Celebrate the New Year twice, Russian style

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

New Year’s Eve didn’t quite go to plan? How about a do-over? That’s entirely possible when you take a page out of the Russian playbook. 

Christmas holidays in Russia follow Eastern Orthodox church tradition, and accordingly, a different calendar. Russians mark Christmas day on Jan. 7. Generally, it’s a day for quiet, more intimate gatherings. The lion’s share of the partying has already taken place on New Year’s Eve. 

In sync with the Julian calendar, which lags behind the calendar we’re used to by 13 days, New Year’s Day comes once again on Jan. 14. The eve of it is usually marked by inviting friends and family around the table for a feast. No Russian gathering is complete without the table-busting answer to Spain’s tapas culture, the Zakuski. Zakuski, which translates to something to eat following a shot of alcohol, are a selection of either hot or cold dishes, to include pickled vegetables, mushrooms in sour cream, and mayonnaise laden-salads with root vegetables available in winter (potatoes, beets and carrots). 

If a friend of Russian heritage should ever invite you over to celebrate a holiday or a birthday, agree at once and prepare yourself for a treat. If you have no Russian friends adding their special brand of zaniness to your life right now, you can always try to do it yourself with this sneak peek at some of their palate-tickling treats. These aren’t so much recipes as basic guidelines explaining what the dish consists of. Each cook has their own little secret ingredients and hacks to make it their signature dish. Don’t forget to stash into the freezer beforehand a couple of bottles of vodka, the universal accompaniment to a Russian feast. 

Caviar canapes 

You’ll need: a baguette, butter and red or black caviar. 

How: Slice the baguette, slather the slices generously with butter and top with a dollop of caviar. Hard boiled eggs, sliced in half, are another traditional accompaniment to caviar. 

Vinaigrette 

You’ll need: potatoes, beets, carrots, red onion, pickle, oil and fresh dill. 

How: Boil the root vegetables separately until tender, removing the skins only after they’ve been cooked. Cube, add the diced red onion and chopped pickle, and dress with an aromatic oil such as sunflower. Add salt, pepper and fresh dill to taste. 

Korean style carrots 

You’ll need: julienned carrots, garlic, coriander seeds, vinegar, vegetable oil and sesame seeds 

How: Julienne the carrots (or cheat and buy them pre-shredded) and dress with an aromatic oil such as unrefined sunflower oil, garlic, coriander seeds and vinegar. Lightly toast a handful of sunflower seeds and add to the mix. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Fried eggplant with garlic 

You’ll need: an eggplant, an egg, flour, cooking oil, breadcrumbs, garlic, cheese, mayonnaise. 

How: Slice eggplant and place slices on cutting board. Salt and let sit for half an hour; once the pieces have sweated out their bitterness, blot off the salt and liquid with a paper towel. Dip slices of eggplant in a beaten egg, dredge with flour and fry in oil until golden brown. Squeeze a clove or two of garlic into mayonnaise and use pastry brush to “paint” this coating on the top of the fried slice of eggplant before just before removing from frypan and transferring to a baking sheet. Top with shredded cheese and broil in oven to melt the cheese. 

Olivier Salad 

This dish is essential to any Russian feast. No dinner table is complete without it. 

You’ll need: potatoes, carrots, canned peas, dill pickles, hard boiled eggs, mayonnaise, and a meat such as boiled chicken, beef or bologna. 

How: Boil all vegetables separately, peel and cube them. Cube the pickle and the meat to be used in the dish, mix all together. Dress with mayonnaise (sour cream or yogurt are other variations), cut up the boiled egg and the peas and gently mix in. Go online for an excellent selection of Russian recipes.

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