If learning about Russian culture is part of your Olympic immersion this week, why not serve up a little Russian cuisine?

Canadians are more familiar with Ukranian cuisine than Russian, but the two are very similar, utilizing plenty of ingredients that are common here. 

Trying these recipes are a great way to teach kids about the food culture of the Olympic host country. They are also a good choice for Olympic viewing parties.

If you’re looking for authentic Eastern European supplies or freshly prepared foods (think homemade perogies​ and cabbage rolls) try the Matrioshka Russian Delicatessen on the northeast corner of 14th St and 17th Ave S.W. or Polcan Meats & Deli on Heritage Drive S.E. in the Acadia shopping centre.

Blini

Blini are Russian pancakes the size of a silver dollar, made to hold a dollop of crème fraîche and a pile of smoked salmon or caviar. Perfect finger food for a party – or for the little ones to nibble on plain.

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (or half all-purpose, half buckwheat flour)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tbsp. butter, melted, plus extra for cooking
  • 1 large egg
  • canola or other mild vegetable oil, for cooking
  • crème fraîche or sour cream
  • smoked salmon or caviar
  • chopped fresh chives or dill

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the milk, butter and egg. Add to the dry ingredients and whisk just until combined – don’t worry about getting all the lumps out.

Heat a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat and add a dab of butter and drizzle of oil. Tilt the pan to coat the bottom, and when the foam subsides, pour the batter by the tablespoon into the pan to make 2-inch circles of batter, spacing them an inch apart. Cook until bubbles start to appear on the surface, then flip with a thin spatula and cook until golden on the other side.

Set aside on a cooling rack as you cook them, and serve topped with crème fraîche or sour cream, salmon or caviar and a pinch of chopped fresh chives or dill.

Makes about 2 ½ dozen blini. 

Blini

(Julie Van Rosendall)

Roasted Beet Borscht

A hearty borscht is classic Russian fare and we have delicious Alberta beets to use. In this recipe, the beets begin roasted. Wrap each beet (or two if they’re small) in foil and place directly on the oven rack at 350-400˚F. Bake for an hour, or until tender. (You can do this while something else is cooking). Store the roasted beets in their foil in a bowl in the fridge for up to a few days. When you’re ready for borscht, peel them with your fingers and grate them in.

  • canola or olive oil, for cooking
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped (use the leaves, too)
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • ½ head savoy cabbage, shredded
  • 1 L beef or chicken stock
  • 3-4 beets, roasted and peeled
  • 1-2 tbsp. red wine or balsamic vinegar, or to taste (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Sour cream, for serving

In a large pot, heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onions for about five minutes, until soft. Add the garlic, celery, carrot, leek and cabbage and cook for about ten minutes, until everything is soft and starting to turn golden.

Add the stock and two to four cups of water. Grate the beets using the coarse side of a box grater and add that too. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, until all the vegetables are tender and the broth has thickened slightly. Add the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste and serve hot, with a big dollop of sour cream on top. Serves six.

Borsct

Roasted Beet Borscht (Julie Van Rosendall)

Cherry Cheese Blintzes

If you’ve never tried one, a blintz is a crêpe stuffed with not-too-sweet cheese filling, wrapped up like a burrito, cooked in butter in a hot skillet and topped with cherry (or blueberry or plum) sauce, and often a dollop of sour cream. They’re fantastic for breakfast or dessert, and can be assembled ahead of time and cooked quickly in the skillet when you’re ready to serve them.

Crêpes:

  • 1 ¼ cups milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tbsp. canola oil
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • pinch salt

Filling:

  • 2 cups farmers’ cheese or ricotta
  • ½ cup full-fat sour cream, crème fraîche or mascarpone
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. vanilla

Cherry Compote:

  • 3 cups fresh or frozen pitted sour cherries
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch (optional)
  • butter, for cooking

To make the crêpe better, put the milk, eggs, oil, flour, sugar and salt in a blender and pulse until well blended and smooth (scrape down the sides once or twice) and let sit for 20-30 minutes. It should have the consistency of heavy cream.

