats, different preserved foods and so on. And finally a third course that is a dessert with tea or coffee.

 

I would say that my personal favorites are: 

 

1. Siberian pelmeni.

2. Okroshka soup (although a concept of an ice-could soup looks really strange and surprising to a lot of people).

3. Ukha soup. Especially "Triple ukha" that is sometimes called "Tzar's ukha".

 

But I won't say that it was easy to choose just three. :)

 

When it comes to regional diversity, I would say that there is a general set of dishes that is being cooked across all Russia more or less the same way. For example, if you taste a borsch in Moscow, it will be almost the same as a borsch in Vladivostok 4000 miles away. At the same time, there are a lot of dishes and products that are linked to particular regions and have strong influence on regional cuisine. For example, people in Moscow like "solianka" soup and it's difficult to find decent "solianka" somewhere outside of Moscow. Also, there are a lot of different ethnic groups in Russia and almost all of them have their own unique and distinctive cuisine that influence regional cuisines as well.

 

Nowadays true artisanal foods are not in a very good shape in Russia. A lot of traditional foods were forgotten during XX century and a lot of traditions of crafting true hand-made foods were lost. Also, current Russian law does not help small manufacturers, there is nothing similar to European PDO/PGI/TSG system and almost all producers of quality foods suffer from counterfeiting of some kind. As a result, quality foods are produced in very low quantities and seldom cross regional borders.

 

On the other hand, everything's not that bad and it seems that getting better. I think there is no need to mention Russian caviar (black and red) and vodka. Except that, there is a number of well-known local foods of a good quality, to name just a few: Smoked fish from Baikal lake and Siberian rivers; butter from Vologda; cheese from Kostroma; dried sturgeon from Kaspian sea; honey from Altai and so on... Also, there is a sea-food of excellent quality (salmon, caviar, crabs and so on) in Far East regions of Russia (that are nearby the Pacific ocean), but unfortunately it seldom reaches even western part of Russia.

 

 

post #8 of 19

When I was in college I taught English as a Second Language in a small Russian community in Columbus, Ohio.  We worked in teams of two, and taught in the family's homes.  We would arrive in the early evening, and begin teaching fairly quickly.  The moment the lessons were over the books were cleared away and the table was quickly set.  The food that was served was always amazing.  We were teaching as volunteers, and I suppose since we wouldn't accept any real payment this was their way of saying thank you.  I do not remember the names of most of the foods we had, but I do remember that I enjoyed every dish I ate there.  The family I worked with were Jewish, and that meant that there were all sorts of holiday's (and special foods for them) that I was not used to.  I went back to my dorm after Passover and Hanukkah with LOTS of extra food to share with my dorm-mates (which made me VERY popular, lol).

 

Ever since this wonderful experience, I have h ad a deep interest in both the Russian culture and their cuisine.  Some of my favorite things are quite simple.  I love a good black bread (I have a Ukrainian recipe I really like) and borscht.  Every so often, the mood strikes me and I decide to make Russian food for dinner.  I'll hop online and look up a myriad of recipes and pick whatever looks like fun.  I enjoy experimenting with new foods at home, especially cultural foods, and have had a lot of fun with Russian food.  I've mostly stuck to rural/country type Russian foods though, and have not yet tried to make a foray into Russian fine-dining cuisine.

 

I'm not sure if it's still there, but there used to be a Russian market in Austin, Texas that I went to a number of times.  If they're still there, I intend to visit on a more regular basis after I finish my move back down there.  I also need to find a Russian market in San Antonio, since that would make it easier to visit on a more regular basis.

post #9 of 19
Thread Starter 

 

Originally Posted by pohaku View Post

I'd be interested in hearing about Russian charcuterie.  There is an immigrant community here in the Twin Cities and at least one small store specializing in Russian foods, including sausages and other preserved meats.  I've had some really great fresh pork sausage from them.  I'd be interested in knowing more about the types of sausages and other preserved/smoked meats.  Recipes are a bonus of course, since I dabble in sausage making as well.

 

Nice thread concept.  Thanks!

