Easter, an important religious holiday in Russia, often is celebrated even by non-religious families. At least, the main ritual meals – Easter bread and painted eggs – are on tables across the country.
Easter celebrations start with the Saturday night service, which lasts all night, gathers many people. They bring Easter food, such as decorated boiled eggs, Paskha (a dessert made of sweet cottage cheese) and, of course, Kulich (an Easter cake), to be blessed by the priests, and spend all night in the church standing, holding candles and praying.
Easter is the day of abundant food, the first day after the Great Lent, when the best and the most delicious food is on tables. The Easter breakfast brings all the family members together around a table for a sumptuous feast breaking the Lenten fast. Many will hear a knock on the door – the neighbour children have come to say, ‘Christ is risen!”, which is followed by, “He is risen indeed” and presenting to the children decorated eggs, kulich and sweets. A band of children with little bags striding along the street on a sunny spring morning – it’s a sure sign, Easter has come! On this day, everyone is with their families – and they are either at home or at church. People pay visits and present each other traditional Easter food.
Decorated eggs are one such item. In the tradition of the Christian Orthodox Churches, legend says that the first real Easter egg was given to the Roman emperor by Mary Magdalene soon after Christ’s ascension, following the custom to bring the emperor some gift, whatever you could. The emperor expressed his disbelief in Christ ascension, “Nobody can rise from the dead ….. as it is hard to believe this egg can turn red!” At once the egg became red, and since that time eggs have served as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection, the victory of life over death. Nowadays, people dye dozens of eggs, with onion skins or food colouring and stickers, before Easter, to eat them through the Easter week and to share with others.
Russian Easter bread or Kulich is usually prepared a few days before Easter, blessed on Saturday before Easter and then eaten in the days following Easter. Rich, soft and delicious, it can be baked in tin cans or in paper molds.
A few weeks before Easter, Kulich can be bought in most bakeries and supermarkets in Russia. If you are in Russia around Easter time, take a chance to try this melting sweet loaf made with lots of eggs and butter. For the rest of you, we are publishing a Kulich recipe. Cook this traditional Easter bread and you won’t regret it! It is a sweet, rich and buttery pastry studded with raisins, lemon zest, candied citrus peel and almonds or walnuts. For me the best thing about Kulich is the heavenly smell in the kitchen while cooking! Cooking time is around 3-4 hours, but, finally, your efforts will be rewarded!
For 10-12 medium-sized breads you will need:
• 1 table spoon of dried active baking yeast
• 350 ml warm milk (about 40C)
• 2 cups of sugar
• 1 kg plain flour, sifted
• 6 raw eggs
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 300-400 gr butter, melted
• 1 cup of almonds or walnuts, chopped
• 1 cup of sultanas or raisins
• 1 teaspoon of lemon zest
• 80 gr mixed peel – optional
• A pinch of cinnamon – optional
• 2 egg whites
• 250 gr caster sugar
• A pinch of salt
In the large mixing bowl combine 2 cups of warm milk and dry yeast. Leave for 15 minutes. You can chop nuts and zest your lemon while waiting. Add a half of the flour and mix well. At this stage, you need to cover this pre-dough with a kitchen towel and leave in a warm place (on the radiator, or in a slightly warmed (below 50C) oven) for about 30 minutes.
While the pre-dough is starting to grow, divide eggs into yolks and whites. Whisk the yolks with 2 cups of sugar until the mixture goes white, then whip the egg whites into an airy foam. Melt the butter.
Once your pre-dough has risen, add to it salt, egg yolks with sugar, melted butter, egg whites and the rest of the sieved flour.
Knead the dough until it no longer sticks to your hands to make a very soft and elastic dough. Cover it with a cling film wrap and a towel, and let it rise in a warm place for 2 hours.
Afterwards, stir in sultanas, candied citrus peel, lemon zest and nuts. Divide dough evenly into your molds (fill roughly half of them to leave the room for the rise) that have been well-oiled and, if it is necessary, covered with baking paper. However, if you use paper molds, there is no need to do this. Let dough rise uncovered in a warm place until you see a significant rise.
