Happy Easter!

This year, orthodox Easter exceptionally falls on the same date as western Christian Easter. As you may know, the orthodox church still follows the Julian calendar, while all other Christians switched to the Gregorian calendar a couple of centuries ago.

Russian Easter traditions include church services and religious processions (of course), baking kulich (Easter bread) and painting eggs, which are traditionally dyed red, the colour of the blood of Christ, using onion peels.

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On Easter Sunday, people greet each other with “Христос воскрес!” (Khristos voskres; Christ has risen) and reply “Воистину воскрес!” (Voistinu voskres; Truly He has risen). After that, they hug and kiss three times, for belief, hope and love.

Fortunately for most people participating it, but sadly for me, Easter also means the end of Lent. As I’ve written before, Lent is a real feast for veggies here, who are shamefully neglected the rest of the year. You can find some vegetarian products (like plant-based milk and dairy-free mayonnaise) in supermarkets, which are often marked as “постный” (Postnyi; Lenten) and most restaurants have a separate vegetarian Lenten menu.

Especially this year, I was very glad that in Russia, Lenten products and dishes are mostly even vegan instead of ‘just’ vegetarian as I set myself the challenge of not eating any animal products for 46 days. If you wonder how I managed not to starve, I invite you to have a look at my Instagram account.

Who knows maybe this was the start of long-term dietary change, like the Dagen Zonder Vlees (Days Without Meat) inspired me to go veggie a couple of years ago. However, I don’t think that’s very likely as long as we’re still in Russia, where you have to be very resourceful once Easter has passed…

Picture taken from here.

Surprising vegetable discovery: savoy cabbage

I was amazed to see savoy cabbages at the supermarket the other day. In Belgium this type of curly cabbage is very common, but I’d never seen it before in Russia. In fact, the vegetable is so rare and unknown here that they put up an information sign explaining what it is and why it is good for you. Funny, isn’t it? 🙂 Also strange that they had them on offer now, because in Belgium they’re typically known as a winter vegetable and although summer is slowly but surely coming to an end here, it’s definitely not wintertime yet.

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In general, the variety of vegetables (and fruits, too) in supermarkets here is extremely limited compared to what we’re used to in Belgium. Most vegetables that are sold are both local and seasonal, which is great for the environment, but not for a vegetarian’s nutritional needs, especially in winter! 🙂 I know, potatoes, onions, cabbage and beetroots have their merits too, but they get quite boring after a while … And anything else than that is usually not only of poor quality but also outrageously expensive. So we have to get creative: buy large quantities and freeze them, or use canned vegetables, or – a very Russian thing – go for pickled veggies! 🙂

Of course I bought a savoy cabbage right away and I’ll try it tonight using a recipe by Belgian chef Jeroen Meus with pasta, white beans and parmesan. Приятного аппетита!

“Post” – Russian Lent – a feast for veggies

I think the 40 days before Russian Easter (which will be on 1 May this year) are my favorite period of time in this country. Winter is finally on its last legs and it gets lighter, warmer and greener again. But what’s maybe even better: it’s the time of “пост” or Russian Lent.

The principle of Lent in the orthodox church is quite similar to Lent in Belgium or other catholic countries: it’s a period of fasting, in which it’s not allowed to eat certain foods. In Belgium there are hardly any people left who still participate in Lent for religious reasons. Most people who still do it (there aren’t many) are rather motivated to set themselves a challenge, to care better for their health or to reduce their ecological footprint, hence the very popular campaign “Days without meat” (which was in fact what triggered me to become a vegetarian!).

In Russia, however, Lent is still mostly religiously inspired. And it’s a lot stricter too. Whereas in catholicism, there are – as far as I know – no clear rules anymore (some people don’t drink alcohol, some people don’t eat meat, some no candy). In the orthodox church, fasting means: no meat, no fish, no dairy products, no eggs, no oil and no alcohol. On some days, even total fast is kept.

As there are still many more people practicing their faith here, Lent is a much bigger deal here too. Many restaurants have a special “Lenten menu”, all dishes of which are completely vegetarian and often even vegan! Having such a hard time trying to find veggie options all the rest of the year (even more now that I’m pregnant and salads and soft cheeses are out of the picture too) you can imagine how thrilled I am about this!