 

Thanks for your interest! :)
 

Russian charcuterie date back to XII century. A scroll dated 1140 AD says that an orthodox church lecturer (we don't know his name) and a guy named Ilia have supplied unknown person with sausages. :) Some kinds of preserved meats are mentioned in a lot of old manuscripts, including famous "Domestic Order" ("Domostroy") written by priest Silvester in 16th century, but unfortunately no one recipe has survived.

 

There is an opinion that German immigration to Russia that took place in 18th century has greatly improved russian preserved meats and sausages. I belive that it makes sense and there are some evidences that in 18-19th centuries best charcuterie stores in St. Petersburg and Moscow were owned by germans. It seems, that russian habit to buy already cooked sausages date back to this period.

 

During Soviet era government has spent a lot of effort in order to standardize and improve technologies related to preserved meats and sausages making. In 1960-s there were more than 100 types of fully standardized smoked sausages only. Due to my age, I had no chance to taste them by myself, but people say that they were of a very good quality. :) On the other hand, traditional names and origins of these meats have almost vanished and some types of meats were named with artificial names like "Doctor's", "Tourist's", etc.

 

Soviet preserved meats industry has declined since 70-s, when USSR faced with serious problems in meat production together with a demand of rapidly growing population for meat products. There was some progress since 90-s, but industry didn't reach Soviet standards yet and market was flooded with meats and sausages of a poor quality. As a result, people's interest to home-made sausages has dramatically increased.

 

I think that the most popular types are following:

 

1. Kolbasa. Usually large sausage about 15-20 inches long and about 1,5-2,5 inches in diameter. Made of pork, beef, spices and sometimes with an addition of some strong-flavoured alcohol like brandy or port wine. Usually fermented and cold-smoked. By the way, sometimes people in US write "Russian kielbasa" that is completely wrong. :) "Kielbasa" is a Polish word, correct Russian word is "Kolbasa". :)

 

2. Boiled kolbasa. Quite similar to Italian mortadella and probably of Italian origin. Made of emulsified meat, eggs and milk. Most popular brand is "Doctorskaya" ("Doctor's").

 

3. Hams. Actually, there in nothing special here. A lot of unique types of hams are mentioned in 19th century literature, but it seems that they didn't survive. As for me, I could not find any trustable information on this matter. Hope I'll manage to do this one day. :)

 

4. Sosiski. Small thin pre-cooked sausages probably of Austrian or German origin, made of emulsified meats and quite similar to Frankfurters or Viennese.

 

5. Kolbaski. This is regular fresh sausages. Probably, most popular type is "Ukranian" that is made of pork, fat and some garlic. When long Ukrainian "kolbaski" are hot- or cold- smoked, they become "ukrainian home-made kolbasa". :)

 

6. Salo. Very popular home-made food made of pork back fat, cured with salt and sometimes smoked. Some people even make "salo" that is brined, salted and fermented with aromatic leaves and herbs in special oak-wood chests. 

 

If you're interested in particular type of sausage, I think that I can provide a little bit more detailed information, including ingredients and basic technology. 

post #10 of 19

I would add that Soviet-times Doctorskaya was similar to bologna with no visible chunks of fat (even though it contains plenty of fat). There was also Mortadella-like sausage with visible inclusions of fat, also "boiled". It was called Stolichnaya among other names. The recipes, however, differed from Italian sausages. There were persistent rumors that those sausages contained fillers of questionable origin and not much meat. There were all sorts of salami, some softer and some harder. Let's not forget liverwurst. Smaller sausage links came in different shapes and sizes, some with natural and others with synthetic casings. They were called "sosiski" and "sardel'ki." Ham was either formed or whole, often bone-in. Head cheese was also available.

 

The quality and selection depended on where you lived. In some cities like Moscow the selection was larger and at least some types of sausage were readily available. In other locations, one could get a piece of Doctorskaya only after spending a couple of hours standing in line. And in many places, store shelves were empty most of the time, or at least didn't offer anything worth buying. I think people living in cities were less inclined to engage in something as time consuming as sausage production especially since finding good-quality meat was often even more challenging that buying factory-made sausage. Storage could also pose a challenge. In some rural areas where people butchered their owns pigs and other animals, homemade cured meat products were more common.

