TRADITIONAL RUSSIAN RECIPES

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There can be no warmer invitation to greet you than with a traditional Russian greeting!

Let us share traditional offerings whether they be the simplest bread and salt or lavish gastronomic delights.

Here we desire to celebrate ancient Russian culinary traditions and customs that present Mother Russia at its best.

So welcome to the festivities!

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Traditional Russian Cooking

By Cheryl Rychkova

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Over the past few years I have entertained the notion of an article on the Russian/Ukrainian soup called "Borsht." I always hesitated because it is bound to lead to controversy from some readers. Even the pronunciation of the word is debated. In the Russian language, the T is absolutely silent, yet westerners (I've even heard some Russian professors do it) insist on saying "BorshT" It's one of my pet peeves and as far as I'm concerned, such abuse of the word marks one as uneducated to Russian language and culture, professors notwithstanding!

So, here is my disclaimer: There is no ONE recipe for this marvelous soup. Everyone I have ever met who cooks borsht on a regular basis has their own interpretation. They are ALL wonderful. The most interesting and important thing to remember about this soup is that it is VERSATILE. You can make whatever you want with it, along with a few basic rules and a little care, and still turn out splendidly.

It is no surprise that so many opinions and recipes exist. Russians and Ukrainians have always lived at least partly off the vegetable produce of their own little gardens and have always traditionally begun each meal with soup -- no matter how many courses followed. I have been told by many that the eating of hot soup before continuing the rest of the meal aids in digestion, and can even (so I'm told) aid in weight maintenance.

Some cooks and certainly most Ukrainians insist that borsht is not borsht without beetroot. Others claim it should never be used. In my own family it is not included in the borsht recipe. In fact, I have eaten a number of bowls of "borsht" in the U.S. and abroad that had not a tint of purple and appeared (to my American mind) to be shchi (cabbage soup). I have asked several Russians why this is so, and am met only with shrugs and "shchi and borsht are different."

Another factor to consider is the presence, type, or absence of meat in the borsht. Many Russians I know and have observed in the preparation of this soup will use all manner of meats, ranging from chicken necks, organ meats, pork meatballs, pork tenderloin, even pig's tongue Very few Russians would even think to make a vegetarian borsht but certainly the recipe that follows could easily be made minus meat. Chicken seems to be the favored meat overall, with pork coming in a fairly close second and some prefer beef.

The recipe that follows is my own personal adaptation of a family recipe for borsht. Being a slightly squeamish American, when I make borsht with meat I only use chicken breast. The pork mince made into tiny meatballs is also quite tasty. This soup is very easy and cheap to make, freezes well, and is one of the very BEST dishes on cold winter days. It works great in a slow cooker, which makes it even more wonderful to come home to at the end of a cold day.

First, the kitchen implements you will need: sharp knife for chopping vegetables (or a food processor), cutting board, medium to large Dutch oven (or stew pot), small non-stick skillet, large spoon and ladle.

Ingredients to have on hand or shop for: 1.5 to 2.5 pounds chicken breasts on the bone (for flavor's sake!), not fillets (or meat -- or not -- of your choice bones included, tofu works great too), head of cabbage, 2 carrots, 1 medium onion, 2 medium-large cloves garlic, 2 bay leaves, 1 large potato (optional), 2 medium tomatoes, mushrooms (optional, but very tasty!), any other veggie that takes your fancy, 1 small can tomato paste, salt and pepper to taste, 1.5 tablespoons butter/margarine, Dash of soy sauce, fresh dill (or if unavailable, dillweed from a jar).

DIRECTIONS: Place meat into the Dutch oven and then fill with water (leave about a half inch at top to allow for adding vegetables)and set to boil. When the water begins to boil add 1 tablespoon of salt.

While the meat is cooking, chop the carrots into small pieces. Heat the small skillet, melting the butter/margarine and add the carrots, cooking on medium heat. Chop the onion, garlic, and tomatoes into small pieces (smaller the better, in my view) and add them to the carrots (carrots take way longer to cook, and if you add the other veggies in to begin with they will become overcooked). Lastly, add the chopped mushrooms. Cook until nicely soft and slightly browned. Set aside.

Once the meat is done, remove it (be very careful, it's super hot!) from the Dutch oven and place on a plate or in a bowl to cool. Turn the Dutch oven's heat back to simmer for a few minutes. Chop between 2-3 cups of cabbage and add to the Dutch oven. Peel and cut the potato into small pieces and add those to the soup. Next, add the tomato/carrot/garlic/onion/mushroom mixture to the soup and stir. By now hopefully the meat will have cooled and can be pulled off the bones and chopped into small, bite-sized pieces. Return the chopped meat to the soup and gently stir.Add the tomato paste and blend gently into the soup. Add the dash of soy sauce and stir again. Lastly, add the bay leaves. Add the dill. Cover the Dutch oven, bring to a boil, then straightaway turn the heat to simmer on very low heat (here's where the slow cooker can come in) for 30 minutes, then remove from heat. It's best to let the borsht sit for an hour or so before diving in, and the old saying seems to be true that borsht isn't best until the next day!

