Blinis are eaten for good luck, cold winters mean carbo-loading, soups are a daily affair. Our 10-point primer of Russian cuisine.
13 Jun 2018 - 9:19 AM  UPDATED 14 Jun 2018 - 5:18 PM

1. Russian winters are cold, which means carbs, proteins and fats 

These cute little ural pelmeni ("ear-shaped") dumplings were traditionally made at the start of winter, and stored outside to freeze and were boiled as they were needed. They're made of a thin flour dough filled with filled with freshly minced pork, lamb and beef and usually served with melted butter, dill and a dollop of sour cream.

Ural pelmeni.

2. Blinis are made to celebrate the end of winter and beginning of spring

Blinis and other pancakes are eaten year-round, but become mandatory during Maslenitsa or "Butter Week", a traditional pagan holiday that marks the end of winter. The round shape of the blini symbolises the sun, and whipping up a delicious batch was believed to bring health and prosperity for the year ahead. Toppings for blinis vary hugely, and may be sweet and savoury—caviar, mushrooms, fish, berries, sour cream, condensed milk, honey, jam, and caramelised apples.

3. Beef stroganoff was the most Googled dish of 2017

Believe it or not, the most Googled dish of 2017 wasn't tuna poke bowl, cauliflower rice or fried chicken—it was the humble Russian comfort dish, beef stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff is the most Googled dish for 2017.

beef stroganoff: big in 2017
What are the most Googled foods for 2017?
Most were surprisingly familiar foods, while others reflected the changing way we eat.

4. Piroshki are not Pierogi 

In what are often confused - and almost sound like a slight mispronunciation of the same thing to newbies - are a matter of national pride to the Russians and the Poles. Both are dumplings that have a huge variety in filling, from fruit to meat, but pierogi are Polish dumplings that are made of a pasta-like dough that is typically boiled, and Russian piroshki are more like hand-pies, with a pastry or dough-like crust that is typically baked. Try the difference with potato and cheese dumplings (ruskie pierogi) vs beef and cabbage parcels (pirozhki s govyadinoy i kapustoi)

5. Soups are an important part of daily eating

To most Russians, soup is an essential part of each day, eaten either for lunch, or served first at lunch and dinner before a main dish. Popular soups include borscht (beetroot soup), solyanka (a sweet and sour beef and pork soup), mushroom soup, and the country's oldest recorded soup, Russian fish soup (ukha).

5. Mayonnaise is all-mighty

Perhaps it’s the cold weather and need for extra calories, but mayonnaise has been the go-to roast marinade, salad dressing, bread topping, and general all-around condiment of choice for Russians since Imperial times. Sample a Russian-style mayonnaise-enhanced dish with this beetroot, carrot and potato salad (vinegret).

6. Easter in Russia is a busy time for eating

Russian Orthodox Christians mark the end of 40 days of fasting during the Great Lent by preparing elaborate Easter banquets. In addition to staple favourites like beef stroganoff and chicken kiev, spreads may include homemade breads, pies and a range of desserts. On Easter morning, many families will start the day with Easter bread (kulich) and Sweetened Easter cheese (paskha)

7. Chicken Kiev is a Russian dish, despite being the name of the Ukrainian capital 

Chicken kiev (kotleta po kievsky): A Russian dish that came via France and was given a Ukrainian name in New York. No one is entirely sure why it was given the name, but the origins of the dish are thought to be in early 19th-century Russia, when French food was extremely fashionable and Russian chefs were sent to Paris to train. In France the dish is made with veal, in Russia, it’s chicken.  

8. Buckwheat was a Russian superfood long before superfoods were a thing 

It may be one of the hot-list grains of recent times thanks to gluten-free and grain-advocating wellness trends, but buckwheat groats (“kasha” in Russian) have been a long-time staple of the Russian diet. Harness the nourishment power of buckwheat with this Russian kasha pilaf with hot smoked trout and chervil, a simple and comforting autumn-winter dish. 

9. Syrniki are Russia's hotcakes

Both are sweet round cakes made of a fried batter eaten for breakfast (and sometimes as a treat at other times of the day), but what makes a syrniki different from other hotcakes? Syrniki are made from a beloved type of Russian farmers cheese called tvorog, similar to cottage cheese. Why not take a break from your regular hotcakes and whip up a batch of Russian sweet cheese fritters (syrniki) this weekend? You can expect soft, warm pillows of sweetened cottage cheese surrounded by a crisp, golden casing.

Syrniki feature in Ukrainian, Russian, Belarusian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Serbian cuisine.

10. If you want to eat like the Imperial Russian aristocracy, eat Korolevsky cake

Korolevsky means King’s, making the Korolevsky cake a royal one, and it certainly has a royal lineup of ingredients: three layers of walnut, chocolate and poppy seed sponges, bound together by smears of caramel filling. It was traditionally made in the imperial cities of Russia, and eaten by the aristocracy. 

11. Potatoes aren't just for vodka

Russian produces almost 500 pounds of potatoes per person per year. Its hardiness means it can survive the harsh, freezing temperatures of Russia - in some areas the mean annual temperature is -15C. It's no surprise then that potatoes are ubiquitous in Russian cuisine - aside from vodka, they're used in soups, piroshiki, salads, and even creative applications like this Potato ravioli in beetroot broth

Fried cabbage buns (piroshky)

Stuffed with a cabbage filling, these yeast buns are fried until golden here, but are also commonly served steamed.

Potato ravioli in beetroot broth
Russian cheese dumplings (varenyky)
Russian zakuska (little bites)

Using the best of the fresh, local produce in Daylesford, Alla Wolf Tasker shares her version of a Russian tasting plate, also known as a zakuska.