Detailed guide on how to celebrate the New Year and Christmas holidays like a Russian
With the New Year and Christmas holidays just around the corner, this week’s edition will create a special atmosphere of the holiday season – a very special time of the year for many people in Russia and Russian people leaving around the world. To make it even more special, our author Elena will tell you about the special food we cook and enjoy eating during this period, and also provide an insight in what it used to be like to live, cook, and celebrate the New Year in the Soviet Russia. Enjoy!
The Soviet Era
The Collapse of the Russian Empire, war time hardships and many years of instability within the new Soviet Republic significantly impacted Russian cooking. There were deficits of even the simplest ingredients like flour and sugar. Many pre-revolutionary cooking techniques were lost with the emigration of upper and middle classes and the disappearance of skilled culinary experts. Complex recipes were replaced or abolished (as a sign that the tsarist period was over). At the same time, many old recipes managed to survive virtually unchanged – kasha, schi and kvas were prepared and enjoyed exactly the same way as they had been for centuries. During the Soviet period, blini and pirogi saw only minor changes like simplification of fillings and dough ingredients and cooking adjustments for the new electric or gas kitchen stoves (as opposed to the traditional Russian oven).
Setting the mood
To set the mood you will need a plain white table cloth, lots of tiny serving plates to accommodate all those wonderful zakuski and crystal bowls for salads. Fit as many people as you can around the table (the more the merrier!), and play some cheerful music. Suggestions below are included to help you recreate an authentic feeling of the Soviet Russia.
A movie to watch: The Diamond Arm by Leonid Gaidai is a brilliant comedy that quickly won the hearts of the Soviet audience and is dearly loved by thousands of Russian people.
Music to listen to: Songs by composer Alexandra Pakhmutova were very popular during the 1960 and 70’s. Her songs are performed by such famous Russian singers as Joseph Kobzon, Muslim Magomayev, Edita Piekha, Mikhail Boyarsky and musical bands like Pesnyari and Samotsvety.
A book to read: Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov’s The Golden Calf is an adventure story of a crook Ostap Bender and two accomplices who are seeking to steal a million rubles that are supposedly owned by a corrupt secret millionaire. The authors an excellent job describing the daily life of the Soviet citizens in the early years of the Soviet Union.
Salads became an important type of zakuski (appetizers). While pickles, spreads, cured meats and fish were still quite popular, the addition of a wide variety of salads brought further diversity to an already abundant range of Russian zakuski. Many salads, such as cucumber and tomato or cucumber and dill, were strictly seasonal and prepared with fresh vegetables straight from the garden or farmer’s market. Others, like Salad Olivier, were made for special occasions throughout the year. It is not possible to talk about Soviet era appetizers without mentioning open-faced sandwiches. It was perhaps one of the most versatile dishes, served as a snack, school lunch, appetizer or tea accompaniment at any time, day or night. They could be plain and simple or lavishly decorated for special occasions. For these recipes, choose dark rye breads and French breads (thick soft loaves with slanted cuts on top are best, although baguettes can be used too) that are denser in texture and more closely resemble the bread that is typically sold in Russian bakeries. Cut up the slices into quarters so the open-faced sandwiches are to hold and use your imagination and creativity to decorate the surface of the sandwiches. As zakuski it is best to serve an assortment of several types of sandwiches on one big platter.
Russian cuisine during the Soviet time
Under Soviet rule, a new “modern” approach to food was promoted, which had dramatic impacts on lifestyle and food consumption. Now food was regarded as mere fuel for workers rather than something to be enjoyed. Over the years, this strict practical approach was softened to a great extent and Soviet cuisine became an entity of its own with specialties and delicacies. During the Soviet period, there was an increase in the spread of recipes from one region to another. The government greatly encouraged people to savour the dishes from different republics. This way, local recipes that had been used for centuries were mixed with local specialties from other regions. Public eateries were careful to incorporate specialties from various republics into their menus. Many of these new dishes were eagerly adopted and became new classics, which could be prepared at home using local ingredients. Shashlik (a Russian version of a BBQ) is a great example of this cultural penetration.
Desserts and Beverages
During the Soviet period, homemade dessert recipes became very popular. It was a huge compliment to the host when guests liked her dessert and asked for a recipe. Despite constant difficulties in obtaining ingredients and due to a limited choice of desserts offered by stores, home dessert cooking flourished. Some recipes, like Kartoshka cookies (see the recipe below), were quite creative, using existing store-bought products as ingredients. Others like Anthill Torte gave new roles to typical appliances in the Soviet kitchen like the meat grinder, which was used to give texture to the dough.
Biscuits used for Russian kartoshka should be neutral in taste. Some recipes call for making biscuit cake from scratch to mimic the original kartoshka made of cake cut-offs. Kartoshka is meant to be a simple cheap treat that a housewife can make in 20 minutes. Baking a cake from scratch just to crumble it afterwards doesn’t fit into that concept. Store-bought biscuits work just fine.
The easiest way is to use Milk Maid or any other brand of condensed milk you can find. But if you are willing to go an extra mile, you need a tin of Russian condensed milk made according to GOST standards. GOST is a certification system developed in the Soviet Union that guarantees the highest quality. Even today GOST condensed milk is the only one Russian women use for their cooking. You can find it in International grocery stores or Russian grocery stores.
320 gram biscuits
150 gram butter
190 gram condensed milk
2 tbsp cocoa powder
50 gram walnuts, chopped (optional)
2 tbsp cognac (optional)
3 tbsp cocoa powder
Melt butter in a sauce pan.
Place biscuits into blender and pulse until they turn into fine crumbs.
Mix biscuit crumbs with cocoa powder.
Add melted butter and condensed milk into biscuit-cocoa mixture and mix well until you get dough-like consistency. You can add cognac and/or walnuts for added flavour.
Take a little piece of dough at a time and roll it into a ball or oval shaped “potato” to make it look more like a classic version.
Roll each ball in cocoa powder. When all the balls are done, place into refrigerator and let them cool. You can eat kartoshka right away, but it does taste better when you let it cool down
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