Quick-salted (malosolnie in Russian) cucumbers are a real treat, and a really lovely way to do something different with the summer glut. But make sure to use the small, sweet and very crunchy ones to get the best malosolnie experience. These always feature as part of a Russian summer alfresco spread and are usually eaten straight up, with no extra dressing or unnecessary entourage.
There is something universal about dumplings—we all connect over our shared love of boiled dough stuffed with a filling of sorts. While there are so many types of dumplings native to different parts of the former Soviet Union, Siberia’s claim to fame is its own signature type called Siberian pelmeni. These tiny round dumplings stuffed with a blend of ground pork and beef are consumed with a generous chunk of butter, black pepper, and sour cream or—and this is my family’s favorite—in their own richly flavored cooking broth, with plenty of black pepper, of course! My dad would often have these (as well as pretty much anything else) with soy sauce that his mother would send us from his home town of Khabarovsk way before it became widely available in shops all over Russia. Since pelmeni were usually eaten in winter when no fresh herbs were available, adding fresh dill was not common practice, but I would highly recommend this to you these days, as well as experimenting with other non-Russian herbs. Pelmeni in sage butter, anyone?
Fermentation lies at the heart of Russian cuisine as one of the most ancient techniques of preparing food. As you will notice throughout this book, numerous recipes rely on sauerkrauts, kvass, or rassol (the fermentation liquid) for their distinct tangy flavor. This soup, which carries the name rassol in its very title, is the embodiment of such a tradition. While historically rassolnik is an old Russian dish, the go-to recipe in our family comes from Poland. Back in the 1970s, my mom took part in a school program that allowed Soviet kids to find pen pals in neighboring socialist countries. She hit the jackpot, since she was linked up with a boy in Poland (the most coveted country of all friendly socialist ones). After a few years of correspondence, my mom and her parents were invited—and most importantly permitted by the Soviet officials—to visit her pen pal. Along with a bag full of trendy garments, chewing gum, and fancy stationery, which made her the coolest teenager in school, she brought back this recipe for a good old Russian rassolnik, cooked by her Polish friend’s mom. The delicious soup always reminds me of the interwoven nature of the Soviet and Slavic histories and cuisines.
Piroške are baked or fried stuffed buns. Originating in Russia, this delicious snack found its way to most of eastern and central Europe. In the western Balkans, including Serbia, piroške are usually shaped like logs and stuffed with cheese, ground meat, or sometimes both. My mother would often make them for breakfast or dinner. According to most Balkan moms, piroške are not considered appropriate for lunch, the most elaborate and ceremonious meal of the day, because they are almost embarrassingly easy to make!
For much of my childhood, this was my mom’s go-to cake. Each sponge cake layer is mixed with a different ingredient (poppy seed, prunes, walnuts), and then basted with sweetened condensed milk and left to soak. She just called it “three-layer cake”—so I pressed her for its actual name:
Shchi is one of the most famous soups in Russia. It is usually made with white or green cabbage, but some versions are made with other green leafy vegetables, especially spinach, sorrel or nettles.