 

This is how I remember Soviet processed meat industry offerings growing up in the 70's/early 80's. There were other meat products that are a separate subject. It seems local Russian food producers in NY area where I live follow many Soviet-era traditions. Old habits die hard... :)

 

P.S. Yes, Polish kielbasa is just one specific type of sausage whereas Russian "Kolbasa" is an all-inclusive term for all large sausage products. By the same token, the Polish word "pierogi" has little to do with the Russian meaning of the same word. Polish pierogi are dumplings, and Russian pirogi are pies or stuffed buns, typically baked.

post #11 of 19

Hi, I'm also interested in Russian cuisine and am looking for some recommendations. Specifically, I'm interested in Russian regional cuisines, and I don't mind the books being in Russian. I don't speak it, but I can read azbuka and my native language is Slovak, so I do understand at least the important stuff in Russian text (I certainly have no problem with recipes). I already have general Russian cookbooks (1911 edition of Molokhovets and a book by Pokhlyobkin), so I'm looking specifically for regional cookbooks, especially on Ural regions (though any region will be of interest). Thanks in advance.

post #12 of 19

I've got a cookbook somewhere called "Please to the Table" that covers a lot of western Russia, some dishes from Lithuania, Latvia, et al.  There's a recipe for a sausage in there that uses pomegranate seeds in the recipe, I've been meaning to give that a try.

 

mjb.

Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
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post #13 of 19
Thread Starter 

Hi Slayertplsko,

 

It's very nice to see your interest and it's quite impressive that you have Molokhovets's book. :)

 

 

When talking about russian regional cuisines, some people talk about cuisine of russians living in a given region. While other people talk about cuisine of other ethnic groups, living in this particular region. All this usually causes lot's of misunderstandings - we should always remember that russians are the biigest ethnic group in Russia, but not the only one. There are a lot of other ethnic groups that have their own cuisines.

 

Anyway, in my opinion modern russian cuisine (as cuisine of russians) has minor regional diversity. You can find more or less the same set of dishes on tables in Moscow and Vladivostok. Well, people in Vladivostok have better access to ocean fish, caviar, crabs and stuff like that, but cooking methods and dishes are almost the same as in Moscow.

 

The same is true about russian cuisine in Ural region. It has very little differense from cuisine of Voronezh or Irkutsk.

 

Things really change when we consider cuisines of other ethnic groups, living on territory of Russia. For example, tatars (second biggest ethnic group to russians) have their own unique cuisine that (despite centuries of living together) is quite different from cuisine of russians.

 

The same story in Ural. There is a number of ethnic groups living there and one of them is udmurts. Although udmurt's cuisine is quite simple, there is one dish that originated in udmurt's cuisine and now very popular and beloved everywhere across Russia. I'm talking about "pelmeni". Pelmeni are considered to be a dish of russian cuisine, but it has udmurt's origin. :)

 

 

BTW, Molokovets's book is a true jewel. But Poklebkin's book doesn't worth paper it's printed on is very, very arguable and has lot's of unreliable information.

post #14 of 19

Hi, Romanas,

Thanks for your post. What I really mean by regional cuisine is the cooking style of a particular region (like Sverdlovskaya, Arkhangelskaya, Novgorodskaya Oblast), not limited to, but aware of different ethnic groups that live there. That is, when it comes to e.g. Tatarstan, I'm interested in the cooking of both Russians and Tatars that live there (and other ethnic groups that might live there).

I imagine there will be some difference as to what produce can be grown in different regions, like people from around Astarkhan or Sochi are certainly able to grow tomatoes, while people from Veliky Novgorod or Arkhangelsk most probably not. This, in turn, should produce some regional differences and that's what to me is interesting.

