In summary, Russian cuisine can be divided into four main eras:
Ancient Russian cuisine (IX-XVI centuries);
In the medieval period, most of the Russian drinks became national: mead, khmel, kvass, cider. Beer appeared in 1284. In the years 1440-1470, Russia discovered vodka made from grains of rye. Until the 17th century, milk and meat were not popular. Meat boiled in shchi (cabbage soup) or for kasha was not even roasted until the 16th century.
Old Moscow kitchen (17th century):
Beginning with Peter the Great, the Russian nobility borrowed some of the culinary customs and traditions of Western Europe. Rich nobles who visited Western European countries brought foreign chefs with them to expand their repertoire. It was at this time that minced meat was introduced into Russian cuisine: cutlets, stews, pâtés and rolls became quite popular, along with non-Russian soups (Swedish, German, French), which appeared in the 17th century – solyanka , (beef soup) and rassolnik (potato and pickle soup) containing brine, lemons and olives appeared at the same time and were happily integrated into the kitchen. It was during this period that such well-known delicacies as black caviar and salted and jellied fish appeared.
In the 16th century, Kazan and Astrakhan Khanates along with Bashkiria and Siberia were annexed to Russia. New food products such as raisins (grapes), dried apricots, figs, melons, watermelons, lemons and tea made their first appearance, to the delight of the population. During the short growing season, even poor farmers could enjoy a variety of fresh fruits, in addition to drying them during the long winter months. Foreign chefs cooked their national dishes, which harmoniously fit into Russian cuisine. There was also the era of German sandwiches, butter, French and Dutch cheeses.
St. Petersburg kitchen (late 18th-1860s)
The French expanded the variety of starters by adding a number of old Russian dishes of meat, fish, mushrooms and sour vegetables, the variety of which may surprise foreigners. Because cold weather could last up to nine months in some regions, canned foods were a large part of Russian cuisine, and households stored as much food as possible for the long winters. This included smoking, salting, steeping, and fermenting. Cabbage can be used all winter long to make shchi or as a filling for meatballs. Soaked apples were often served to guests or in some garnishes. Pickled cucumbers were a main ingredient in many dishes, including several traditional soups. Salted and dried meat and fish were eaten after religious fasts and before holidays. Overall, it was a fairly spartan diet, with most economic groups using what was available.
Traditional Russian foods are heavily influenced by stuffed dumplings, hearty stews, soups, potatoes, and cabbage:
+ Borscht, one of Russia’s best-known foods, a chilly, thick stew made with beets and topped with sour cream
+ Beef stroganoff: beef strips sautéed in butter sauce, white wine, sour cream (called ‘smetana’ in Russia), mustard and onions; eaten alone or poured over rice or noodles
+ Sweet and sour cabbage – cooked in red wine vinegar, applesauce, butter and onions, chopped apples, sugar, bay leaves
+ Solyanka Soup: A hearty soup made from thick chunks of beef and / or pork, simmered for hours with garlic, tomatoes, bell peppers, and carrots.
+ Golubtsy.- Shredded or minced beef wrapped in cabbage and steamed / boiled until cooked; found throughout Eastern Europe
+ Olivie. – a kind of potato salad made with pickles, eggs, mortadella and carrots mixed with mayonnaise
+ Blini: thin, crepe-like pancakces topped with savory or sweet toppings like minced meat, caviar, or apples
+ Papa Okroshka.- cold soup made of buttermilk, potatoes and onions, garnished with dill; Vichyssoise (often attributed to the French, was actually created at the Ritz Carlton in New York in 1917 but of course disputed by French chefs, who insist they created it)
+ Knish – mashed potatoes, ground beef, onion and cheese stuffed into thick batter and fried / baked
+ Khinkali – ground beef and coriander meatballs
+ Khachapuri: thick and crunchy bread shaped like a boat and filled with a variety of melted cheese
+ Zharkoye: a meat stew made with potatoes, carrots, parsley and celery, seasoned with garlic, cloves and dill; served hot with sour cream
+ Pelmeni: meatballs made from thin yeast-free dough, stuffed with thin meat, mushrooms and onions
+ Shashlik – classic shesh kebab
+ Tula gingerbread – similar to our gingerbread, but may contain jam or walnuts
+ Pirozhki – pastries filled with meat, potatoes, cabbage or cheese, similar to Polish pierogi
+ Morozhenoe (rich ice cream); well hey … now you’re talking
+ Chak-Chak (Russia’s attempt to make funnel-shaped cakes … would we make it up?)
You will notice a clear absence of fresh vegetable salads, seafood, pasta and rice. And of course, Russia is certainly not known for its desserts. Even Chicken Kiev is generally attributed to various New York City restaurants claiming to have created it, not any native Russian chef or restaurant. (gee … you can’t believe anything these days).
So next time you fancy some borscht or kinkali, you may have to make it yourself. There is neither a preponderance of Russian restaurants anywhere in the US nor the desire for them. Few people think of blinis or knish when planning Sunday dinner. But who knows? You might discover a whole new world of cooking when you get on the Russian diet (oh dear, that didn’t go well). Go for it.