And that’s not all; I even spotted some veggie products in the supermarket the other day. They had a special “Lenten shelf” with different kinds of Alpro soy milk (our Belgian pride!), vegan sauces and dressings and vegan sausages. I tried two of the latter. One of them didn’t exactly turn out to be a sausage (although it looked like it) but some kind of paté (паштет ). I used it to make a veggie variant of the popular Belgian martino sandwich:

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The other sausages were similar to hot dog sausages and so I used them for a simple but delicious dish we got introduced to by Chilean friends: completos:

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Too bad I missed the beginning of Lent as I was in Belgium and I’ll miss the end as we’ll be in Italy. But I’m definitely already looking forward to next year!

Sharlotka apple pie 2.0

I made another attempt to make Sharlotka apple pie last weekend.

Not that the first one didn’t turn out well … it was actually delicious! But I just felt like trying something else and went for a non-vegan recipe this time, which I found here.

What I liked about the recipe was that it was extremely easy to make. It just consisted in cutting apples, mixing eggs with sugar, then adding flour, putting everything in a pan, in the oven and … done!

What I preferred about the other recipe, though, was its crumbly texture. This pie looked and tasted more like cake. Which of course is also very enjoyable, but personally I prefer crumble. Not sure however, what traditional Sharlotka pie should be like. Any ideas?

More Russian cooking endeavors

I tried some more Russian recipes! I all found them on Vegelicacy. It’s a great website with recipes for delicious vegan dishes with common ingredients that are easy to find (even in Yaroslavl!) and clear step-by-step instructions with photos. And a special section on Russian vegan recipes! 🙂

Borscht

I don’t think this beetroot soup classic needs any introduction, does it?

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Find the recipe here.

Sharlotka apple pie

I’ve never had Sharlotka apple pie before so I’m not entirely sure whether mine turned out like it should … It’s quite brittle, more like crumble than pie. But it’s sooo good! And freshly baked it smelled divine!

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Find the recipe here.

Buckwheat with vegetables

This is one of the few recipes I’ve ever tried that I could have actually written myself. This means it’s very basic, simple and fast. 🙂 Buckwheat is a grain that’s not all that common in Belgium (except on All Saints day in Limburg, when it’s time for yummy buckwheat pancakes) but it’s omnipresent here in Russia. You can even find it in the smallest grocery stores. They even sell it in those little steam bags like rice! Buckwheat is also used to make a very popular breakfast porridge called “kasha”. I’ll have to try making that one some day too!

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Find the recipe here.

Mushroom pelmeni

This is a whole other story. Not basic, not simple and certainly not fast. But definitely worth the effort! Pelmeni are dumplings. They look a bit like tortellini and the cooking process is also quite similar, but the dough is very different. Although it took a lot of time to make the pelmeni, it was actually easier than I had thought. And I even did it without a rolling pin because I realised too late we didn’t have one so I used a wine bottle instead. 🙂 Tip: also delicous cold!

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Find the recipe here.

Russian kitchen experiments

Being a vegetarian in Russia is not easy. Not only can you hardly find any veggie products in the supermarket (although I did spot tofu in some places; too bad I’m not a big fan), also going out for dinner is a challenge. In general, you have two options: a salad, usually Greek, or a dish with mushrooms. Doesn’t sound too bad, I know, and it isn’t. The problem is that it’s always about the same. I’ve eaten a loooooot of mushrooms lately!! 🙂

So as I have some time on my hands anyway, I’ve done a lot of kitchen experiments. I’ve tried making three different kinds of veggie burgers myself: one with lentils, one with black beans and one with chickpeas (our favourite!).

Veggie burgers

And as I usually can’t experience much of the Russian kitchen when going out, I’ve also made some veggie (even vegan!) versions of traditional Russian dishes thanks to the great Vegelicacy website, recommended by a friend.

The first experiment were blini. Seems a bit strange to make pancakes without eggs or milk but it turned out delicious. They were honestly some of the best pancakes I have ever had. Well, ok, let’s rephrase that: some of the best pancakes I have ever made. 😉 They even were so good that I didn’t get to take a picture of them as they were gone so fast!

The second experiment had the interesting name ‘mother in law tongue‘. They’re basically tomato pieces wrapped in eggplant slices with dill mayonnaise. Didn’t seem too difficult but due to the cumbersome process of cooking the eggplants it turned out to be quite a lot of work … Luckily it was worth it!

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The last recipe I tried, Russian vinaigrette (not a dressing but a salad), was a bit easier. All you have to do is cook potatoes and carrots and throw them together with all the other ingredients, including beetroot (I cheated and bought cooked ones 🙂 ), green peas, sauerkraut and pickled cucumbers. I was afraid it was going to be a bit bland, but it’s actually very tasty!

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Note: These are just the leftovers. The portion of the recipe was about 5 times this size! 🙂