 

Oh yes, pelmeni. This is actually what restarted my interest in Russian cuisine. I read maybe a week or two ago on some blog about a traditional way to make them, by fermenting the dough for a few days. I found that interesting, I mean, I would have never thought that the traditional way is to ferment the dough. This is certainly unknown in Poland or Slovakia, where there are similar dishes (pierogi, perky, pirohy).

post #15 of 19
Thread Starter 

Well, I understand your point. But I really afraid that the way of finding out regional differences will be full of disappointments. :)

 

In the past, somewhere around beginning of XX century, there were much more diversity, but major part of it has vanished during XX century. 

 

Anyway, if you'll let me know a couple of particular regions that are interesting to you, maybe I will be able to provide some information about cuisines of these regions. :)

 

Regarding pelmeni - honestly, your post is the first time I hear about fermenting dough for pelmeni.  :) Actually, few years ago I did a research on history of pelmeni and I have a lot of pelmeni recipes from the middle of XIX century... Also, I was born in Siberia (region famous for pelmeni) and learned how to make pelmeni from my grandmothers, but… have never heard about fermented dough. :) 

post #16 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by romanas View Post

6. Salo. Very popular home-made food made of pork back fat, cured with salt and sometimes smoked. Some people even make "salo" that is brined, salted and fermented with aromatic leaves and herbs in special oak-wood chests. 

 

If you're interested in particular type of sausage, I think that I can provide a little bit more detailed information, including ingredients and basic technology. 

Ok, I'll bite - I am getting quite a bit into charcuterie lately, and I'd definitely love to see a recipe for that. I suppose you slice the salo thinly and eat it with rye bread? Perhaps some pickles with it? 

 

Second question - I visited St. Petersburg in the mid-nineties. I distinctly remember getting some kind of seaweed salat at a buffet one evening. Any idea what that could have been? Thanks!

post #17 of 19
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by GeneMachine View Post

Ok, I'll bite - I am getting quite a bit into charcuterie lately, and I'd definitely love to see a recipe for that. I suppose you slice the salo thinly and eat it with rye bread? Perhaps some pickles with it? 

 

You are absolutely righ about rye bread, pickles and thin slicing. :) 

 

It wasn't easy to find recipe in english, but this one ( http://cassiopaea.org/forum/index.php?topic=29124.0 ) looks fine. It's very basic, but it will work. I would add that the best fat for salo is fat back. Also, I would note that pork has to be thoroughly inspected (trichinae free), but apparently everybody remember this point without my reminders. :)))) 

 

There are a lot of different ways to make salo, based on this simple recipe. For example, some people use wood chests as a containers for curing and increase curing time. Some people add fragrant leaves (like cherry leaves) when curing. Some people apply cold smoke after curing.

 

But this recipe should result in a decent salo even without all this fancy stuff. :)))

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by GeneMachine View Post

Second question - I visited St. Petersburg in the mid-nineties. I distinctly remember getting some kind of seaweed salat at a buffet one evening. Any idea what that could have been? Thanks!

 

 

 

I'm certain that is was a salad based on canned seaweed. This canned seaweed was extremely popular in 80th and 90th and it's quite popular now, so I think it's not an issue to find it in russian food stores.

 

The rest of recipe is extremely simple - open a can, strain (discard liquid), mix seaweed with chopped boiled egg, chopped onion (I would suggest shallot) and sunflower oil. That's it. :) 

post #18 of 19

Good thread.  I'm Latvian in heritage and so naturally much of the russian cuisine crosses the border.  I love the consommes, both clear beef and chicken ones, garnishes by tiny pieces of vegetables.  Lots of work but the result is amazing.

 

Also a favorites are Piroshki/ Piraks.  My great aunt would make them by the basket load and they'd be gone in a flash.  She used a cabbage and bacon filling - soo nice.

 

Terribly healthy this one and I'm sure not native to only Russia, but dark rye bread, lashings of lard and good sprinkling of salt.

 

The cured meats and fish are also delicious, there are just too many to mention.

 

Yum.

 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
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 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
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post #19 of 19

Thanks a lot, romanas! Definitely gonna try making some salo, as long as my girlfriend doesn't start complaining about my charcuterie and pickling lab eating up all the space in our cellar now :D

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