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.

The holiday is surrounded by many rituals, including those revolving around the feast itself.  Here is how the traditional full-length New Year’s meal goes:

10 PM:      Hors d’oeuvres (by far the most important course in a Russian meal, but                                     especially on this occasion).  Served with champagne.

12 AM:     Caviar and champagne course.  A new bottle of champagne must be opened to                       greet the New Year.

1 AM:         Main course.

3 AM:          Tea and dessert, including “little nuts” — walnut-shaped cookies filled with

dulce de leche

4 AM:         Coffee, brandy and tangerines

10 AM:     Breakfast (typically, leftover hors d’oeuvres)

Confession:  I do not make the main course every year.  It depends, really, on the prevailing age of my guests.  The older people are, the likelier they are to stay up all night and eat everything.  Those under 40 tend to start wilting right around the time of the main course, so with a younger crowd, I just don’t bother serving one.  And, when it’s just my immediate family, I only serve the first two courses, followed by coffee and fruit around 1 AM, and then we’re done.  (N.B.: Tangerines are obligatory for a Russian-style New Year’s celebration.)  So, if you are thinking of throwing together a Russian-style New Year’s night, consider the stamina of your guests, and whether you want to expend the time and effort making something that they might be too tired to enjoy.  Even if you do decide to make the main course, remember: it’s the hors d’oeuvres that are the most important course.

The hors d’oeuvres course consists of various Russian-style salads, the most important of which is the Salade Olivier, solenya (assorted pickled vegetables and mushrooms), kholodetz (aspic), various cold cuts (smoked veal tongue is traditionally included), assorted smoked fish, cheeses (as in certain parts of Italy, Russians tend to serve cheeses as appetizers rather than at the end of the meal), pickled herring, and, this year, I’m including a mushroom julienne.

Following this introduction, I am posting a series of recipes specifically for the New Year’s Eve table, and an additional post dedicated to caviar, without which no Russian feast would be complete.

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