Thanksgiving is one of my beloved American Holidays! Beyond gratitude and great food, it has been a time for me to truly experience the charming multiculturalism so prevalent, and welcomed in the United States. Since immigrating to American nearly 23 years ago, my Thanksgiving celebrations have evolved into a true melting pot of fusion cuisine. For years we gave thanks with a customary Turkey feast, complete with traditional trimmings, and a super Russian twist.
Carefully balancing traditions, my mom was the queen of incorporating her signature recipes for Salad Olivier, Vinaigrette, ‘Shuba’, and Deviled eggs topped with a generous dollop of red caviar into our Thanksgiving dinners. Serving them alongside home-made mashed potatoes (albeit sans gravy) and roasted Turkey stuffed with sweet dried apricots and apples.
Most years, she even made my favorite childhood cake, called Napoleon, for dessert – never skimping on real custard cream and eight layers of paper-thin dough. And so, our Holidays came to be known as the Russian-style Thanksgiving, with more and more of my non-Russian friends joining in.
Four years ago, during my brief stint as a grad student and researcher in the Netherlands, I was a proud hostess of three consecutive Thanksgiving celebrations for my international friends and colleagues.
It was only appropriate since my small one-room apartment stood directly across the cobble-stone street from the Pieterskerk: a famous Dutch church best known as the last dwelling of the Pilgrim Fathers before they sailed the Mayflower to the New World.
View of Pieterskerk from Kloksteeg (Leiden, Netherlands)
This was my time to shine as a patriotic American while demonstrating my skills with Russian cooking. Frankly speaking, the small country of cheese and wooden shoes proved much friendlier in terms of readily available ingredients for my Russian dishes, than for the traditional turkey. Suffice it to say, we gave thanks with a few well roasted chickens. Everyone loved the blending of cultures, traditions and cuisines and often asked me to replicate the “Russian-style Thanksgiving” as a random Friday night dinner. What they really wanted to know though, were my Russian recipe secrets.
Here are a few menu ideas that I shared with my friends, and am happy to share with you to make your Russian-style Thanksgiving a HUGE success!
Pickled veggies like marinated porcini mushrooms, summer squash, and tomatoes and dill cucumbers are a great starter, and a smashing ‘zakuska’ complimenting any gourmet vodka shot. Strain the mushrooms and sprinkle with a few thinly sliced onion half-moons and drizzle with olive oil to bring out the flavor.
Deviled eggs with caviar are another favorite Russian appetizer. After boiling and letting eggs chill, slice in half and collect the yolks in a bowl. Smash the yolks with a fork and combine with mayonnaise to make a smooth paste. Fill the egg white halves with the paste and top with red or black caviar.
Pickled veggies and deviled eggs
Salad Olivier (aka Olivieh or Olivye) is a traditional dish that has gained popularity around the world and is known in many European countries simply as Russian Salad. In my humble opinion, it is a more sophisticated version of a potato salad. My favorite recipe includes finely diced boiled potatoes, eggs, pickled cucumbers, and onions, small pieces of pulled chicken (or beef) and plenty of canned green peas, salted and peppered and smothered in quality mayonnaise.
Russian Salad Olivier
Russian Vinaigrette is a super delicious beet and sauerkraut salad, also staple in Ukrainian cooking. It’s super simple to make and is a healthier alternative to most mayo-dressed salads. The traditional recipe calls for boiling fresh beets (although canned will work just as well), potatoes, and carrots. Finely dice the root veggies, pickled cucumbers and white onions, add a generous portion of sauerkraut (home-made is best!) and dress with salt, pepper, vinegar and olive oil to taste. Serve with a sprig of parsley as decoration.
Russian Vinaigrette (Beet and Sauerkraut Salad)
‘Shuba’ or Russian Herring Salad, literally translated as ‘Herring Under Fur Coat’, is a layered dish with herring and beets as the main ingredients. Much like Olivier and Vinaigrette, this salad calls for boiled potatoes, carrots and beets finely shredded and layered one by one on top of the herring. The secret is giving this salad enough time to rest, typically 8-12 hours, for the flavors to marry together before serving. For a complete recipe and step-by-step instructions check out Enjoyyourcooking.com.
Shuba (Herring and Beet Salad)
Russian Napoleon cake is a decadent dessert made of up to 15 thin layers of dough filled with real custard cream. The trick is to make the dough moist with deliciousness of custard cream, while preserving its delicate, flaky texture. You can find simple recipes online at RusCuisine.com and NatashasKitchen.com.
Classic Russian Candy like chocolate, caramels, and roasted nut fillings are perfect pairings to after-dinner-tea and coffee drinking. Childhood favorites like ‘ptichie moloko’ (aka Divine Birds or Birds Milk) filled with sweet soufflé and covered in chocolate, and Kara-Kum candies made with morsels of praline and wafers, will round out any Russian-style Thanksgiving, AND they make an awesome Hostess gift!
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