KIRILL VLADIMOROVICH POKROVSKY A.K.A DR.KEYREAL Visit my page and Guestbook
Borsch? Check. Caviar? Check. Vodka? Well, not exactly.
Russian cuisine is a lot more than just those popular stereotypes. Hundreds of soups, fish dishes, meat recipes and sweets have been invented over the centuries. And modern Russian food is not only traditional Slavic dishes, but also the myriad of things cooked by the more than 150 nationalities that live on this huge territory. Then there’s the Soviet heritage, not to mention the daily ingenuity of people thinking up great new recipes day after day.
Russian cuisine before the 17th century, though, can be considered a bore. Typically, it included turnips and cabbages cooked in various combinations and in every imaginable way, often with spice. A lot of fish was eaten too, along with berries, mushrooms and all kinds of porridges. The diet of a Russian in those times was greatly influenced by the Orthodox Church. People fasted for up to 216 days a year, when it was forbidden to eat meat. But the abundance of fish dishes and dozens of sorts of caviar definitely compensated for that – fish was boiled, baked, dried, smoked, salted, and fried.
Unfortunately, not much documentary evidence has survived about the exact recipes of medieval and ancient meals. The first ever cookbook was compiled in 1547, but it only listed dishes without revealing the ingredients or the method of cooking. Most of the entries leave even modern scholars scratching their heads…
But some recipes seem to be imperishable: Russian pancakes (bliny), porridges (kasha), stuffed pies (pirozhok), honey cakes (prianik) and rye bread (chyorny hleb), all made it through the centuries almost unaltered.
The 17th century brought Tatar dishes to the table of the ordinary Russian. This followed the conquering of the cities of Kazan and Astrakhan, as well as Bashkiria and parts of Siberia. That’s when the famous Russian dumplings (pelmeni) and noodles (lapsha) appeared. It was also when the nation developed the habit of drinking tea, surely the national drink now – not vodka, as many presume. This alcoholic beverage appeared later and was brought from China. Also, a lot of spices made it to Russia in the 17th century, adding tons of recipes to pastries and sweets. It was also the time when carrot jam and black radish preserve were invented.
The nobility enjoyed all kinds of fish and game. Hunting was popular and birds and animals were cooked whole. Sometimes the dishes were so huge it took three or four servants to carry them into the dining hall. A dinner could last up to eight hours… as the dishes kept coming!
Things changed drastically in the 18th century. It became fashionable among the Russian aristocracy to employ foreign chefs, mostly French ones. Using a combination of native recipes and their own cooking techniques, these chefs brought a new understanding to traditional Russian food. What they kept for sure – and what later became standard in Europe and America – was the way the courses were served. Instead of putting all the food on the table in one go (as was customary), dishes were served one at a time. Soups came first, then salads, followed by the main course and a drink. French cooks came up with the idea of cutting meat, game, and fish into pieces before cooking it, and introduced pureed soups and lighter dishes with less fat and wheat. That’s also the time when Russian home-made sausages, cutlets, T-bone steaks came into existence, along with precise recipes and the art of mixing many products in one dish.
In time, Russian cuisine became more sophisticated and delicate. And even in Soviet times, when there was a tendency to simplify pretty much everything, the variety of recipes used in everyday cooking wasn’t reduced. On the contrary, daily meals in this period were enriched with traditional foods from the 15 republics that comprised the USSR.
The king of Russian cuisine is definitely soup. The range of soups is huge – borsch, schi, kalya, solyanka, salomat, pohlebka, botvinia… and each one boasts dozens of varieties! The traditional cabbage soup, schi, impressed the French novelist Alexandre Dumas so much he asked for the recipe and put in into his private cookbook. The recipe he recorded, along with many other traditional and modern dishes cooked on a daily basis in most households, can now be found on the cookbook pages of the blog. So, keep on checking – more are coming!