What to serve it with? Well, Russians love their condiments with this soup, especially sour cream. I personally cannot imagine eating borsht without it! Another option is chopped green onions on top. Typically bread is served with borsht. If you want to be really Russian, buy black bread to go along with the borsht, and if the mood and time is right, a little vodka goes well, too!

Borsht can be a meal in and of itself, or just the beginning of a tremendous feast. We eat it both ways in our house, and if other dishes follow it (of the Russian variety, anyway), it's usually something along the lines of piroshki, the recipe for which follows in the next article! It's another don't miss for good, nourishing winter cuisine!

**The discussions that followed this article when published in Jan. of this year were rather interesting and a little bit heated!

Just ONE is called a "pelemen." But many are called "pelmeni" and they are one of the most traditional (and delicious) of Russian dishes. Making or eating just one is near impossible.

Most people associate pelmeni with Siberia, and many recipes and references to the dish call it “Siberian dumplings.” Pelmeni probably did originate in Siberia, where hundreds or even thousands could be made, and then frozen and stored outside during the long winters. However, the dumplings became very popular all over Russia. They are closely kin to “pot stickers,” “pierogies,” and other similar dumplings found in many cultures.

The Russian variety traditionally is made of flour, milk, one egg, and salt. The dough is rolled out fairly thin, and cut in circles approximately two inches in diameter. The filling is usually a mixture of minced pork, onions, garlic, salt, and pepper. Pork is often preferred because it makes for a very tender, juicy pelemen. Pelmeni should never be dry.

The most traditional way of making pelmeni is by hand. You simply take a circle of dough, spoon in a little filling, fold the top edge of the circle over the filling, sealing it to the bottom edge very tightly with your fingers. Next, join the ends and pinch closed.

Set a large pot of water to boil. Once the water is boiling, add two teaspoons of salt, approximately 15-20 pelmeni, and three bay leaves. Boil until filling is completely cooked, remove the pelmeni into a bowl, and serve with sour cream, soy sauce, hot mustard, and pepper.

For many generations, making pelmeni has been a fun activity for Russian families (and Russian-American families, too!). Tradition dictates that the whole family gather round the table, from young to old, and help make the dumplings while talking, singing and laughing. It is not at all unusual to enjoy a bit of vodka during pelmeni manufacture! Pelmeni are a popular holiday dish as well, especially on New Year’s Eve.

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Many Russian families make thousands of pelmeni and freeze them for winter. There are few more convenient, spirit-warming, filling dishes on a cold winter's day than Pelmeni.

Another tradition associated with pelmeni is to place silver coins inside a few of the dumplings. Good luck is predicted to the ones who find a coin in their pelmeni. Also, if you find a bay leaf in your bowl of pelmeni, you will have good luck.

There also exists, for modern convenience, pelmeni-making “machines,” which are really just a form to press through the two layers of dough and filling, sealing as it goes. Today in Russian grocery stores, there are a great many varieties of pelmeni for featuring fillings ranging from mushroom to potato and cheese.

Pelmeni recipe

Equipment needed: mixing bowls, small and large

chopper/food processor

rolling pin

biscuit cutter

spoons

dutch oven (large sauce pan)

cutting board

cookie sheets/pizza pans, lightly floured

Ingredients needed: all purpose flour (we've found White Lily is best)

milk

1 egg

mince (ground) pork (or beef or chicken, pork is the traditional)

2-3 large cloves garlic

1 medium onion

2-3 bay leaves

salt and pepper to taste.

In a large mixing bowl, place four cups of flour, press a "well" into the center using your fingers. Add into this well one whole egg, one teaspoon of salt, and enough milk to make a soft, pliable dough. Add milk gradually and mix the ingredients until dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface, such as a cutting board. Add a little flour and knead the dough until it is an elastic, medium firmness. Place in a lightly floured bowl or pan and cover. Set aside.

Next, place the minced pork into a medium mixing bowl. Peel and cut the onion and garlic into manageable pieces. Place both into a chopper/food processor (or you can chop very finely with a sharp knife). Add the processed mixture to the pork, add salt and pepper, and mix very thoroughly, using your hands.

