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Russian New Year Celebration: The Joy Of Caviar

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upload_-1-4Deep in the heart of Central Asia there is a vast body of water known as the Caspian Sea.  It is the world’s largest lake, within whose waters live strange-looking prehistoric fish that sometimes grow to the size of whales and whose eggs are rightly known as the king of foods and the food of kings.

No Russian New Year’s celebration would be complete without red and black caviar.

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Russian New Year’s Eve: Miscellaneous Hors D’Oeuvres

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New Year’s Eve: Aspic (kholodets)

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Yummy, yummy, yummy!  holodec_polza_i_vredAspic is a very distinctive Russian dish, and I highly recommend it.

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Russian New Year’s Eve: Salade Olivier

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olivierSalade Olivier a/k/a Russian salad a/k/a ensalada russa has a fascinating history.  It began as a dish invented by a Russo-Belgian chef , Lucien Olivier, for his upscale restaurant in Moscow in the mid-1800’s.  The story goes, one of Olivier’s commis simplified the original recipe for another restaurant where he obtained a better job (or stole and bastardized it, depending on who you ask), and the new, rapidly evolving version became increasingly popular among restaurant chefs and a staple of tavern menus.  The salad assumed the form familiar to us today — a macedoine of potatoes, bologna (or boiled beef), pickles, eggs, onion and carrots, bound in mayonnaise — sometime in the 1920’s.

Don’t tell me you hate mayonnaise, dear reader; this salad has conquered the globe, it’s that good. Virtually every European country has its own version of the Russian salad, plus Mongolia, plus parts of Latin America, plus parts of the Middle East (and not just Israel).  Definitely give it a try.

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Russian New Year’s Eve

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snovymgodomThe New Year’s Eve is the most important holiday in Russian culture.  Introduced along with other reforms by Peter the Great in the 17th century (he also mandated Christmas trees, which we call “New Year’s firs”), meant to secularize and westernize Russian society, this celebration came to rival all others even before the Soviets essentially outlawed Christmas.  The meal served on New Year’s Eve, or rather, over the course of the entire night, is the most festive of the year.  (In fact, in Russian we call it New Year’s Night, because who the hell goes to bed at midnight?) Here is your brief culinary guide to a Russian-style New Year.

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Tefteli (Russian Meatballs)

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tefteliRussian meatballs incorporate rice and are served without a side dish.

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Ukha

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ukha
Perhaps  no dish is more stereotypically Russian than ukha, a delicate soup based on a clear fish broth.  It has ancient origins, in traditions that sprung up around Russia’s great rivers, lakes and estuaries.  Almost any kind of fish can be used, so ukha can be very humble, made from pike or carp, or a truly luxurious affair with sturgeon or sterlets.  Historically, ukha was served in every home, from the poorest peasant huts, all the way up to the imperial table, where several pounds of fish could be used to make just one serving of this amazing soup.  It is deceptively simple, easy to make (if you know what you are doing) and incredibly comforting.

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