This is the first of many stories about the deep connection Russians have with food. Appropriately we begin with a story about the series' author, Anna Kharzeeva. We're calling the series Food Stories.
I grew up in Russia’s turbulent 1990s, sustained by my grandmother’s borshch and pirozhki, while craving Snickers bars, "just add water" drinks of unimaginable colors, and basically all things American.
On a regular school day, I would have buckwheat with milk for breakfast (buckwheat was all right, but corn flakes were a dream!), soup, bread, or pasta at school for lunch, and later my babushka would come over with a bunch of recycled sour cream containers filled with borshch, rissoles, plov, and pickled cabbage.
She would also make vinaigrette, but it wasn’t a favorite. It didn’t have the warmth of borshch or the excitement of pirozhki. Neither was it foreign (and therefore – better than anything Russian, as I thought).
Years passed, I grew up, and I stopped craving colorful drinks. I even went to university to study history and languages. In the last year of my studies, I met my Australian husband at an expat gathering. While I was struggling to understand all the accents, one thing was clear: all these people moved to Moscow and were trying to understand the culture.
I took him on an excursion around Moscow’s center. He seemed impressed, I was proud to share. A few years later we were already married and I was writing a blog about Soviet food.
We went to Sydney for a few weeks, and, since I had to cook and write every week, I made vinaigrette for my Australian in-laws following the instructions from the iconic Soviet cookbook, The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food. I was shy and worried they wouldn’t like it. But they loved it. “It’s a traditional Russian salad,” I said proudly, perhaps for the first time ever.
I know I should have been more proud of my heritage before that, too, but I wasn’t (for various reasons, but the vodka jokes weren’t helping either), but I was proud then and am now.
I’ve grown to realize that where I come from is troubled, complex, hard to comprehend, and often bizarre. But it’s also beautiful, and interesting, and fun. And it’s mine. And that vinaigrette is damn delicious.
Here is how I like to make it:
Roast or boil the beets, potatoes and carrots. I like to roast them atop a layer of salt: fill a cookie sheet with salt, place the vegetables on top (toss the beets and potatoes to cover them in salt, but not the carrots; they will get too salty).
Cool and peel the vegetables, then chop them up. Traditionally vinaigrette is finely chopped, but I like bigger pieces, too.
Peel and chop up an apple. Chop up the pickles/cucumbers, and add the sauerkraut. Toss.
Dress with the oil, vinegar and mustard, and add sugar to taste. I like to add dry ground chili as well (or use chili gherkins).
Makes about 4 servings.
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