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Olympics are a fine excuse to explore Russian food

By MICHELE KAYAL The Associated Press - Published: February 5, 2014 0

When Americans think of Russian food, it's 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 such as wild game and crawfish. Not your traditional American fare to nosh while watching sports but certainly fitting choices if you're planning to watch the Winter Olympics.

Need help getting a taste of Russia for your viewing party? Consider starting with Russian potato salad, also called Olivier after the 19th century Belgian chef who created it.

Potato salad remains one of Russia's more beloved dishes. A diced potato salad originally accompanied by luxurious items such as crawfish and grouse, Olivier generally incorporates peas, carrots, salted cucumbers and sometimes other vegetables in a rich mayonnaise dressing. Today, however, the meats are more likely to be chicken, ham or a bologna-like sausage. The salad is an absolute requirement on any Russian holiday table.

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 potatoes, beets, onions and carrots. The salad can be eaten on its own or with some sturdy Russian black bread. The beets often are mixed with mayonnaise or sour cream to form a pinkish dome over the ingredients.

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.

Fresh vegetables traditionally were difficult to come by during the deep freeze of Russian winters, but that didn't stop people from enjoying salads. Russian vinegret salad begins with a layer of diced boiled beets and potatoes. This gets topped by any combination of diced carrots, peas, kidney beans, pickled cabbage, onions, salted cucumbers or a half-dozen other items. The salad usually is dressed with sunflower oil.

Russian drinks run the gamut from kvass, a fermented beverage made from rye bread, to the honey wine called medovukha. But to celebrate, nothing makes a toast like vodka.

SBITEN

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Yield: 8 servings

1/2 cup honey 12 ounces seedless blackberry or currant jam 3 cinnamon sticks 1 tablespoon whole allspice 1 tablespoon whole cloves Pinch salt 7 cups water

Procedure:

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cover. Simmer for 30 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, then serve warm.

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LEMON SYRNIKI

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Yield: 12 servings

Two 7.5-ounce packages farmer's cheese 3 eggs 1/4 cup sugar 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dredging 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon baking soda Zest of 2 lemons Vegetable oil, for frying

Procedure:

In a food processor, pulse the cheese until finely chopped. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir together with the eggs, sugar, 1/2 cup of flour, 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 between batches as needed. Serve immediately.

LEMON SYRNIKI

-

Yield: 12 servings

Two 7.5-ounce packages farmer's cheese 3 eggs 1/4 cup sugar 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dredging 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon baking soda Zest of 2 lemons Vegetable oil, for frying

Procedure:

In a food processor, pulse the cheese until finely chopped. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir together with the eggs, sugar, 1/2 cup of flour, 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 between batches as needed. Serve immediately.

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