Bake at 350F/180C for 35-40 minutes or until golden.
Meanwhile, prepare the white crunch. Whisk the raw egg whites with salt into a foam. Evenly add sugar and whisk another 4 minutes.
Once the Kulich are at room temperature, spread the icing over the top of the them and let it drizzle over the sides. A finishing touch – sprinkle with raisins, nuts or other topping!
Enjoy your Easter bread!
Russians celebrate the week before the beginning of Lent as Maslenitsa, which means ‘Butter Week’ (from the Russian word ‘maslo’, meaning butter). Since the dawn of time people have celebrated an ancient Slavic holiday related to the Vernal Equinox which, after Christianity, was implemented in the orthodox religious tradition. During this week, Russian Orthodox Christians ease into their Lenten fast by removing meat from their diet. Butter, milk and cheese remain. So, the week before the Great Lent is also the last opportunity to try delicious and filling pancakes. But not just this. Butter Week includes many celebrations and entertainments which people avoid during Lent, aimed at the cleaning both their body and soul.
In past times, traditional Butter Week entertainments included strolling through public places in fine clothes or in masks and costumes, visiting friends and relatives, enjoying rich foods, taking sleigh rides, attending plays put on by troupes of traveling actors, playing winter games, such as sliding down specially constructed hills of ice, and participating in rituals marking the death of winter.
Maslenitsa celebrations, Russia
Every day of Maslenitsa has its own traditions.
Monday is the meeting of Maslenitsa, who is personified in a giant straw doll, dressed in old woman clothes, and snow games including tobogganing.
Tuesday is a day of merriment, when everyone participates in games and competitions for adults and children including, folk festivals, puppet shows, sleigh rides, ice-skating and horse-riding. Pancake Week in 18th century Russia was hard to imagine without bear shows; trained bears amused the audience. Bear fun was very popular among all classes of the population of towns, cities and villages.
Wednesday is a day for those with a sweet tooth, as people begin to eat pancakes, honey gingerbreads, drink brewed beer and hot sbiten (an alcoholic drink made from water, honey and spices), and every mother-in-law is to treat their son-in-law.
Thursday is a day of revelry, with the hottest fist-fights, games and fun.
On Friday, every son-in-law must treat their mother-in-law.
Saturday is the celebration of daughters-in-law, including presenting gifts and pancakes.
On Sunday, everyone asks forgiveness from each other, followed by the response, “God will forgive you”. On this day, also called ‘Clean Sunday’, people visit a banya and burn everything left from this festival, including a solemn burning of the Maslenitsa doll in a great bonfire. Burning it symbolizes the farewell to winter. On this day people also besiege and occupy the snow fortress, once again signifying the defeat of winter and the arrival of spring.
Nowadays, many Russian cities offer Maslenitsa celebrations. Events will take place all week throughout the cities' main streets and parks, and include pancake tasting, fairs and concerts, as well as workshops and presentations.
Russian blinis with red caviar
Pancakes, or blinis, have become a symbol of the celebration. They signify warmth and prosperity. Russian blinis should be thin, golden brown, and about the size of a saucer. After removing them from the pan, Russians roll the blinis up around a variety of rich fillings. These fillings include cheese, meat, sturgeon, caviar, sour cream and jam, apples, mushrooms and onions, poppy seeds, and much more.
You can check out 'interesting' attempt at making blinis from a few years ago, here. We should probably try again soon …
If you are interested in Maslenitsa and would like to experience Russian' culture, why not get in touch with our travel experts about arranging a trip.
In Russia, blini marks the beginning of spring and are usually prepared to celebrate the oldest Russian holiday, Maslenitsa. The best thing about blini is how simple they are to make, and most importantly, you can fill them with just about anything. Traditionally, the Russia way, the right way to enjoy Blini, would be to serve it with sour cream, caviar and smoked salmon.