To make the filling, stir together the farmers’ cheese, sour cream, egg, sugar and vanilla. To make the sauce, bring the cherries, sugar and water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Cook until the cherries collapse. If you’d like it thicker, stir the cornstarch into a tablespoon of cold water; add to the cherry mixture and bring to a boil. Cook for four to five minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

To make the crêpes, set a medium skillet (I like my well-seasoned cast iron skillet) over medium-high heat and drizzle with oil or spray with nonstick spray. Consider the first a practice: pour a few tablespoons worth of batter into the pan and quickly swirl it to coat the bottom, or make an even circle. Cook until the edge starts to curl from the pan and it’s golden on the bottom. At this point it will be easy to slide a thin heatproof spatula under the edge and flip the crêpe. Cook for another minute, until golden on the other side. Repeat with the remaining batter. (The crêpes can be made a day ahead; keep covered with plastic wrap.)

Filling a blintz is like filling a burrito. Place a crêpe on your work surface and put about ¼ cup filling in a strip down the middle, leaving about an inch at each end. Fold one long side over to enclose the filling. Fold each short end over, then flip the whole thing over to close. Fill all the crêpes and set aside (or cover and refrigerate for up to a day).

When you’re ready to cook your blintzes, heat a good-sized pat of butter in your skillet set over medium-high heat. Cook a few at a time, without crowding the pan, until browned and crisp on both sides. Serve warm, with cherry compote on top.

Makes eight to 10 blintzes.

Blintzies

(Julie Van Rosendall)

Russian Ponchiki Doughnuts

Q: What do you get when you cross a Russian doughnut with a Canadian Timbit?
A: Ponchiki!

These small two-bite doughnuts are made with the same dry, crumbly farmers’ cheese used to fill blintzes. You could easily swap ricotta instead. Serve them warm, doused in icing sugar.

  • 1 cup farmers’ cheese or ricotta
  • 2-3 Tbsp. sour cream (if the cheese is very dry)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ cup raisins or currants (optional)
  • extra flour, for rolling
  • canola or other mild vegetable oil, for cooking
  • icing sugar or cinnamon sugar, for dusting

In a medium bowl, stir together the cheese, sour cream, sugar and egg. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and stir until you have a thick batter. If you like, stir in some raisins or currants.

Put some flour in a shallow bowl or pie plate. Scoop large spoonfuls of batter and roll in flour to coat. Heat a couple inches of oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking – a crust of bread should sizzle if you dip it in. Gently lower a few ponchiki at a time into the oil – don’t crowd the pot – and cook until golden on the bottom. Flip and cook for a few minutes on the other side, until deep golden. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate.

Dust with icing sugar or cinnamon sugar while still warm. Makes lots.

Russian Donughts

(Julie Van Rosendall)

Blueberry Perogies

Perogies are common in Russia, too. Often you’ll see sweet versions, stuffed with cherries, plums or blueberries, but still topped with sour cream. Served warm, they’re a delicious vehicle for vanilla ice cream too. This sweet version is adapted from Canadian Living magazine.

Dough:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tbsp. butter, melted
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup water

Filling:

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen (don’t thaw them) blueberries
  • butter, for cooking (optional)
  • sour cream or whipped cream, for serving

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a small bowl (or Pyrex measuring cup) stir together the butter, milk and egg. Add to the flour mixture and stir until you have a dry, shaggy mixture. Add the water about a third at a time, until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough. Knead it about 10 times, then cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rest on the counter for 20 minutes.

To make the filling, stir together the sugar and flour; stir in the blueberries. On lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a scant 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 3-inch round cutter, cut into rounds. Stretch each round slightly and fill with a spoonful of the blueberry mixture, ensuring you get some of the sugar-flour in there as well.

Pull dough over filling into semicircle; pinch edges together to seal. Cover with tea towel. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Freeze in a single layer or cook immediately.

In large pot of lightly salted water, boil perogies in batches, until they float to the top and the dough is tender, about 10 minutes. With slotted spoon, transfer to a dish. Drizzle with butter to prevent sticking. If you like, brown the well-drained boiled perogies in a hot pan with butter until crisp and golden. Dribble the remaining butter from the pan over top.

Serve with sour cream or whipped cream. Makes about three dozen perogies.

Blueberry perogies

(Julie Van Rosendall)