Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, be plenteous in mercy is to have the real spirit of Christmas. Calvin Coolidge.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Russian New Year Table

Since the mid XX century, most Russians celebrate the New Year at home, meeting with family or guests at the dinner table. New Year's holiday menu, has its own traditions and canons too. The main feast at the holiday table is the large number of salads and snacks, as well as traditional pickles and marinades. Beautifully decorated snacks are placed in the center of the table, so that every guest could try what he likes. Russian salads are significantly different from their European counterparts - many of them are made from the boiled vegetables and mayonnaise. The most favorite salad of Russians and the main dish on New Year's table is, of course, Olivier. It is made from boiled beef or chicken, with boiled potatoes, carrots, onions, pickles, boiled egg, green peas and mayonnaise. Many housewives substitute meat for sausage or ham in this salad. This is due to the fact that in Soviet times, in the stores it was not always possible to buy meat.

Rich Festive Table
Though there are a lot of different ways to celebrate New Year in Russia, most people still prefer to gather around the rich festive table accompanied by their relatives and close friends. There are no any traditional New Year and Christmas dishes on Russian tables (expect the ones, we'll tell you later about), so every family cooks snacks, salads, meat and deserts in accordance with its own domestic traditions. But the general tradition is to make the festive table rich and plentiful, using interesting recipes and delicacies. So you won't be disappointed if you be invited to celebrate New Year at somebody's Russian house.  

In the Soviet time tangerines were a sort of hard-to-get thing, so that fruit was served on the Soviet peoples' tables only once a year - during New Year holidays. No wonder that several generations linked the taste and scent of tangerines with New Year holidays. Now Russian people don't know such a word as "deficit" and tangerines can be bought everywhere. But their scent still reminds people about merry winter holidays, so that fruit is a mandatory attribute on the feast tables in Russia.

Russian Salad (Salade Olivier)Classical Salade Olivier was invented in the 1860s by Lucien Olivier, the chef of the Hermitage 
restaurant, one of Moscow's most celebrated restaurants. Later the recipe was simplified, some rare ingredients were swapped for something more accessible in the Soviet Union. The modern version of the popular salad, named "Russian Salad" includes meat (cow tongue or red beef meet or bologna sausage or non-spicy ham or white chicken meat), eggs, carrots, potatoes, apple, pickles, cucumber, green peas, onion and mayonnaise with sour cream as a souse. This salad is the main and necessary dish at ever holiday and especially on New Year's night. It is quite easy to cook and also very tasty and filling.


  1. The Dinner

    There are no traditional New Year dishes in modern Russia, however, since the Soviet times, the Russian salad is somewhat mandatory. In Russia and the CIS it is called Olivier in honor of Lucien Olivie, a chef who invented the recipe. However, the modern Olivier has nothing in common with the dish that was so popular in Moscow of the 1860s. Butterbrots with caviar, salmon fish, sausages are very common, I believe, for all Russia’s provinces. The main dish can be fried chicken (the whole chicken or parts), pork, beef – actually, everything. In the Soviet Unions the smell of tangerines was one of the things associated with New Year. The reason is that there were standard New Year gifts for kids that included chocolate (natural dark chocolate only, no substitutes), candies, one big apple and tangerines and/or oranges. Those gifts smelled like heaven and the dominant note was, of course, the tangerine.

    As I said above, champagne is a special New Year’s beverage. That doesn’t mean that this is the only popular alcohol for the New Year party. Actually, people drink everything during the party, but right at midnight, families and friends gather around the table, stand up and clink glasses of champagne wishing each other a healthy, happy and prosperous new year.

  2. For many Russian people the New Year's Eve and day is one of the biggest holidays of the year. Children attend numerous performances, so called Fir-Trees (Joločki), an equivalent of Christmas-tree, and they can visit several of such performances before, and even after the New Year's Eve. Thus they celebrate the New Year several times.

    The New Year’s Eve is usually celebrated with the family members, watching films together. One of the 'must to watch' and favorite films is 'Irony of Fate' (Ironija sudbi or S legkim parom), which Russians watch every New Year’s Eve for the past 30 years. It is a romantic film, fun, innocent and moral, just like the many other films from the Soviet times.

  3. Champaign is a must on the table. The food includes Russian salad called Olivje, fish salad ' Seledka pod shuboj' (it is salty raw fish in a 'coat' which includes boiled vegetables and beet root). Salads are in general important part of Russian holiday’s menu.

    The drinks include campaign, vodka, cognac, and bear. Russians are not great wine drinkers, but vodka must be good. There are many recipes for drinks, some of which look like competitions. One of the popular is Bloody Mary for preparation of which vodka must be poured into the tomato juice down the knife. One of the funniest is 'Morning Cocktail' which is made the following morning by pouring all the remained drinks from all the glasses into one.

    Ten minutes before the New Year Russians listen to the speech of their President and in the minute before the midnight they all follow the countdown by the main clock in the country – the clock on the Spaski tower of the Kremlin which for all the Russian people is the only exact criteria for the arrival of the New year.

  4. Russia's history is one of suffering. In times of the peasant famine, the Stalinist purges and numerous blockades, Russians have a bleak history when it comes to food. Often, the most basic foodstuffs, such as bread and milk, were not available for decades.

