Russia has a long history of droughts and famines. Although there have been no famines since 1947, the former Soviet Union saw many food shortages. By the time the Soviet Union was about to collapse, many common items of food were being rationed.
Shelves held only rotten vegetables, butchers counters had pitiful scraps of bone and fat instead of sausages, chops, and joints. As recently as last year Russia halted exports of its wheat as fears of a shortage once again raised its head.
So it may seem a strange choice when it comes to discussing cuisine, comfort food, and cookery. But, the advent of the multi-cooker has made it easier than ever to try new recipes at home, and Russian food has much to recommend.
Why Russian food?
Because it is comforting, is the simplest answer to this question. Russian weather can at times be harsh, and some areas are bitterly cold. If you come from a country that enjoys a full spectrum of seasons then you will understand that when winter comes, sometimes all you want is some proper comfort food.
Russian cuisine can provide dishes that are full of carbs, fill up bellies, and generally satisfy and protect against the cold. If you were from England then you would probably describe some Russian food as the kind of meal that sticks to your ribs.
However, if the English think they eat a lot of potatoes, then they can think again, compared to the Russians. Mashed potato may well be the ultimate comfort food, and it is served everywhere in Russia. Ok, maybe not in a pizza restaurant or McDonald’s. Actually, McD’s did make a mashed potato burger but chose to market that in China instead of Russia.
But the truth is, Russian food can be very satisfying, and while it may not be diet-friendly, it can be heart-warming and is often about family and friends. Much of Russian food is home-cooked and shared with families. An interest in Russian culture and history could help to bring people together in all walks of life, especially if enjoyed with some pelmeni.
Why are people more interested in foreign cuisines now?
Last year saw the Covid pandemic arrive that is still currently ongoing. This resulted in lockdowns, self-isolation, and quarantines, not to mention far more serious consequences. The effects of Covid are still being felt through Europe and across the globe. It could be years before a return to a proper sense of normality happens.
Because of the restrictions that were put in place, people have been unable to visit restaurants, and they have also had travel plans curtailed. For many, this meant taking the problem into their own hands and finding a solution. The answer for some was to take up cooking as a hobby and try different recipes.
Cooking at home during lockdowns meant that a new hobby was found, time was used more usefully, and knowledge of other cultures could be explored through the medium of food. The success of one or two kitchen appliances has also helped.
What is a multi-cooker, and can they really help someone to cook?
A multi-cooker is an appliance that has various cooking modes and options. They may be able to sous-vide, saute, bake, and cook rice. They may also have options for slow-cooking which is great for tough cuts of meat. Plus they can pressure cook, to speed up recipes that traditionally take a long time.
Basically, a modern multi-cooker, such as the Instant Pot or Ninja Foodi, is similar to the older style pressure cookers, but with a lot more features. They have helped many amateur cooks to start to try different recipes as the cooker does most of the work, and the food is ready very quickly.
They might be a good option when put together with Russian comfort food, as the meals can be prepared and cooked with very little fuss.
So, what does Russian food consist of? Is it just lots of cabbage and potatoes?
Why do Russians eat so many potatoes?
Ok, so it is true that potatoes are popular, but part of this is for practical reasons. When it comes to serving up sustainable food and ingredients, potatoes are up there with the best.
Every country has its own main carbohydrate when it comes to staple dishes. This may be pasta (or noodles), rice, or potatoes. Obviously, bread is a factor too, but for the purposes of this article, the first three will be looked at as they form the basis of many meals across the world.
Between potatoes, rice, and pasta, the former is the most environmentally friendly option by far. Also, in the harsh winters suffered in parts of Russia, there is often a lack of fresh vegetables, and potatoes are always available.
Favourite food options for Russians will often include dishes with potato, however, for the national dish, this is swapped out for wheat.
What is the national dish of Russia?
Pelmeni is a kind of dumpling that is usually stuffed with meat. It can be served in soup, deep-fried, slathered in butter, and is highly popular. It is sometimes treated a little as convenience food but can make a hearty broth or soup with sour cream too.
It would be possible to make pelmeni in an Instant Pot, and there are plenty of recipes for similar dumplings on the internet. But, perhaps this particular part of Russian culture should be saved for traditional cooking methods.
Multi-cookers are often associated with healthy cooking, and it might be a shame to take away the joy of heavily buttered pelmeni, or deep-fried dumplings, by trying to turn them into a calorie-friendly option.
Other dishes that have been enjoyed over the centuries include borscht, blintzes, plov, kotleti, and of course beef stroganoff. There is also solyanka soup which is both sweet and sour and is believed to be the best hangover cure available.
Borscht is highly adaptable to the seasons as it can be eaten cold in warm weather, or hot when the winter nights draw in.
Making Russian dishes easily
So, assuming you have access to a multi-cooker or Instant Pot, then you may be able to pull off some authentic Russian dishes without too much trouble.
Beef stroganoff has been around since the 1800’s when it first appeared and has been attributed to the Count Stroganoff of that period. Whatever the truth is, stroganoff is one meal from Russia that has spread to many other countries.
The problem with this dish is that many countries such as the UK and the US adopted it and switched out quality ingredients for convenient ones such as tinned mushroom soup. Fortunately, recipes from Corrie Cooks and other websites have now corrected this, and you can find much better versions.
Making the best beef stroganoff could mean a lot of slow cooking but a pressure cooker means that you can achieve the same results in 20 minutes. To make the best stroganoff use good ingredients. There are two schools of thought here though.
Many cooks will advocate the use of sirloin or rib-eye steak for beef stroganoff, but others will prefer a long slow cook with a cheaper, but tastier cut of meat. If you are using the Instant Pot for fast results then go for a quality piece of beef.
Russian food may not be popular in the way that Thai, Chinese, or Italian are. However, dishes from this country are made with love and they bring people together.
One could be more satisfying than producing a tasty stroganoff in just twenty minutes and serving it up to a table full of family on a cold winter’s night?