Braised cabbage (tushyonaya kapusta) is a deliciously Russian dish, made by slowly cooking finely shredded cabbage with carrots and onions. During the Soviet days of limited food supplies, braised cabbage was one of the most popular and hearty dishes. It was indeed the Soviet version of comfort food. But what’s so special about cabbage anyway?

 

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Cabbage has been cultivated for thousands of years. Ancient Romans loved it for its nutritional value as much as a remedy for hangovers, and even healing wounds. That’s right, cabbage soaked in vinegar was consumed before embarking on a evening of heavy drinking as early as 8th century BC. Caesar’s armies are known to have carried cabbage leaves to treat wounds and reduce infection and inflammation. Indeed, modern studies have confirmed that cabbage has antibacterial properties.

 

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On January 6th, many Orthodox countries including Russia will celebrate Christmas Eve — also known as “Sochelnik”. While the date of Russian Christmas has always been on January 7 many traditions have changed over the past 200 years. In this post, we explore a number of folkloric rituals, and illuminate the differences between Russian Orthodox and Western Christmas customs.

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What is “Sochelnik”?

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Sochelnik comes from the Russian word “sochivo” – literally a liquid made from soaking wheat grains, and used instead of butter since no animal products are allowed to be consumed during the holiday. A simple porridge dish made with sochivo is known as “kutya.” The porridge is prepared with honey, poppy seeds, nuts and dried fruits – symbolizing immortality, success and happiness. Eating the grain porridge on Christmas Eve is also an homage to Daniel’s Fast on his journey to discovering God. (See a simple recipe for authentic sochivo at the end of this post). According to Orthodox tradition, on the eve before Christmas it is customary to fast until the first start is visible in the night sky.

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New Year is the most beloved and celebrated holiday among Russians. Full of rich history, fascinating traditions and amusing customs, New Year celebrations trace back to Pagan Rus’. Back in those days, the year’s beginning was celebrated with the beginning of nature’s revival — usually in mid-March.

 

christening russiaSometime in the late 14th or early 15th century, came the Christening of the Great Rus’, and with it a new set of chronology and traditions. Adopting the European Julian calendar, the Orthodox Church officially moved the beginning of the year from March to September as a way to conform to the Nicean canons. This shift signaled the growing importance of Christianity in the Old Rus’. And so it was that the New Year was now celebrated on September 1st with organized festivities and decoration of trees.

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If you haven’t gotten everything you want for Christmas, there is still time. We’ve compiled a list of five MUST HAVE items to keep you warm, satisfied and beautiful for the New Year.

 

 

1. Russian Souvenirs are the perfect gifts for anyone interested in all things RUSSIAN. From Faberge-style eggs, to themed kitchen accessories and decorative plates – you’ll find a gem or two in our collection of the most sought after souvenirs. For the fashionistas in your life, we’ve got traditional woolen shawls and scarves. If you’re feeling adventurous, spring for the USSR military “Ushanka” hat, complete with ear flaps and emblematic Soviet red star. Classic Russian toys like “Kolobok” and “Nevalyashka” are a fun way to introduce traditional children’s characters to the little ones in your life.

 

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2. Caviar is the ultimate Russian indulgence for the Holidays! Luxuriously rich and nutty, black roe caviar is derived from the wild Hackleback Sturgeon (Paddle Fish) and is a perfect pairing to your hors d’oeuvres platter or mini sandwiches. Tsar’s Red caviar makes a great garnish for deviled eggs or small toasts — uber popular and fit for royalty.

 

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Around the world children are familiar with a “gift giver” that arrives magically on Christmas or New Year’s Eve to bring them presents. In America, Santa Clause has been a prominent figure since mid-19th century. The iconic symbol of Christmas, Santa’s modern image as a jolly old man in red clothing was popularized by none other than Coca Cola as a way to capture the magic of the Holidays.

 

Every year postal operators in many countries receive letters for Santa. Children around the world send their requests and wishes for Holiday presents. France leads the way with 1.7 million letters received in 2012. In the U.S. just over 1million letters are received, while in Russia about 300,000 children are writing to Santa. Perhaps it is because in Russia, Grandpa Frost “Ded Moroz” still dominates the scene.

 

Ded Moroz or santa

 

 

Born from old Slavic folklore as a grumpy winter dweller who liked to freeze and kidnap children, Ded Moroz was rehabilitated under the influence of Christian Orthodox traditions and cultural elements adopted from the Belgian and Dutch character Sinterklaas.

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Year after year we follow traditions of gifting, tree decorating and family togetherness, but where did these rituals come from? Concerning Christmas, here are THREE things you probably DON’T KNOW about the festivities surrounding the Holiday.

