When Americans think of Russian food, its generally the cliches the beet soup known as borscht, or caviar-topped pancakes called blini. And they imagine both washed down with copious amounts of vodka.
Admittedly, those play a role. But traditional Russian cuisine is so much broader than that, encompassing a variety of dumplings, pungent preserved vegetables, smoked and salted fish, and meats like wild game and crawfish. Not your traditional American fare to nosh while watching sports, but certainly fitting choices if youre planning to watch the Winter Olympics, which are being held in Russia this year.
Adventurous eaters might watch the ski jumps and other cold weather events with some herring under a fur coat. This is a plate of finely chopped pickled herring buried beneath layers of shredded potato, beets, onions and carrots. The salad can be eaten on its own or with some sturdy Russian black bread..
Got your heart set on blini? Those work, too. The small buckwheat pancakes make excellent finger food. A toppings bar can include smoked salmon, chopped eggs, sour cream and caviar.
Dumplings called pirozhki offer pockets of yeasty dough filled with ground beef and onion, mushrooms, rice, mashed potatoes and dill, braised cabbage, or even liver and potatoes. Pelmeni are dumplings with a thinner skin, a bit like wontons, and are filled with minced meat, fish or mushrooms, before being boiled. They can be eaten in broth or buttered and served with sour cream.
Syrniki is a farm-style cheese pancake, sort of a cross between cheesecake and pancakes. It can be served for breakfast, tea, a light meal or a snack. We liked ours topped with sour cream and jam, or fresh fruit and whipped cream, but you could omit the sugar and go completely savory, topping it with sour cream, chives and chopped ham.
Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours; servings: 12
Two 7 1/2-ounce packages farmers cheese
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dredging
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Zest of 2 lemons
Vegetable oil, for frying
In a food processor, pulse the cheese until finely chopped. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir together with the eggs, 1/2 cup of flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and lemon zest. The dough should be soft and somewhat sticky. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Form the dough into small rounds, the size of a walnut. Flatten into patties, then lightly dredge in flour. Set aside.
In a large skillet over medium-high, heat about 1/4 inch of oil. Working in batches, fry the patties for 3 minutes per side, adding additional oil as needed. Serve immediately.
Nutrition per serving: 140 calories; 80 calories from fat (57 percent of total calories); 9 g fat (2.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 55 mg cholesterol; 9 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 6 g protein; 160 mg sodium.