    Even the most famous Russians remember the shortage. In his memoirs, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin recalls how his mother was left for dead in a pile of corpses when people thought she had starved to death during the Leningrad blockade. Lucky for Putin's mother, she was found and recovered completely.

    These are the stories of numerous Russians though. So when it comes to celebrating with copious amounts of food, it really is a celebration.

  5. Other dishes can include vegan beetroot soup (borsch) or vegan potluck (solyanka) offered with single-serving vegetable pies, especially cabbage, potato, or mushroom ones (the pie dough should be vegan, too, made with flour, yeast, water, salt and a tad of vegetable oil). Please note that the Orthodox church regulations forbid fish on Christmas Eve (no matter how many layman websites say otherwise), but allow vegetable oil and red wine in moderation.

    Various vegetable starters and salads follow the soup—mainly vegetable preserves in brine, like gherkins, mushrooms or tomatoes, as well as potato salads with vegan dressings based on vegetable oil, or root vegetables. The best choice of vegetable oil is unrefined sunflower oil which is the ingredient that gives Russian savory starters their typical taste.

  6. Russian Sauerkraut is the queen of the Russian table at Christmas Eve, served with cranberries, cumin, shredded carrot, onion rings, and sprinkled with unrefined sunflower oil. The recipe for it is slightly different from traditional European ones: the Russian Sauerkraut must be fresh-looking and crisp, not soggy,which is achieved by using special frost-resistant varieties of cabbage and storing it at subzero temperatures.

    It can be followed by more pies or porridge, especially buckwheat with fried onions and fried mushrooms, seasoned with unrefined sunflower oil (seriously yummy!). For dessert, fruit pies, cookies like gingerbread and honeybread are followed by fresh and dried fruit and more nuts. There are no strict rules about which particular dishes to use, apart from kutia and vzvar mentioned earlier.

  7. There is no such thing as traditional Russian Christmas Eve bread. While many English-language websites claim pagach to be Russian Christmas bread, it is in fact Slovak—nothing to do with the Russian culture. In Russia, pies were traditional winter food because they were hot and more filling. I have to admit that the amount of wrong information about Russian Christmas on the Web is above human imagination.

    All food served on Christmas Eve had to be tepid, so that the hostess didn't have to rush to and fro warming the dishes up, but could sit down and enjoy a spiritual conversation. The meal ended with more prayers before going to the midnight service which would last until 4 or 5 a.m.

  8. Dressed herring, colloquially known as herring under a fur coat or just fur coat (Russian: Сельдь под шубой - Sel'd' Pod Shuboi, Russian: Шуба - Shuba) is a layered salad composed of diced salted herring covered with layers of grated boiled vegetables (potatoes, carrots, beet roots), chopped onions, and mayonnaise. Some variations of this dish include a layer of fresh grated apple and some don't.

    Grated boiled beet root covered with mayonnaise as a final layer gives the salad a rich purple color. Dressed herring salad is often decorated with grated boiled eggs (whites, yolks, or both).

    Dressed herring salad is very popular in Russia, Ukraine, and other countries of the former USSR. It is one of the traditional dishes served at New Year and Christmas celebrations.

  9. Many yummy dishes are cooked for New Year’s eve. I'd like to tell you about such a delicious dish as 'Holodets'.
    What is holodets? You know those jello creations that have carrots, fruit, or some other food-like substance entombed in jello? Holodets is sort of like that. Except the food-like substance is meat, and the jello is concentrated meat broth that has been allowed to become gelatinous. To make holodets, you take a large quantity of meat--usually several different kinds (we had pig and duck)--and boil it with carrots, onions, and spices for many hours. This softens and cooks the meat, freeing it from the bones, and it makes a strong broth, which you further boil down until it becomes thick. You then put the cooked meat into a pan, pour the broth over it, and put the whole creation into the fridge overnight. The broth thickens into a clear jello-ish concoction that encases the meat.

  10. Appetizers known as zakuski follow the soup course. These zakuski range from salads made with vegetable oil or, preferably, sunflower oil, instead of mayonnaise because of the fast, and great quantities of pickled fish, shrimp and vegetables like gherkins, mushrooms or tomatoes. Pickled cabbage or sauerkraut is the star at the Russian Christmas Eve table and appears in many dishes, including the filling for pirozhki and other dumplings. Sometimes, it is served as a salad with cranberries, cumin, shredded carrot, onion rings, and a splash of sunflower oil. Vegetable "caviars" like ikra are also popular.

  11. There is also a tradition in Russia to give children sweet presents. It may be chocolate, sweets, lollipops and so on, so we can also consider it to be a part of New Year's table.

  12. A new-year table usually is not large: on 8-12 persons. Therefore cold snacks put in one general dish. Soups do not give to the new-year table. However hot dishes give two times - to New Year, usually, fish dishes and after stew or fried meat (mutton, veal or beef) with a potato on garnish; meat dumplings, pilau, stuffed goose or hen, ochpochmaks, peremech et cetera. In the end give tea or coffee. With tea put sugar, jams, candies, with coffee sugar, hot milk or creams. Sweet baleshes add to the tea-table, also cakes, kosh-tele et cetera.