Russian Staple Ingredients+Dill Sauce Recipe

Herbs and Vegetables
I wanted to start off my food writing "career" by talking about Russian food. Russian cuisine is so often overlooked! It's simple and filling, yet often bland recipes are constantly overshadowed by flashy fusion cuisine and spicier, more flavorful fare. Devoid of trendy ingredients and 'superfoods', I rarely see my native cuisine featured on Instagram or food blogs. I've had to scour Sydney to find a familiar Cyrillic sign advertising delicious treats like halva. It's quite a change from home, where Russian delis are common throughout the whole city.

Since I can't just pick up a dozen vareniki at any given deli or church hall, I've had to experiment with Russian recipes at home. Usually I can't resist tweaking a recipe, adding a little something extra or different each time, but when it comes to Russian food I cook by the book, so to say, because I want it to taste like home. If it doesn't taste like my mum made it, what's the point?

Recently, I was grating up some potatoes for a latke dinner, the idea for this post popped into my head. I sent out a question via snapchat to most of my friends - a wide variety of people ranging from Eastern European, to African American, to Australian. "What do you think of when you think of Russian food?" While I had a few accurate answers, and honestly one very ignorant and offensive one, the majority of answers were "I don't know".  Since so few people understood what Russian food is all about, I figured why not do a quick run down on the basic ingredients, and include a recipe that includes many of our food's staple ingredients. Click through to read more.

[latke topped with dill sauce and smoked salmon]
I feel like the stereotype of Russian food is "potatoes, cabbage, and borscht", and that isn't wrong - it's just very limited. Here's a closer look at what we really eat.

There's no one single meat that dominates Russian cuisine as a whole. Actually, meat can be a complicated subject. The most popular meats vary region to region, and can range from familiar chicken, pork, and lamb to more 'exotic' fare like goat, horse, and game meats. Meat is often eaten in sausage form (kolbasa), or in small pockets of dough called pirozhki. Consumption of eggs and fish is also regional. Fish is most commonly eaten in coastal areas, with salmon and herring being among the most popular. Pickled herring and smoked salmon are some of my favorite delicacies - I constantly crave them!

Hearty roots and low growing vegetables dominate Russian cuisine. Potatoes (kartoshka), onion (luk), cabbage (kaputsa), and turnips (repa) are probably the most widespread. Vegetables are often boiled on their own, or served in soups like borscht, a beetroot soup, or shchi, which is cabbage based. Pickling is another popular way to preserve and serve vegetables. Mushrooms (grib), cucumber (ogurets), and beetroot (svekla) are the most common pickled veggies you'll find. Of course, kvashenaya kapusta, the Russian version of sauerkraut is also widely used.

Fruit is a bit less common in Russian cuisine. Apples (yabloko), cherries (vishnya), and berries (yagody) are the most easily available fruits. Fruit is often used for making jams, fruit soups like kisel, or as flavoring for morozhenoe, a richer version of ice cream. Sometimes apples are pickled and served along with kvashenaya kapusta for added sweetness, but I believe the practice has fallen out of favor.

Sour cream (smetana) is the base ingredient of many sauces - varying from the dill sauce i'm about to share with you, to the Stroganoff sauce many of you are already familiar with. Sour cream is actually slightly gentler on lactose intolerant tummies - a common allergy in Asia, making it the most popular dairy ingredient by far. Kefir, a beverage made of fermented milk, is also quite popular in some regions. Cheese is fairly uncommon, aside from tvorog, which is similar to cottage cheese. Due to current import bans, most types of cheese are difficult to get in Russia.

Traditionally, spices aren't used in large amounts in Russian cuisine, so we tend to lean on herbs to add flavor. The most commonly used, and also my personal favorite herbs to cook with, are parsley (petrushka), chives (zeleney luk), bay leaves (lavrovey list), and of course, dill (ukrop). Many westerners seem to be strongly opposed to dill outside of dill pickles! I don't understand it at all - I adore the complexity of the slightly sour, herby flavor! Garlic (chesnok), horseradish (krehn) and vinegar (uksus) are also common flavoring agents. Russian food is rarely spicy, and is mainly comprised of sour, bitter, savoury, and salty flavors.

Mayonnaise has become a favorite among Russians as a dip, a salad dressing, a sauce base - sometimes it's even eaten on it's own. Often times, mayo is used in place of sour cream, either due to preference, ease of availability, or milk allergy. Personally I can't stand the stuff, so you won't be seeing recipes for Herring in a Fur Coat or Olivier Salad anytime soon. 
To start off my food series, and tie up this post, I want to share a very simple dill sauce recipe. This quick and easy sauce is best served on latke (potato pancakes), with fish, or as a dip for veggies. It's similar to ranch dressing in flavor and appearance, with a richer, creamier texture. This sauce could also be compared to Greek tzatziki sauce, without the mint.

Dill Sauce
200ml sour cream or greek yogurt
1/3 cup cucumber, peeled, diced
1/4 cup fresh dill, roughly chopped
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
1/8 cup chives, finely chopped
salt+pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and chill for at least 2 hours before serving. This sauce holds for about a week in the fridge, with the herby flavors getting stronger over time. 
Parsley Bay Leaf Chives Dill
Its hard to comprehensively cover Russian cuisine, the variety of ingredients is as vast as the country. Most recipes vary regionally, and each of Russia's 85 subdivisions has something unique to offer. Everything I shared in this post is based off of the foods I grew up eating and the recipes I'm familiar with. Of course there is so much more, and I hope we can explore new recipes together. Let me know what kind of food posts you'd like to see in the comments.


  1. This was so fun to read! I love the dill sauce recipe. We use dill somewhat, but not as much as I'd like. We normally just pickle okra, but I'd love to start doing other veggies. Thanks for this!!

    1. Really glad you enjoyed it! I've never tried okra, but I'd like to. I'm thinking about getting into pickling my own veggies.