Thought of the day (12/16/09)

Russian cuisine is all about meat and potatoes. Russians love their meat and potato dinners. Ninety percent of all dishes are considered comfort food. In order to get through the cold, frigid temperatures in the winter, Russian cooks make plenty of hearty soups, warm pies, and a variety of breads. Yes, Russians especially those of your grandmother’s age make their own bread at home. When you drive out of the city into the rural areas or the countryside, you will find cooks making their own breads, rolls, and pies. At least that’s how it used to be nearly 20 years ago. I am sure that these days bread machines are still somewhat of an unknown gadget to the home cook.

Growing up in a small town, about 200 miles from Kiev, my parents always made their own cheese, pickled veggies, and fruit pies. My mom used to cook all kinds of vegetable soups and stews, like the most well-known Ukrainian Borscht.  There were other things that my mom served only on holidays and special occasions such as herring and caviar, but that was rare.

When my parents and I moved to the United States, my mom could not find many of the ingredients that she used to cook with back in Russia.  There are some foods in U.S. that my mom has never even even heard of, such as broccoli, capers, and ginger. In Russia, home cooks mainly use salt and pepper to flavor their dishes, my mom was shocked to find out that U.S. had so many spices, everything from allspice to tarragon. Russian dishes are never spicy like Indian or Thai food. The dishes are prepared in a way that adds natural flavors to the meats and vegetables. The slow cooked recipes such as beef stews and roasted meats are most frequently made, especially in the winter months.

As a cook myself, I have wandered into American cooking, but I still love to make Russian dishes that my mother taught me. I like to take a recipe and put a Russian twist on it. I try to make the dish simple, yet full of flavor. I decided to compile some recipes that are Russian in nature, but are made a bit differently here in the States. The challenge is to make Russian style dishes, using American ingredients. Sounds simple right? Well, not always. I tried to make cheese cakes (or Sirniki). I had to make my own homemade cottage cheese. Is it difficult? No, but can be a daunting task. Of course it’s easier to go to a local farmer’s market and purchase a container with already made cottage cheese, bring it home, and make the cakes out of it. It’s easy, yes, but the dish won’t taste the same no matter how closely you follow the recipe. It all starts with good ingredients. If you have good ingredients, you will have a good tasting dish. Like the Papa John’s pizza slogan, “Better ingredients, better pizza”.

These days it’s all about busy people, having multiple jobs, trying to support their big families, and these people might not have the time to make homemade cottage cheese. However, sometimes we have to stop and think to ourselves, is that frozen dinner any good for my family? It’s fast, it’s convenient, it’s also not so good for your health. Research shows that all processed foods have additives and food coloring added to it, to make it fast cooking, fast frying, and fast microwaving. If you think about it, 100 years ago, we ate organically grown food. There were no frozen dinners; there were no processed meats such as sausages and hotdogs. People had their own gardens and picked veggies out of their own backyard. Isn’t it time to look back at how our past generations lived and try to do the same? I am not saying you should give up your job and make homemade stocks and cheeses, but once in a while, take some time to cook for your family. I know it makes my heart all warm and fuzzy when someone tells me how great my food is and how much they enjoyed it.

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4 thoughts on “Thought of the day (12/16/09)

  1. What I find very interesting about Russian food is it so drastically different depending on where in Ukraine, Belorus, Russian, etc, you come from. For instance, even though I am from Kiev, which is fairly close to Marina’s hometown, my mother has always cooked with quite a lot of spices. In fact, I used to fight with my mom as a child telling her that she made a dish too spicy or too hot 🙂

    As Marina, I love home made food but sometimes you need to figure out how to combine the fast/frozen food arena with home made food. With a full time job and three kids, I do have to lean on having something fast; however, you can still make something not out of a box and save time. Using Marina’s example, I do buy farmer’s cheese from the local Russian stores, which saves me some time and then make sirniki from the store-bought version but at home because my kids love them. I also make bigger pots of food and freeze half so I can have two meals (although one kind of frozen) from one cooking time….

  2. My husband’s family is Croatian. The only time I really found the food “spicy” was if it was loaded up with Paprika. It’s interesting to hear how people accommodated their traditional cooking upon relocating to the US.

    For example, my father-in-law explained that sarma (stuffed cabbage) was made in Croatia with pickled cabbage. However, unable to find pickled cabbage leaves in the US, they just parboiled cabbage leaves. However, to their son, sarma is ONLY made with regular cabbage (not pickled) because growing up, that was the way mom made it 😉

    When it’s tradition versus ‘how mom made it’ Mom wins

    • Oh yeah, Croatian cuisine is similar to Russian. The stuffed cabbage dish that you mentioned is also a Russian dish – we call it – Golubtszi. We also boil fresh cabbage leaves (at least in my family) 🙂

      • Boiled leaves in my family too 🙂 So, I guess you can say that your husband is used to the Russian version of the dish 🙂

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