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Marking the border between Europe and Asia, the Ural Mountains are one of the most beautiful and iconic ranges in Russia. It is a vast region that spans from the Arctic Ocean through to Kazakhstan, which touches the Volga River, dips into Siberia and includes the FIFA World Cup host city Yekaterinburg as its unofficial capital. You could easily mistake Ural cuisine for standard Russian fare, because many of the area’s dishes are common throughout the nation. However, taste any one of the warming and comforting meals that are ethnic to the region, and it is easy to see how many of them quickly became pervasive in Russia. See for yourself with these classic meals.
Russians love a stuffed dumpling, and these common favourites actually originated from the Urals. Little moreish parcels of meat and vegetable are wrapped up in pastry, similar to ravioli or the vareniki. Stuff them with combinations of fish, cabbage, mushrooms and radish for an authentic local taste. They are served roasted with a dollop of sour cream or in a light broth. Either way, they are delicious.
Cold soups are popular throughout Eastern Europe in summer, because they are an easy seasonal adaptation of a winter classic. Okrashka is a cold Russian soup made from a kvass (fermented rye drink) and sour cream-based broth and is a summer time favourite. The broth is poured over chopped cucumbers, radish, boiled egg, shallots, boiled potatoes and minced meat and then served with dill. It’s easy, quick, healthy and refreshing. You can easily add sauerkraut and swap the meat for fish.
Everybody loves carb-on-carb, and this old Soviet staple is the ultimate comfort food. Hugely popular behind the Iron Curtain but not that common outside of the Urals, shangis are a savoury bun, similar to a pizza, that is often topped with buttery mashed potato. While mash is the most common topping, shangis can also be loaded up with cheese, kasha (a kind of porridge) or sour cream and brushed with melted butter. During Soviet times, there were cafes dedicated to this simple, delicious stodge called shanezhnye, which served up warm buns with a cup of hot tea.
A type of cherry known in Russian as cheremuha, and native to northern Europe and northern Asia and common throughout the Urals. The fruit can be used for varniki stuffing, often sweetening cottage cheese, as well as for infusing liqueurs. To make bird cherry cake, the fruit is left to dry in the sun and then ground down – including the pit – to make a flour which has an aroma and taste of almond, chocolate and cherry – delish! This flour is added to a sponge cake batter, which is already laden with yoghurt to make it dense and heavy. Once baked, the sponge is layered with a sweet sour cream and can sometimes have a little crunch thanks to granules of the fruit’s stone that managed to escape – an added bonus to an already decadent treat. The bird cherry flour is also commonly added to pelmeni dough mix.
A layered pie similar to the Tatar wedding classic, Gubadiya, and technically a form of pirogi. Kurnik layers chicken, mushroom, rice, eggs and dried fruit and is also a dish brought out at weddings. Its round shape and the egg-chicken combination make it a potent symbol of eternity, wholeness and fertility. Outside of weddings, it is still a delicious dish and traditional recipes call for a layer of pancake both at the top and bottom of the pie – another hearty, warming dish.
An absolute regional treat, this traditional Ural dish is virtually unknown elsewhere, yet quite common in Perm and the northwest of the Sverdlovsk region, of which Yekaterinburg is capital of. Posikunchiki is a small fried pastries with spiced minced meat and onion filling that look like a smaller version of the Tatar cheburek, another meat-filled fried turnover and a similar idea to an Italian calzone. Made from a flatbread, it is great as a snack or a starter.
Simple yet refreshing and flavoured with berries local to the region, Mors is a berry based cordial, generally made with lingonberry and cranberry as well as with bird cherry. Berries are boiled down with sugar to make a syrup and then water is added. While it is non-alcoholic and non-carbonated, it is often used in cocktails or as a vodka mixer.