Celebrating holidays is a global cultural tradition. Food is often the centerpiece of most celebrations, whether they be family-related, religious, political or seasonal. Certain dishes, passed down through families, often add exotic elements and help maintain our cultural identity. Russia has centuries-old holiday food traditions that combine favorite daily recipes with dishes created for specific occasions.
Christmas and New Year
The official Christmas and New Year's holidays in Russia last from December 31 to January 10. During New Year's, Grandfather Frost, a folkloric character, travels to families distributing pryaniki, a sweet gingerbread cake that symbolizes best wishes for a sweet new year. Another traditional holiday dessert is an apple cake called sharlotka. Christmas and the new year are times for sweet porridge known as kutya, a salad with potatoes and vegetables, and borchst with sour cream. Siberian pelmini are dumplings filled with meats, fish, mushrooms, turnip and vegetables. Deviled eggs, baked stuffed piglet, roast duck or goose, baked with apples, and herring with vegetables are more holiday staples.
Sbiten, a traditional winter beverage in Russia, is made from boiling honey with cinnamon, fruit jam and other flavorings, and is served hot.
Lent and Easter
A pre-Lenten Russian Mardi Gras known as "maslenitsa" or "pancake week," is one of the oldest holidays celebrating the end of the winter. Russians serve bliny, a Russian pancake similar to a thin crepe, during this celebration. Bliny can be stuffed with meats and fish, and are usually served with caviar. Sometimes bliny are also filed with cheese, jams, sour cream, fruit or even chocolate syrup.
Easter foods begin with a pyramid-shaped paskha, a soft dried cheese illed with fruit. The top of paskha contain the Cyrillic letters "XB" signifying "Christ has risen." This is served with kulich, a tall cylindrical cake filled with dried fruit, which is covered with red icing and decorated with a red rose, which represents the blood of Christ. Elaborately decorated Russian Easter eggs, known as pysanka, symbolize eternal life. More Easter foods include nut rolls called kolachi, bowls of yayechnyk, an egg custard, beets with horseradish, sausage, and a boiled or baked dumpling called pirogi. Pirogi are filled with mushrooms, cheese, meat, cabbage, berries or potatoes, and served with sour cream.
Family and Summer Celebrations
It gets very hot in Russia during the summer. Summer celebrations always include okroshka, Russia's cold summertime soup, made with meat, fish or vegetables, and finely chopped fresh garden cucumbers, hard boiled eggs, green onions, radishes and dill. The liquid base is made with kvass, a fermented sour drink, which is sometimes flavored with mint. Summer celebrations means lighter eating, even for Russians. Shashlyks, skewers of cubed lamb, marinated overnight in onions, pepper peas, bay leaves and white wine, are cooked over a charcoal grill. Fillets of Russian pike fish, sauteed with a fish stock, diced mushrooms, carrots, parsley root, pickles, capers and olives, are served with refreshing sliced lemon.