Feasting on real Russian fare


In a few weeks, Baltimore will be treated to sights and sounds of Russia as the city celebrates the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg. Area restaurants will be joining in the Vivat! (Long Live) St. Petersburg festivities with Russian-inspired food and drinks.

But if you'd like to pay homage to authentic Russian food in your own kitchen, I would recommend Catherine Cheremeteff Jones' A Year of Russian Feasts (Jellyroll Press, 2002, $16.95).

Jones, an American who is a descended from Russian royalty, knows the difference between what Russians eat and what Westerners think Russians eat.

So don't look for Chicken Kiev or Beef Stroganoff or Charlotte Russe recipes in this book. Her borscht is a hot vegetable soup, not the cold beet soup we are accustomed to seeing.

The ingredients are simple, and despite her aristocratic blood, most of the dishes are traditional village fare. Beets, cabbage, apples, eggplant and potatoes are common ingredients, reflecting the food of a people used to long winters and a short growing season.

Some dishes, like the beet salad, are easy to make, while others, like the meat-filled dumplings called pelmeny, can take all day to prepare.

Some of the 40 recipes in this book were passed on to Jones from her grandmother, and others she collected while living in Russia in the early 1990s. The chapters are organized in a way that reflects her dining experiences during her stay - "Vegetarian Dinner in a Communal Apartment," "Spring and the Russian Bliny Festival," "A Birthday Party at Viktor's" and "Autumn and Mushroom Hunting."

And along with the recipes, Jones relates stories and explanations about the Russian food and celebrations.

Other Russian cookbooks may have more recipes, but I haven't seen any that show a better understanding of Russian food.

Beet Salad With Walnuts and Garlic

Serves 4

1 1/4 pounds (about 2 large) red beets, washed but not peeled

1 teaspoon sugar, plus a pinch more (divided use)

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1 small garlic clove, minced

3 tablespoons high-quality mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (optional)


Place the beets and 1 teaspoon sugar in a saucepan, add enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, covered, until the beets are tender, about 45 minutes. Drain and cool completely.

Peel the beets and coarsely grate into a medium-sized bowl. (Be careful not to stain clothing with the beet juice.) Add the walnuts, garlic, mayonnaise and lemon juice, if using, and mix gently. Season to taste with salt, then add a pinch of sugar before mixing again.

Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for about an hour before serving.

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