 

 

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Christmas Trees Were Once Illegal 

 

Until the late 1800s, Christmas tree were considered pagan symbols and were thus not accepted by many Americans. In fact, the state of Massachusetts made Christmas pretty much illegal as a way to try and stamp out any signs of pagan traditions. Puritans were known to fine people for hanging decorations, adorning trees, and even caroling.

 

The change came when the fashionable Queen Victoria and her German Prince Albert appeared in a newspaper sketch standing with the children next to a lavishly decorated Christmas tree. Little did she know that her beloved Majesty would set a new trend not only withe the Brits, but the fashion-conscious East Coast American “high society”. And so Christmas trees finally their way into American homes, becoming a staple of the Holiday Season.

 

December 25th not quite a Birthday

 

No specific date is giving in the Bible when it comes to Jesus’ birthday. Based on historical evidence, most scholars agree that Jesus was most likely born sometime in the Spring. It’s no coincidence that many cultures used to celebrate the New Year in the Spring as well – marking the rebirth of nature and the coming summer. So why does December 25th remain so significant?

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Russians are known to drink two things: vodka and tea. The number one hot drink in Russia, tea consumption tips at over 170,000 TONS per year. So what are some Russian teatime traditions?

 

 

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Looseleaf tea is brewed in a small teapot with high concentration of tea to water. The concentrate, called “zavarka” is poured into individual cups and hot water is then layered on top. Traditionally, a “Samovar” (literally a ‘self-boiler’) was used to maintain the temperature and volume of hot water. It remains of the most iconic and widely recognized image associated with Russian tea-drinking culture.

 

Russians often visit each other for a “cup of tea”. These social gatherings can last for hours and as conversations flow, so does the tea. During Soviet days when loose sugar was scarce, sugar cubes were offered to sweeten the tea.

 

It’s considered rude to serve tea without something sweet or a small snack.

 

Typical teatime sweets include waffles, cookies, gingers biscuits, chocolate candy and cake. “Sushki” (small hard dried bagels) are often accompanied by a home-made marmalade or jelly preserves made with the berries harvest during the autumn months. Crackers, bread, cheese and dried meats or sausage can also be served as a savory snack in the morning or afternoon.

 

 

 

Our 2015 Calendar features illustrated Russian Tea Drinking Traditions. Get yours today!

Risotto Serving

 

Risotto is a classic Italian dish made with arborio rice that’s cooked to a creamy consistency. Unlike Russian versions of rice porridge (kasha), Risotto is made without milk. The warm, rich texture of the dish makes it a perfect appetizer or entree for the cold winter months.

 

While it’s relatively simple to prepare, it does take some practice to get the balance of the ingredients just right.

 

Risotto is very sensitive to timing and requires attention during the cooking process. That said, the end result is well worth the work you will invest. Follow the instructions below to get started with a basic chicken and wild mushrooms recipe. As you perfect the dish, try to experiment with various herbs, spices and veggies to make it uniquely YOURS.

 

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What do you do with over-ripened bananas? You know, the ones that turn completely brown on the outside but are still sweet and delicious on the inside.

Banana Chocolate Pudding

 

Lots of people save and freeze them as ingredients for future smoothies or banana bread baking. Great options indeed.

 

But when you want an easy to make, quick and healthy snack (or dessert!), that’s pure chocolate deliciousness, use the soft fruit to whip up a banana chocolate mousse. We spiced it up with a few dashes of cayenne pepper!

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Did you know there is a National Caviar Day? Neither did we. (Then again, in the nether-sphere of the internet there seems to be a national day for just about everything.)

 

So what about caviar– what is it exactly? Where does it come from? And how come Russian caviar is so expensive?  In honor of National Caviar Day we bring you the roe-down on these fancy fish eggs.

 

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What is Caviar?

 

Caviar is fish roe or eggs that have been cured in salted brine. Authentic caviar refers to the roe from wild sturgeon, a fish that is native to the fresh waters of Caspian and Black Sea. The three main types of sturgeon that produce caviar are beluga, sevruga and osetra.

 

While you can find a number of fish egg products labeled caviar, including salmon roe (ikura), real caviar comes in the form of tiny pearly black fish eggs from sturgeon. It’s like calling a sparkling wine from Italy, Champagne!

 

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How do you make a Patriotic Red, White and Blue layered drink?

 

Start with your basic ingredients: Red Cranberry Juice, White Pina Colada SOBE, Blue Gatorade (of Blue Curacao).

 

1) Pour the Cranberry juice first. It has the heaviest sugar content, making it robust enough to stand up to the weigh of the rest.
2) Add full glass of ice.
3) SLOWLY pour the remaining drinks on top, do not mix.

 

For a Russian twist, use vodka as a clear alternative and add as top ingredient after carefully pouring Cranberry Juice and Blue Curacao. Enjoy responsibly!

 

Authentic Russian Food