By Ly Nguyen
On Jan. 23, 2015, the Russian and Eastern European Club collaborated with Professor of English Anastasia Pease to host a dinner in Wold House. Pease prepared two traditional Eastern European dishes with the assistance of the students.
The event revealed that Russians enjoyed eating home-cooked food, instead of prepared food from stores. Russian traditional food includes: roasted meat, soups, stews and pastries. Their diet is mostly based on crops, such as grains, that can withstand cold climates.
During the reign of Peter I, one of the tzars, a French chef introduced to the country the practice of serving meals in courses. During the modern period, lunch usually includes hot soup for the first course and meat or fish with salads, potatoes or pasta for the second course. Then, the third course usually consists of a drink, such as kompot, which is a non-alcoholic beverage made by boiling fruit in water. Other hot beverages may also be served.
They have traditional sweet pies, such as pierogi served with soup. The pies have fillings ranging from soft cheese, jam, fish, cabbage, chopped meat and egg, which are usually served for lunch.
President of Russian and Eastern European Club Lacey Reimer ’15 said, “Every year, the club organizes Winter Fest in January.” She explained that Winter Fest is not celebrated in Russia, but that the club created the event to promote Russian and Eastern European cuisine on Union’s campus. Last year, the club served borscht, which is the national Russian soup. This year, the club added a salad to the menu.
Reimer shared that the club purchased the ingredients from a local store called Dnipro, which is a 20-minute drive from Union’s campus. She said that it was important to buy the ingredients from this store for these Russian dishes, because, for example, the sour cream in the United States has a different consistency than the cream from Russia.
The main dish at the event was borscht, which is one of the most popular dishes in Eastern European countries, such as Ukraine, Russia, Poland and Belarus. The essential ingredient for the soup was beetroot, which was mixed together with potatoes, carrots and onions. After the soup was poured into a bowl, a teaspoon of sour cream, together with a handful of garnish, such as parsley, was added to the soup.
Russian Teaching Assistant Anna Sebryuk noted, “The soup usually contains beef or pork and cabbage, but today we are preparing a vegetarian variant of the soup. There are many different ways to prepare the soup, depending on the geographical regions. ” She added, “Borscht is also good for warming up in winter.”
When asked about special customs that are connected to the dish, she replied, “New Year’s Eve in Russia, which is one of the main happenings throughout the year, cannot be celebrated without borscht.”
Along with the soup, there was a salad called Salat Olivier. It was a mixture of pickles, onion, potatoes, green peas and other vegetables that were blended together with mayonnaise.
A French chef created Salat Olivier in the era of Nicholas II, which was in the late 1800s. “Only Russians use the word Olivier, with French roots, to call the salad. But the salad is usually known as the Russian salad in other countries,” Sebryuk noted.
For the side dish, the club prepared a typical dark, heavy rye bread, which is the staple food in Russia. It could be eaten with the soup and the salad. For the desert, there were cookies and Russian tea.
Jakub Kaczmarzyk ’16, who is of Polish descent and lives in the United States, participated in the event. He commented that the food reminded him of Christmas at home. The food that he eats in his household also includes borscht and the Salat Olivier. He said, “I am glad that there is an overlap of two cultures, Polish and Russian. I am grateful I had an opportunity to share the experience of eating the food from home with other people.”
Reimer stated that it is important to organize these types of events throughout the term. “The club hosts these dinners and incorporates these events. It lets people who don’t know anything about Russian and Eastern European culture be able to find new interests, expose themselves to different cuisines, hang out with their friends and meet new people,” she commented.
“At the beginning of February there is going to be a pierogi event. Everyone is welcome to join,” Reimer concluded.