Now it's time to gather your helpers and roll out the dough. Each person participating will need a small bowl (like a cereal bowl) filled with the meat mixture, and a teaspoon. As someone rolls out the dough and cuts circles, others fill the dough (a little goes a long way, and don't overfill!), seal the edges and crimp the ends to shape a pelemen.

Place completed pelmeni in neat rows onto the cookie sheets and place in the freezer. They freeze quickly (in about an hour) and can be put into ziploc bags and returned to the freezer.

Very few people who participate will be content to only make pelmeni. Everyone wants a taste! So, some do not need to be frozen. Just fire up the stove, heat a large saucepan filled 3/4 with water. Once boiling, add salt to taste, two bay leaves, and of course, the pelmeni! From the time you put the pelmeni into the pan -- very hot to boiling water -- until you remove them should take around 15 minutes) and serve with butter, sour cream, soy sauce, and/or "azhigga".

What is ajigga?? I like to call it "Russian Salsa," however this marvelous concoction did not originate in Russia. Rather, adzhiga seems to have originated in the Georgia-Armenia area some 400-450 years ago. (Spasiba bolshoi to Dr. Donald Houston for this information!)Adzhiga is extremely simple to make, very delicious, goes with everything, and is extraordinarily GOOD for you. Here's the recipe:

ADZHIGGA

Four medium, ripe (riper the better, avoid grainy ones) tomatoes

4 cloves garlic

dried medium hot red pepper (about 1 teaspoon)

salt to taste

Puree together in a blender or food processor. Goes great with Pelmeni, chiberecki and pretty much everything else in the western diet. Best if eaten after it sits for a while in the fridge (4-6 hours).

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Russian food...just the thought makes my mouth water. Throughout my travels one of the most delicious and simple and cheap to prepare cuisines comes from Russia.

Even though I live in the United States, I live in a rather Russian household. My Russian husband introduced the rest of us to his native food and we quickly became addicted -- we actually have cravings at times. Luckily, many of our Russian recipes freeze wonderfully well, so it's just a matter of pulling out a freezer bag and start cooking!

Russian food is especially good this time of year (late Fall) and into the winter. This is because much of the cuisine is rather hearty and filling. We have found that we don't eat very much Russian food in the summer, but beginning about a month ago, we started dreaming once again of pelmeni, chiberecki and more!

As I said before, Russian food is fairly simple...you don't have to have any special equipment or be even particularly talented in the kitchen. Additionally, the ingredients are cheap, cheap (unless you want some Russian caviar!)and also incredibly healthy. My husband has eaten mostly Russian food all of his life (well, now that he's in America, we must admit to hitting McDonalds and company more than we should!). He is 45 years old, looks like a 35 year old Mel Gibson and is ridiculously healthy. Never sick. Why? I credit the garlic, onions, tomatoes and cabbage. Oh, and the vodka, but we'll discuss folk remedies later this month!

During his growing up years near Ekaterinburg, everything he ate or drank was natural, organic and fresh. Much of Russian cuisine reflects this attitude. The recipes I am including in this article are all from scratch, but don't let that put you off, they are sooo easy -- and many of them involve family participation, which is great. Some of our best family-togetherness times have been sitting around the kitchen table making piles of pelmeni.

So, drop by the grocery store, pick up some essential ingredients and gather the family. Basic kitchen ingredients to always have on hand: all-purpose flour, milk, eggs, bay leaves, garlic, onions,salt and pepper,cabbage, canned tomato paste, carrots,chicken,minced or ground pork, vegetable oil.

If you've got all the above, you are ready to cook a la Russe! Here's one recipe to get you started. This is our family's favorite, well...one of them!

Chiberecki (fried meat pies) Ingredients for filling: 1.5 pounds ground/minced pork salt and pepper to taste 4 cloves garlic and 1 large onion, pureed. Mix all the above very thoroughly and set aside.

Dough ingredients: 5 cups all-purpose flour 2 eggs pinch of salt milk (add gradually until a soft dough is formed) Mix above ingredients in a large mixing bowl, once dough is formed, remove from bowl to floured surface and knead for 2 minutes. Return to bowl and cover. Let sit for at least 20 minutes.

Now is the time to gather the family around. Provide each person with a cereal-size bowl and teaspoon. Fill each small bowl with pork mixture. Then, roll out some dough to about 1/4 inch thickness. Cut circles approx. 3 inches across, drop teaspoon of pork mixture then fold circle in half, carefully sealing the edges, then crimp with fork. It's very important to make sure you have sealed the chiberecki, or the juices will leak out while cooking and it will be dry. At this point, you can either freeze them on cookie sheets, or cook straight away in oil on medium heat.

These are delicious hot or cold, but especially hot. Serve with sour cream, soy sauce or any sauce that takes your fancy.

