Every year, after year, you worry about spending the New Year’s the right way – with the right group of people, in the right place, in the right outfit and with the right food and drinks. And most of us the New Year turns out to be nothing like we planned or hoped for – sometimes to the best, sometimes to the worst, but never disappointing if it involves least one of those pleasant holiday “ingredients” such as friends or family.
Having grown up in various places of the world, I had a chance to celebrate Christmas and New Year in Russia, France, Germany, and USA – and each of these locations had its own unique way of holiday preparation and celebration, and - holiday meal is one of them.
Just a few days before Christmas and New Year you might wonder what other cultures have for holiday meals (or not, depending on what’s your interest level in other cultures). Either way, I know how some people from other (non-American) cultures incorporate their authentic traditions into American way of holiday celebrations, and I got to appreciate my mom’s cooking of a traditional Christmas and/or New Year’s meal that consists of Russian, American and European cuisines.
This to say, I’d love to share with you a very traditional New Year’s holiday meal that Russian people make, regardless of where they are. Before I start talking about the holiday meal, I'd like to mention that fact that Russians regard New Year’s celebration as the rest of the world regards to Christmas celebration - as one of the most important holidays of a year.
That is – for Russians New Year’s Eve, 31st of December, is the time spent with families and friends who gather around a big table with the dishes prepared out of the best traditional delicatessen that Russians sometimes can’t afford to have on a regular basis, like red and black caviar, champagne, smoked sturgeon, etc. The Christmas tree in Russia is called the New Year’s tree (or 'novogodnaya elka') and is usually set up and decorated no earlier than a week before the New Year's eve, and, usually, it’s kept in the house for about two weeks until the Russian Orthodox Christmas day – January 7th.
The first part of the New Year’s evening celebration is dedicated solely to the family and closed ones – games, holiday televised concerts, toasts, lighting Bengal lights, wishing wishes, boomerangs and sharing a glass of champagne with a next door neighbor over one's apartment balcony - it’s all part of the New Year’s evening.
The second (and the longest part) of the celebration is for the adults to leave kids (if any) with grandparents at home and head to join the friends for some wild adult time of more champagne, games, city walks and rides, toasts, and dancing – some of which are costumed, or masqueraded loud parties, while others prefer to host parties for friends at home the homey-kind of a new year celebration .
The Russian adult New Year’s celebrations last way into the late morning hours, and conclude with a trip to private (if the new year party is at someone's country house with its own sauna) or to any of many city’s saunas and steaming baths, believed by Russians to be exactly what one needs after a long night of drinking, dancing and eating – to sober up, cleanse and relax. And these traditional trips to spas are not limited to Russians in Russia only – I’ve known Eastern Europeans around the USA who keep the traditional Russian celebration as they had it back home in Russia – with family and adult parties, Russian cuisine, and trips to sauna in the morning.
It’s ain't any different in Washington, DC as well. Just ask the service staff at the popular “Russian” hang out Korean spa place, Spa World, in Centreville, Virginia. Open 24/7 spa center has hosted many Russians based in Virginia, Maryland and DC over many morning-after New Year's celebrations.
Here are the most traditional Russian dishes one should expect to see at the Russian New Year’s celebration:
Salad Olivier (or as some Russians call it – “winter salad”), as this is the salad that has all the winter seasonal produce that is not specifically grown in winter, but that lasts through winter, such as potato, carrots, etc. and canned pickled vegetables and meat). This salad is by far the most traditional dish for New Year’s celebrations in Russian homes.
Mushroom "Julienne" – is one of the most standard appetizers of any Russian holiday dinners, and it can be found in any Russian restaurants in USA. Baked mushrooms with onions, cheese and some sour cream in a small metal pot that’s used to served it in as well.
Herring “Under a Fur Coat” – I can see why this name of a dish might sound strange to someone who has had no exposure to Russian, Finish, Ukrainian and/or some other Eastern European culture. This dish looks as a cake from far, and up close – it’s a layered salad, pickled herring on the bottom, a layer of onion on top of it, a layer of boiled beets on top of the onion, a layer of boiled potatoes on top of the onion, a layer of beets again,and to top it all off with some mayonnaise, spices, greens and shredded cheese. The secret to this dish is to let it "soaked" in for a few hours before it’s served.
Piroshki – or the Russian bite-size empanadas, traditionally filled with either: potatoes and onion, mushrooms, cabbage, grounded beef, or eggs with onion. These are homemade from start to end as well, including the dough.
And not a single New Year’s celebration goes without any pickled vegetables – to pickle vegetables is a very Russian traditional thing to do. Many Russians who own summer houses manage gardens of various produce, some of which they pickle at the end of summer for consumption on various holiday occasions. Vodka, to be said, goes better if it’s accompanied with pickled vegetables, but not only the ones who consumer alcoholic drinks favor pickled food – even children at younger age acquire a preferred taste for a piece of some pickled vegetable. That's just Russians...
As the Russians say to wish you a happy new year: S Novim Godom! S Novim Schastiem! Which means "With the New Year! With the New Happiness!"