I was a Russian major in college and learned food plays an important role in Russian culture.
Scarcity has been the rule rather than the exception throughout much of Russian history, so when times are good, feasting is considered the best way to celebrate.
Way back when, in the middle ages and before the age of The Enlightenment, food was even used in peasant culture as a way to prove they weren’t an evil spirit. In the feudal system, peasants were tied to the land, which made travel uncommon and strangers were often suspected of being criminals or perhaps even worse.
In those superstitious times, it was a real concern that some evil spirit or witch might show up. But, ever hospitable, the Russians would offer any stranger or guest something to eat.
This wasn’t just friendliness, it was also a test. After all, evil spirits can’t eat, so accepting the little snacks they were offered was a way to prove they were human.
Russian cuisine is known for being heavily focused on meat and animal products. It makes sense, because much of the country is far north, making the growing season short. Russians had to eat what was available or what could be preserved.
Cutlets are a popular Russian dish, and in fact this dish was my first introduction into the cuisine. They’re traditionally made with beef. So, what’s a vegan or vegetarian to do if she’s craving something Russian, or just wants to explore another culture?
Well, the Russian forests just might have the answer. Many varieties of mushrooms grow wild there. Mushrooms also have a naturally hearty and meaty taste, making them the perfect food for a meatless, yet still traditionally Russian dish.
Here’s how you can make your own vegan Russian cutlets:
2 cups mushrooms (any type)
1 cup brown rice (cooked and allowed to cool)
4 tbsp flour (can be Gluten Free)
salt and pepper to taste
oil for frying
Start by boiling the mushrooms in salted water for about five minutes. Drain them and pat them dry, then chop them finely. Chop the onion finely and fry it in the oil until it is translucent. When the onion is done, allow it to cool and then mix the cooked rice, onion and mushrooms together. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Add in the flour to help the mixture hold together, then form the mix into small cutlets and fry until they take on a golden color.
Russians also have a special place in their hearts for everything sweet. So, to go along with these wonderful meatless cutlets, here’s a recipe for a wonderfully sweet and tart cherry relish:
1 1/2 lb fresh cherries,pitted
2 apples, grated
2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp cloves
1 onion chopped
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup sugar packed firm
Pour the apple cider vinegar into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Add in the other ingredients, reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes. Be sure to stir frequently. Let it fully cool before eating.
You can store it in the fridge or freezer and break it out as a side dish or sauce for any meal.
I hope you enjoy this adventure in veganizing traditional Russian cuisine.
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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons