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January 29, 2014

Medal-worthy menu

Olympics a fine excuse to explore Russian food

When Americans think of Russian food, it’s generally the cliches — the beet soup known as borscht, or caviar-topped pancakes called blini. And they imagine both washed down with copious amounts of vodka.

Admittedly, those play a role. But traditional Russian cuisine is so much broader than that, encompassing a variety of dumplings, pungent preserved vegetables, smoked and salted fish, and meats like wild game and crawfish. Not your traditional American fare to nosh while watching sports, but certainly fitting choices if you’re planning to watch the Winter Olympics, which are being held in Russia this year.

“For Americans, it’s pretty specific to drink beer, eat pizza, eat wings,” says Yevgeniy Khorishko, press officer at the Russian embassy in Washington. “There is no such tradition in Russia.”

Which is why when Olya Morgen and her husband, Brian, sit down to watch the Winter Games, which start next week, they’re planning to enjoy a feast of potato salad and pirozhki.

“We’ll munch and watch,” says Morgen, a 33-year-old chiropractor from Arlington, Va., who emigrated from Moscow in 1991. “Brian loves it. The pirozhki are his favorite.”

Need help getting a taste of Russia for your own viewing party? Consider starting with Russian potato salad, also called Olivier after the 19th-century Belgian chef who created it.

Potato salad remains one of Russia’s most beloved dishes. A diced potato salad originally accompanied by luxurious items such as crawfish and grouse, Olivier generally incorporates peas, carrots, salted cucumbers and sometimes other vegetables in a rich mayonnaise dressing. Today, however, the meats are more likely to be chicken, ham or a bologna-like sausage. The salad is an absolute requirement on any Russian holiday table.

“In Russia, it’s very famous,” Alexander Lokhin, executive chef at the Russian restaurant Mari Vanna in Washington, said through a translator. He doctors American mayonnaise with pickle juice and egg yolk for the Olivier he serves at the restaurant. “All holidays, we have Olivier, especially for New Year’s Eve.”

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