There are many reasons why blini is a Russian favourite, and the main one is due to the fact that Russian winters are harsh, dim, long and cold. Blini are considered to be a symbol of the sun, so it is for this reason why it’s often prepared to mark the end of winter and the beginning of spring.
As we are trying to build ourselves up to more complicated Russian dishes, I decided blini would be the perfect dish to make. The ingredients are quite common and because I love to make pancakes, I knew I wouldn’t have any issues with preparing this dish.
Ingredients you will need for preparing this scrumptious dish:
• 1 cup of flour
• 1 teaspoon of yeast
• 1 egg
• 1 cup of milk (more or less depending on thickness and consistency)
• Pinch of salt
• Cream cheese/soft cheese
• Smoked salmon
• Vegetable oil
• Last but not least, some garnish to decorate the dish!
If you’ve read my last instalment, my attempt at preparing olivier salad, then you’ve probably already guessed that there is a right way to preparing this dish, and then there is my way.
The recipe for making blini is similar to how you would make pancakes, but traditional blini is made with yeast and buckwheat flour.
Begin with adding all of your blini ingredients to a bowl and whisk until you have a velvety smooth consistency. Leave all the ingredients to sit for about an hour while covered with Clingfilm, a cloth, or whatever does the trick.
After an hour the mixture should be foamy and thicker. Before the fun part begins, whisk the mixture again to make sure that it’s still smooth and silky.
Add and spread a small amount of vegetable oil to your heated pan. Use a ladle, pour and spread the mixture around the pan and cook for a couple minutes on each side, until both sides are golden brown.
Stack your cooked blini on a plate and continue with the process with the remainder of the batter.
Layer the cooked blini with your fillings, caviar, smoked salmon, cream/soft cheese, or other fillings depending on your preference.
How hard can it be?
Before I delved into what would be an interesting experience for me, I expected that preparing this delicious treat would be quick and straightforward, no glitches and certainly no issues with my eggs. Preparing the mixture was the easy part, I had all the ingredients except for the yeast, caviar and smoked salmon.
The trick to a perfect blini is to make it really thin, and with this in mind I ended up with a very smooth and thin mixture.
I began my journey to prepare the perfect blini with cracking my egg in a bowl, followed by adding the milk, flour, pinch of salt, and of-course, a bit of sugar was added for sweetness.
Mix, Mix, Mix. My batter was smooth and silky.
After greasing my hot pan with olive oil, I added my first batch. As you can see my batter fell apart when I tried to flip it.
It just wouldn’t flip.
It wasn’t too bad for my first attempt, so I had high hopes for the second batch.
After adding my second batch I decided to leave it for about 1 minute on both sides, and voila! It looked great.
After the second batch I became a bit too confident.
All the oil was absorbed by the last batches, and while tooting my own horn I forgot to add more oil to the pan.
After burning my last batch and releasing all the smoke from my kitchen, I decided it was best to stop there and enjoy the two I had made.
Unfortunately I didn’t have caviar or smoked salmon, so out came the Gherkins left over from the Olivier salad I made last week.
My plate looks somewhat distressed, but it was incredibly delicious. I smoothed over some soft cheese on top of my blini and then tucked in to it.
A true chef always blames the equipment, so next time I’m feeling courageous I will probably use a non-stick pan.
I advise you to use vegetable oil like the original ingredients states, because the olive oil left my blini with an interesting aroma and taste.
Share your recipe and attempts with us on Facebook.
“A New Year celebration without olivier is a bad party” – Alexandra
To name a traditional Russian dish, olivier salad would probably be at the top of many people’s list. As the clock strikes midnight, this salad would most likely be on almost every Russian Dinner table. The ingredients are quite common and the dish is easy to make, which was my only motivation for selecting this recipe, especially considering that this was my first attempt at cooking Russian food.
This recipe was given to me by Alexandra, our Visa Product Manager. Here are all the ingredients you will need to prepare this delicious dish.
