“In Russia, Easter is so loved and revered by the people that even Communism wasn’t able to erase it from the nation’s psyche,” writes Julia Frey evocatively. The Russian expat, who now lives in London, is among a small handful of English-language bloggers tirelessly cataloguing and casting new light on the rich history of the region and its traditional foods.
On Vikalinka, you’ll find the more well-known Slavic dishes, such as golubtsi (cabbage rolls), blini (crepes) and sharlotka (apple cake), through to the more obscure, from pelmeni (meat dumplings) and kotlety (rissoles with mushroom sauce) to keks stolichniy (Russian pound cake). There are also dishes from around the world, inspired by travels and her new English home, but it’s in her vivid memories of Russia that Vikalinka excels. And Easter, as Julia writes, is one of the country’s most important holidays – steeped in centuries-old tradition, including sweet and savoury dishes that every family makes and looks forward to until the next year rolls around. Easter eggs, naturally dyed with onion peels and beautifully stencilled with garden leaves, for example, are a must, as is kulich, rich yeasted mile-high bread studded with dried fruit that gives panettone a serious run for its money. Other dishes are optional and this year Julia recalls her childhood favourites with Russian sweet cheese fritters known as syrniki and the best beef stroganoff you’ll ever try (guaranteed). For more Slavic food inspo, you can also follow Julia on Instagram at @vikalinka.
“I feel an incredible pull of tradition every year when Easter comes around."
"No matter how busy I am, the need to cook, bake and colour eggs overpowers everything else. And the holy food trinity I simply must have within an arm’s reach consists of kulich, dozens of coloured eggs and syrniki. Kulich is a sweet bread that every Russian family eats for Easter – it’s an unbreakable tradition. It’s sweet, rich and buttery, with yellow-coloured flesh studded with all kinds of great things like golden raisins, candied citrus peel and almonds, and is what I want to stuff my face with all the time but I wait till Easter like a good girl. Syrniki is a fried sweet cheese fritter eaten with creme fraiche and sweet jam, and every Russian child’s favourite breakfast, but usually reserved for weekends and special occasions. I cannot wait until Easter when I can finally get to work and bake, bake, bake.”
I started my blog to… Have a lasting record of family recipes for my children that were passed on to me by my mother and my grandmothers. I didn’t want any of our Russian recipes and traditions to be lost, so I figured an online culinary diary was the answer.
The must-cook recipe on my website is… Best beef stroganoff. It is literally the most popular recipe on my blog.
I can’t wait to go back to… Italy to eat pizza while people-watching in a piazza in Rome.
My current food obsession is… Middle Eastern food. The vibrancy of colours and the boldness of flavours that European food is slightly apprehensive of is an incredible draw.
Nugget of cooking wisdom… Don’t cook food you are not interested in eating. It will not be inspired and it will not be good.
I learnt to cook from… My mum.
When I go back to my home town, the first thing I eat are… Meat and fried onion-filled pastries called pirozhki.
Easter is… Time steeped in tradition and family.
Friends always ask me to cook my… Honeycomb crunch chocolate cake. I created it in the moment of celebrating something very important in my career and I think the feeling of triumph I was experiencing got poured into the cake. It’s absolutely the epitome of indulgence: rich chocolate layers deepened by added stout and silky salted caramel buttercream frosting studded with honeycomb crunch and all encased in luscious chocolate ganache. I truly believe it’s important to love the cooking process, then the food will be incredible.
The one thing I can’t cook is… Anything deep-fried.
If I ever met …Yotam Ottolenghi I would ask him how he managed to write a cookbook that stayed true to tradition while adding a contemporary edge.
I always have… Coconut milk for curries in my pantry, cheese for a quick snack in my fridge, and ice for cocktails in my freezer.
My favourite biscuit to dunk in a cup of tea is… Shortbread.
My most sauce-splattered cookbook is… Please To The Table: The Russian Cookbook by Anya von Bremzen. It’s a collection of recipes the author gathered while travelling all over the Soviet Union just in the nick of time before the giant collapsed. It’s perhaps one of the most versatile assortments of food from the west to the east all summed up in 200-plus pages.
The most difficult food to shoot/style and make look tasty is… Slavic food. It’s all creamy comfort and not a lot of colour or style, and I say that with love!
Beyond my own blog, some of my favourites reads are… As I blogger myself, I have a few blog crushes and, surprisingly, they are all quite different in style and tone. I love Lucy of Supergolden Bakes for her versatile recipes, gorgeous photographs and her friendship. Natasha’s Kitchen and I share a similar background and I am always curious to see what new or old and forgotten Slavic dishes she’s come up with. I adore Bojon Gourmet and Alanna’s innovative way of cooking, not to mention her breathtaking images. I am continuously impressed by Local Milk and Beth Kirby’s writing, she inspires me to become a better writer myself. I don’t think I am the only one who feels absolutely seduced by the seemingly idyllic French countryside and a simpler yet elegant lifestyle that Manger so beautifully portrays. There are so many more blogs I could mention, but we’d be here forever.
Top picks from Vikalinka
Blog Appétit Editor Yasmin Newman
Blog Appétit is our curated list of go-to food blogs we love, with a focus on high-quality photography, trusted recipes, strong editorial themes and a unique voice and personality. View previous Blog Appétit entries.