Coming from a Russian heritage, I have received the question throughout the years “what is your cuisine like?” It seems as though every culture has distinguishable ingredients about it and everyone assumes the Russian food pyramid is only composed of vodka. I’m here to tell you otherwise. We Russians are equipped for the cold weather by packing on the carbs and fixings to keep our bellies full, hearts warm, and our souls happy, making our food exquisitely comforting.
As a Russian-speaking kid growing up in America, I was not sent to class with peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for a majority of my childhood. My parents made me a plate of buckwheat kasha with a fried meat cutlet and included a pickle on the side.
Remember Toula from My Big Fat Greek Wedding when she brought moussaka to her first day of school? I still retain the bittersweet memories of being packed an international dish that was wholesome and delicious for me, but for onlookers, it looked like I was chowing down on brains (which, considering that cow tongue is a Russian delicacy, was not always that far from the truth).
From my culture to your plate, I hope to enlighten you with some of my personal favorites to open your minds and mouths to Russian comfort food:
Blintzes are flat delicate pancakes often made with buckwheat flour. Fried or folded, these are super versatile; they can be topped or stuffed with a variety of toppings like berries and cheese. If you want to get authentic, go for the caviar. A hearty method is to stuff them with either meat, potatoes or farmers cheese and fry it in a skillet. The possibilities are endless with pancakes.
Written as: блинчики Pronounced: Blin-ts or Blinchik
Baked or fried, savory or sweet, you can’t deny one of these babies. From puff pastry dough to fried dough, piroshki resembles Tiropita’s in the Greek cuisine. Stuffed with a variety of flavors ranging from potatoes to cherries, piroshki have a flavor for everyone. Cherries or apples are my top picks for sweet piroshki while fried dough with potato and mushroom is pretty incredible for a savory pick.
Written as: Пирожки Pronounced: piro-shki,
In the midst of cold weather, soup is the ultimate go-to. One of the most traditional soups in the Russian/Ukrainian culture is borscht. It is a beet soup jam-packed with potatoes, cabbage, carrots, celery, tomato and sometimes meat served with a dollop of sour cream and dill. I like my borscht served with a side of toasted dark rye bread to soak up the remainder of the soup. The next time you want to stay in on a cold day, take a break from chicken noodle soup and whip up some pretty in pink soup.
Written as: борщ Pronounced: Bor-sh-t
4. Mashed Potato Pancakes with Kolduny
Think of these as a handheld mashed potato. Turn your leftovers into something better; use your mashed potatoes as a base, stuff them with ground meat of your choosing or my personal fave, mushrooms, and pan fry on a skillet and BOOM, life-changing.
Written as: Картофельные Блины/Kолдуны Pronounced: kar-tofil-niye -blin-i OR kol-du-ni
A dish stemming from Middle Eastern as well as European descent, golubtsy are stuffed cabbage rolls with rice and minced meat, typically beef. Many different cultures have close resemblances of this dish, often using grape leaves like the Greek or Turkish.
#SpoonTip: It was found that the elements in the grape leaves that enclosed the meat kept it fresh for a few days, leading to the origin of stuffed/rolled meat in cabbage or grape leaves.
Written as: Голубцы Pronounced: Golub-tsi
Meatballs, cutlets or hamburgers, whatever you call it, it’s still a meat patty. Going under the name of kotleti, these are typically made golden and crispy atop a skillet and served alongside mashed potatoes (like many other dishes as you have read), salad, kasha or pasta. You can make these smaller and drop them in your soup or stick them between bread for a meaty sandwich. Though they are typically made with chicken or beef, you can also use your favorite fish as a base to make patties.
Written as: котлеты Pronounced: kot-lye-ti
7. Salat Olivye
This isn’t your typical salad. A lot of times, the word “salat” is added in front of another word to signify you’re about to consume a combination of various items, not necessarily traditional salad items like lettuce and tomatoes.
The history behind this dish originated from the chef of one of Moscow’s most celebrated restaurants, Lucien Olivier. Related to the American potato salad, Olivye contains boiled potatoes, dill pickles, peas, eggs, carrots and a boiled meat (chicken or beef) dressed with mayonnaise, typically served on high holidays like New Years Eve or special occasions. Try it at your next 4th of July BBQ.
Written as: салат оливье Pronounced: salat olive-ye
Among one of the healthiest and most filling side dishes that isn’t potatoes or pasta, reach for buckwheat grain or “kasha” as it is full of protein and iron. It’s one of those dishes that compliments any meal or can be eaten by itself.
#SpoonTip: For you gluten intolerant individuals out there, you’re in luck. You can incorporate this into your diet as buckwheat is gluten free.
Written as: гречневая каша Pronounced: kasha
What else is heartier than stew on a cold frigid day? If you’re a meat & potatoes kind of person, this dish is SCREAMING your name as it is straight up meat and potatoes. Peel apart beef topping boiled potatoes, carrots and mushrooms, damn. I don’t know what else to say to that but Na Zdarovye.
Written as: Жаркое Pronounced: jar-ko-ye
Okay so you probably already know about these. There’s nothing more comforting in the world than stuffing my face with a bowl of these after a long crappy day. Little pillows stuffed with potatoes are my personal favorite and one of the most popular fillings.
If you are craving something savory, try them with mushrooms, spinach, or cabbage. If you’re craving something sweet, try them with farmers cheese or cherries. Don’t forget to ask for sour cream or caramelized onions on the side.
Written as: вареники/пельмени Pronounced: Varen-iki
The motto of this cuisine is to be resourceful; the contents of your fridge or leftovers you thought you would eat can go a long way just by wrapping it in some dough and recreating it into a new meal or mixing it with some vegetables and potatoes for a stew. Preeyatnava apeeteeta!