Ingredients you will need:
• Mayonnaise- 1 Jar
• Pickled gherkins- 4 pieces diced
• Onions- diced
• Chicken breast- 3 pieces diced
• Potato- peeled and diced
• Cooked ham 100g
• 6 hardboiled eggs
• Green peas- 1 can
• Last but not least, to make it pretty you will need some greens for decoration.
The right way of preparing this dish begins with peeling, chopping and then boiling the potatoes and eggs. Cut the gherkins, onions, chicken and ham into cubes of similar sizes. Dice your potatoes, peel your boiled eggs and cut into small chunks, and then put all the ingredients in a bowl, after that it’s time to add your peas, drench it in Mayonnaise and mix well. After smoothing the top over with the back of your spoon, decorate with the greens and then tuck in.
What I did:
Preparing this salad was an interesting experience for me, and I imagine it will be the same for you as well. After raiding my freezer, I discovered that I didn’t have either ham or chicken, so I opted for a meat free version instead.
If you’re the food police, I would like to warn you that my version may not be entirely authentic. It’s customary to make a lot of this dish to cover you and your guests for the entire holidays, which is exactly what I did. I decided to bring some to the office for everyone to try, and sadly my salad still sits in the office fridge untouched and neglected.
I began with boiling my diced potatoes and eggs.
Patience is not one of my strong points, so rather than waiting for the water to come to a boil I opted for using the kettle instead.
My eggs couldn’t withstand the heat of the hot water so one cracked.
While I was waiting for my cracked eggs and potatoes to cook in the eggy water, I proceeded to dice my veggies and the other ingredients into small chucks.
The fresh cucumber slices were used towards the end for garnishing, but hidden underneath are gherkins.
I’ve proven that not everyone has the ability to boil an egg.
When the potatoes and eggs came off the stove, I then drained the water, peeled the shells off the eggs, and then sliced into small chucks.
This is what my salad looked like with everything chucked in the same pot, I also added vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, and finally a generous amount of Mayonnaise.
This is how it looked when it was finished, before adding all the garnish.
It was actually very delicious, but I still feel as if it was missing a key ingredient, which of-course was MEAT! If I had remembered to include meat, I would have used fresh chicken breast and deli style ham slices or chucks. I would have diced and then season the chicken with salt and pepper, and lightly fried it in one calorie cooking spray.
I hope you will enjoy cooking the salad as much as you will enjoy eating it. Share yours with us on our Facebook page.
Over the upcoming weeks I’ll be blogging about Russian cuisine and culinary traditions, from the viewpoint of Russians themselves. I’ve spoken with our team in Russia and they have been kind enough to share with us some of their favourite recipes, as well as an insight into the traditions behind each dish. If that wasn’t enough, you can look forward to discovering a new recipe each week for the next few weeks.
I think that Russia is one of, if not the most interesting place I’ve never visited, at least not yet. With that said, I’ve never had the chance to taste traditional Russian cuisine, so that is why I thought it would be a brilliant idea to bring Russia to me by attempting to prepare some of these meals myself. As this is my first time cooking Russian food, I expect to learn as much as you will by the end of this blog series. I will also be updating you proof of my attempts, successful, disastrous, or otherwise.
So what can you expect over the next few weeks?
I’ve decided to start off with something easy and as the weeks go by, we’ll be building up to prepare more challenging recipes, so by the end of this we’ll be able to make a banquet of Russian delights. To conclude my blog, I’ll be ending with the do’s and the don’ts of Russian dining, the idea is to provide you with all that you’ll need to be able to host your very own Russian dinner party.
Some of the meals which I will be attempting to prepare includes olivier, blini, selyodka pod shuboy (yes, I’m aware that this will be difficult, but I’m game if you are), and many more Russian recipes.
I will now leave you with a taste of what’s to come. Below is a picture of the olivier salad that I made over the weekend, It’s similar to a potato salad but richer and tangier. To find out how to make this stay tuned for next week’s instalment.
If you would love to get involved, prepare your own version and share your pictures with us on our Facebook page.
My attempt at olivier salad