AND MORE ABOUT BORSCH

BORSCH is the most quintessential Russian dish - this traditional soup dates at least to Medieval times! While the contents may vary, every steaming borsch must have beetroot with a dollop of sour cream (smetana), and eaten with slabs of black rye bread.

Originally, borsch was prepared during Easter Lent, because no meat or meat products were ingested during that long period of several weeks. Preparation was based on mushroom stock, using a variety of seasonal vegetables. Long ago, the most common item used were the leaves from spring beetroot, rather than the more familiar beetroot itself! After Lent, meat was added to create a more wholesome hearty meal.

The rich color of borsch takes its color from the beetroot, and in prosperous houses the ingredients were more diverse as were the variety and quality of meat included in the soup. Effectively this dish offered a complete meal on its own. In rural regions, women would maintain a boiling pot over the stove, always ready to serve the most ravenous hard working members of her family. With good humor it used to be claimed; that the test for a good housewife was how tasty her borsch was! Hot or cold borsch must reign supreme as Russia 's most traditional and popular of fares.

"Borsch is essentially a dish of Eastern Europe, this region being taken to include Russia, Lithuania, Poland (where the name is barzcz) and, most important, the Ukraine. Ukranians count it as their national soup and firmly believe that it originated there. They are almost certainly right, especially if...one can properly apply to such questions the principle followed by botanists: that the place where the largest number of natural variations is recorded is probably the place of origin of a species. There are more kinds of borsch in the Ukraine than anywhere else; these include the versions of Kiev, Poltava, Odessa, and L'vov. Borsch, which is also counted as a specialty of Ashkenazi Jewish cookery, can be made with a wide range of vegetables. However, the essential ingredient is beetroot, giving the soup its characteristic red colour. Sour cream is usually added on top, just before serving..."

---The Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 89)

"Beet soup or barszcz (commonly Germanized in the United States as 'borscht') never appeared on the royal table during the reign of the Jagiellonian kings, nor was it consumed by the royal servants. Furthermore, it was not even made from beets in its original form, but from the European cow parsnip--also called barszcz in Polish--that grows on damp ground. Its roots were collected in May for stewing with meat, the shoots and young leaves were cooked as greens, and the unopened flow penduncles were eaten as a vegetable or added to soups and pottages. Szymon Syrennius discussed this plant in his herbal and further stated that soups made with it were highly valued in Poland, Lithuania, and Russia. During the Middle Ages it was prepared in soup by itself or was cooked in chicken stock with such additions as egg yolks, cream, or millet meal. The dry leaves exude a sweet substance that was used to create sweet-sour flavors, especially when used with vinegar. The adaptation of cow parsnips to Polish cookery appears to have come from Lithuania."

---Food and Drink in Medieval Poland: Rediscovering a Cuisine of the Past, Maria Dembinska, revised and adapted by William Woys Weaver, translated by Magdalena Thomas [University of Pennsylvania Press:Philadelphia] 1999 (p. 127)

BORSCHT Ingredients:

300 g (12 oz) chicken with bones .

2 tbsp - dried mushrooms, washed, soaked overnight in plenty of water.

300 g (12 oz) beets.

200 g (8 oz) fresh cabbage, shredded.

350 g ( 13 oz) potatoes.

100 g (4 oz) carrots.

20 - 30 g (1 oz) parsley roots.

100 g (4 oz) onion.

50 g (2 oz) tomato paste.

30 g (1 1/2 - 2 oz) sunflower oil, (or Soya oil, or olive oil) v 20 g (1 oz) flour.

10 - 20 g (1/2 oz) sugar.

20 g, 6% ( 1oz) vinegar.

5 pints of water.

sour cream.

salt to taste.

chopped green celery, dill, parsley, coriander, green onions, bay leaf, pepper, garlic cloves to taste.

Directions:

1. Boil meat in water until done, add mushrooms.

2. Grate carrots, chop parsley roots and onions.

3. Then fry onions in oil until golden, add carrots and parsley root, then add tomato paste (or fresh tomatoes and paprika) and stew for 7 - 10 minutes in the frying pan. Fry peeled and grated beets in oil until golden.

4. Add cubed potatoes into broth, as well as shredded fresh cabbage, bring to boil. Cook for 15 - 20 minutes.

5. Add sugar and vinegar to broth, salt to taste. ( You may also add toasted until golden brown flour).

6. Add all fried vegetables: onions, carrots, tomatoes, beets and paprika. Cook for several minutes.

7. Five to ten minutes before the Borscht is done, add: chopped green celery, dill, parsley, coriander, green onion, bay leaf, pepper and garlic cloves to taste.

Serve with sour cream.

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