Published on December 12th, 2016 | by TLV News0
Holiday Food from the Soviet Union
written by Vera P
When I was growing up in the Soviet Union era we used to have a few family reunions a year. The main celebrations were: New Year, The Great October Revolution Day ( we celebrated it on November 7, and don’t ask me why), and International Workers Day on May 1. Birthdays, International Women’s Day, The Day of Motherland Defender, and such were not that big, but still nice.
Every holiday, food was pretty much the same and awesome. Every Russian housewife takes a pride in holiday salads, which there are quite a few. The main one, for sure, is Olivier Salad—made in the biggest bowl and admired by everyone.
Here is the recipe:
Boiled potatoes, boiled carrots, boiled eggs, canned sweet peas, green onions, roast beef (or bologna or boiled chicken), cucumbers ( or dill pickles), dill weed, salt, pepper, mayo or sour cream—all chopped to 1/3-inch cubes and mixed up. I always describe it to Americans as a potato salad, but with much more ingredients. I make it here for potluck dinners and everyone loves it.
Another famous salad is called Pickled Herring under a Fur Coat, and I know it sounds inedible, but you know, oh well, translation problems. This salad is delicious, believe me!
It starts again with boiled veggies: carrots, potatoes (we Russians can’t live without them, huh?), beets. Some people use shredded apples, but I am not a big fan of mixing fruits and veggies. This salad is layered. Slices of the pickled herring go on the bottom. Then shredded carrots, shredded potatoes (so you have to boil them just right, not too soft), then a layer of fresh chopped onions, and the shredded beets go on the very top. You better make that salad in a glass bowl, so everyone can see all layers at once, but any mixing bowl would do anyways. And yes, I forgot to say that you spread mayo between each layer. You don’t have to add salt to that one, because pickled herring is very salty, so it makes a nice contrast on your tongue—super salty fish and bland vegetables. And sorry, we sure use lots of mayo in our appetizers, but Russian mayo is so much better than the one you can find here! The top layer of dark red beets, swirled up with mayo, makes this culinary creation look like a gem!
Talking about beets, there is another appetizer, very simple and tasty. Shred your boiled beets and fresh garlic and mix up with—ok, mayo again—but you can use sour cream or plain Greek yogurt.
And talking about shredded fresh garlic, there is again another one—shred your fresh garlic and cheddar cheese, mix up with mayo again, whatever! Actually, I was looking for replacement for some special kind of cheese we have in Russia, which is perfect for this recipe, and I found that Mexican dipping cheese you can use. Just shred it, do not melt.
These tiny bowls with different appetizers work as the dinner table decorations as well as the tasty chasers for a shot of vodka. The pickle is considered the best one, and now all my friends and coworkers already tried a shot of vodka with a pickle at some time or another. My favorite still is the pickled tomato ( preferably made by my aunt) but it’s hard to find here in Mississippi, and even if I am a decent cook, pickling was never my strong side and I don’t like pickled veggies as much as the majority of people in my country do, so I don’t make them.
Another simple appetizer you would always find on Russian holiday table is the sauerkraut. Do not wrinkle your nose, reader, it is so good if made right, not the super sour and smelly one you can find here in a can. Russian sauerkraut is made in the barrels and it tastes just right.
After salads goes the main dish which can be roasted beef or duck, with baked potato wedges on the side. And there always are multiple kinds of pies made with fresh yeast dough from scratch. You can put different fillings in them, like ground beef and onions, fish and rice, boiled eggs and green onions, boiled shredded carrots, even mashed potatoes with mushrooms and caramelized onions. There also would be sweet pies with apples, berries, apricots, and such.
Also my family was always making pelmeni, which are very similar to Chinese pot stickers or dumplings you can find here. It was a special time when all women of the family were getting together and making hundreds of them from scratch. Children were allowed to roll the pieces of dough into the flat circles. Grandma was always sculpting the most precious dumplings; they all looked even and very accurate. I still remember how her small fingers were moving, fast and precise, pinching the dough into little crescents filled with ground beef, I can still hear the tiny sounds the dough was making in her petite skillful hands.
I make pelmeni here when I feel nostalgic sometimes to treat my family, but it takes so long and feels like a tedious task preparing it all by myself. So I bake big savory pies instead, and they make the whole house smell like home. I chop lots of salads, roast a duck, and we get together to celebrate New Year or all our winter birthdays.