Russian Recipes: Cooking Russian Peasant Food

Tom Reidy talks about cooking and preparing Russian entrees, including recipes for tvorg, Smetana, varentez, drachona, cucumber with smetana, and golubtsy (stuffed cabbage leaves).
By Tom Reidy
November/December 1975
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The whole cabbage should be cooked until soft in salted water. The leaves should then be separated and flattened, and the thick stalks cut away.

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The USSR covers one-sixth of the world's surface, embraces 13 republics, and is home to scores of ethnic groups. Among these are many strains of sturdy peasant stock who have developed their own frugal yet satisfying lifestyles . . . lifestyles that include some superb traditional Russian cookery. A number of Russian recipes rely heavily on milk by-products and may interest MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers who own bountiful dairy animals.

Peasant Food: Russian Recipes

Tvorg Recipe

Tvorog, the Russian cream cheese, is eaten extensively — either by itself or in a variety of dishes — and is a good use for sour milk.

To make this specialty, put at least two quarts of solidified sour milk into a muslin bag and hang it over a basin to strain off the whey. Leave the curd until it becomes firm but not too dry, and mash it until it's smooth and creamy. The cheese is especially good mixed with chopped chives and a pinch of salt and eaten on buttered rye bread.

Smetana Recipe

Smetana — sour cream is easy to make: Just leave heavy cream in a warm place until it becomes tart in flavor . . . a matter of two or three days, unless you accelerate the process by the addition of a teaspoon of sour milk or a few drops of lemon juice. Be careful not to let the product go cheesy.

Varenetz Recipe

The following ingredients are needed for this old Russian dish:

8 cups creamy milk
1 cup smetana
Rye breadcrumbs

Pour the milk into a wide earthenware dish and cook it in the oven at very low heat. When a skin forms and the milk assumes a faint golden color, push the film to the bottom of the pan. Repeat this step five or six times. Then remove the dish from the oven and let it stand until the milk is tepid. Add the smetana, mix the pudding well, and let it sit in a warm place for 24 hours. Refrigerate the dish until it's wanted, and serve it sprinkled with sugar, cinnamon, and rye breadcrumbs.

Drachona Recipe

Drachona — a baked batter — can be eaten with roasted meat as a pleasant change from Yorkshire pudding, or sprinkled with sugar and served hot with melted butter as a dessert. You'll need the following ingredients:

1 cup flour
3 eggs
2/3 cup smetana
2-1/2 cups milk

Place the flour in a bowl, make a hollow in the mound, break the eggs into the depression, and mix well. Blend in the smetana, add a pinch of salt, and beat the combination until it's smooth and light. Warm the milk and add it gradually to the mixture. Continue beating for a few minutes.. Then pass the batter through a sieve, pour it into a buttered dish, and bake it in a moderate oven for 30 minutes. If the dish is to be served as a dessert, pour 6 tablespoons of melted butter over it and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Cucumber with Smetana Recipe

1 large cucumber
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup smetana
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Peel the cucumber, slice it thin, sprinkle with salt, and leave it for about an hour. Strain off the liquid. Combine the smetana, pepper, and lemon juice, pour the mixture over the cucumber slices, and serve the dish chilled.

Golubtsy Recipe (Stuffed Cabbage Leaves)

2 onions, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
1 pound ground beef
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup cooked rice
1 cup stock
1 medium-sized white cabbage
1 tablespoon flour
1-1/4 cup smetana
2 tablespoons tomato puree
(or 1 cup tomatoes)
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons vinegar
(or the juice of 1/2 lemon)

Fry the chopped onions lightly in 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the ground beef with salt and pepper to taste and continue the frying for a few minutes. Then remove the pan from the heat and mix in the cooked rice and a little of the stock.

The whole cabbage should be cooked until soft in salted water. The leaves should then be separated and flattened, and the thick stalks cut away. Put about 1 tablespoon of the meat filling on each leaf, roll up the little package, and turn in the ends. Fry the rolls in 1 tablespoon of butter until they're browned lightly on all sides, and pack them closely in a casserole.

Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter, blend in the flour, and dilute the sauce with the rest of the stock. Add the smetana, the tomatoes or puree, and the sugar. Salt to taste. Boil the mixture and stir it well. Remove the liquid from the heat, add the lemon juice or vinegar, and pour the sauce over the cabbage rolls. Cook the dish in a slow oven for 1 hour. This is a firm favorite with my family.

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