This week was a little different from every other week so far; I cooked food from Belarus, my first Slavic country.
Belarus is a landlocked country located in Eastern Europe and used to be known as the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (Byelorussian SSR).
Belarus lost almost half its territory to Poland after the Polish-Soviet war, but regained much of it after the Soviet invasion of Poland. Belarus’ current borders were finalized after World War II, which was devasting to the country’s population and economy.
During the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Belarus gained independence. There has been only one free election since then, in which the current president, Alexander Lukashenko, was elected. He runs an authoritarian government and Belarus ranks low when it comes to freedom of the press and civil liberties.
What Do People Eat in Belarus?
Belarusian cuisine is very similar to that of Russia and other former Soviet countries, but there are influences from Poland, Germany, Italy, and France. Some dishes that are popular today draw from Jewish cooking, such as potato babka.
Potatoes are extremely popular in Belarus. They are widely available and incorporated into many meals, either as part of a main or as a side dish. Other common vegetables include cabbages, beets, mushrooms, and cucumbers.
Sour cream is a very common condiment, but so is mayonnaise. They are often included in Belarusian salad dressings, with the other popular alternative being white vinegar and sunflower oil.
Rye bread became popular since it was easier to grow rye than wheat, though wheat bread is not hard to find nowadays. Traditional Belarusian vodka is also made primarily from rye, though there are other varieties too. Vodka is a popular drink, but so is mead.
Meat was once pretty scarce; instead, legumes were the main protein. Over the years, meat has been incorporated into many meals, especially pork, often in the form of bacon or sausages. Seafood doesn’t show up in too many dishes, as Belarus has no ocean access. But you can find pickled herrings and various kinds of lake fish.
When it comes to traditional desserts and sweets, honey and fruits such as apples and berries were common components. Ice cream has become pretty popular, but some older dishes are still enjoyed today.
What I Made
- Holodnik (Cold Beetroot Soup)
- Potato Babka
- Machanka (Sausage and Beer Soup)
- Draniki (Potato Pancakes)
- Nalisniki (Filled Crepes)
- Krambambula (Spiced Honey Vodka)
Scroll down to read about other popular Belarusian dishes I didn’t make!
Holodnik (Cold Beetroot Soup)
Holodnik is like a summer version of borscht, which is a popular beetroot soup not only in Belarus, but in Russia, Ukraine, and Poland. It’s getting warm here so I thought this would be a nice refreshing dinner. It’s extremely simple to make. Just roast some beetroots, then grate them and put them in water, seasoned with lemon juice and salt. Add cucumber, dill, and chives, and top with a hard-boiled egg and maybe a dollop of sour cream, and that’s it. I completely forgot the sour cream until I’d started eating, and I have to say the holodnik was much better with it. The beetroot flavor was really mild, even though I used the lesser amount of water called for in the recipe. Beetroots are just beginning to come into season so maybe they would taste better in a month or so. Either way, this was still quite good.
I followed the recipe from Olga’s Flavor Factory, which suggests serving with potatoes. I boiled some potatoes and tossed with melted butter, garlic, dill, and chives, and they made an excellent side dish.
Potato babka is like a cake made of finely grated potato mixed with sautéed onion and bacon, best served with sour cream. I also got this recipe from Olga’s Flavor Factory.
I had to grate four pounds of potatoes for this recipe, and although the recipe said you can use a food processor, it also said it was better to grate by hand. So I did! The potato grating takes a while, but I think it was well worth it. As well as the sauteed onions that go into this recipe, there’s some grated raw onion too. The recipe author says this helps prevent the grated potatoes from discoloring, and she’s right. I grated the onion first, and whenever I finished grating a potato into the bowl I stirred the mixture. My potatoes never turned gross and gray. This was really delicious! I served it with a simple salad.
Machanka (Sausage and Beer Soup)
Machanka is a simple soup made primarily from sausage, beer, and sour cream. Crepes or draniki (next dish) are common accompaniments. I went with the draniki, since I already wanted to make them. So although I used the recipe from My Delicious Meals, I did not make the crepes, just the machanka. I’m sure the crepes would be great too.
For some reason, this soup tasted really buttery, even though there wasn’t much butter in it. This was a good thing, of course. The beer flavor was definitely there, but not overwhelming. To me, this was preferable, because I actually don’t like beer unless it’s cooked into something. This also means I don’t know much about beer except that there are different colors. For this recipe I used Stella Artois, which is apparently a pilsner. It’s what I usually use when a recipe calls for beer and doesn’t specify what kind, because it’s one of the few I can get in a single serve and my husband likes it so he will drink whatever I don’t use (he only likes certain beers).
Draniki (Potato Pancakes3)
Draniki is considered the national dish of Belarus. These are little fried potato pancakes or fritters, and they often accompany machanka, above. They can also be served as an appetizer or snack with sour cream, which is how I ate the leftovers. That probably would have made for a more interesting photo; the above is from the night I ate them with my machanka.
I followed the recipe from Anna Voloshyna. I found it to be very easy, and my draniki turned out delicious!
Nalisniki (Filled Crepes)
Nalisniki are crepes that can be filled with a variety of fillings, but cottage cheese seemed to be the most traditional so that’s what I used. I think they were supposed to get some color on them, but I took them off the stove when they were cooked rather than wait to color them. This is because they get baked after they’re filled, and I guess I wanted to make sure they didn’t get too brown in the oven. I needn’t have worried; after the cooking time they still looked like this. So next time I think I should cook the crepes a little longer.
Someone from the Belarus subreddit kindly showed me this nalisniki recipe fridge magnet, which I thought was really cool. There’s a whole series of them, all with traditional Belarusian recipes on them. I followed the nalisniki recipe from this magnet. For the filling, the cottage cheese is mixed with sour cream and sugar, but the recipe only indicated an amount for the cottage cheese. So I just added sour cream and sugar until I liked the taste and texture. I think I ended up with too much filling; I used it all up but I think the crepes were a bit overfilled.
So, ultimately, I probably didn’t make these completely accurately, but they ended up tasting good and that’s what matters, right?
Krambambula (Spiced Honey Vodka)
One of the first suggestions given to me in response to my post on the Belarus subreddit was to make mead. I didn’t have the time for that, nor did I want to pay for that much honey, and it wasn’t something I was comfortable trying. But then I found out about this krambambula, which I was told would be an appropriate thing to make instead. It’s basically vodka infused with honey, cinnamon, cloves, and cinnamon. I think the spices can vary somewhat, as can the amount of honey.
I followed this recipe from Moonshiners’ Club, but added an extra tablespoon of honey, which was in line with some other recipes I found. After leaving the mixture for 10 days, I wasn’t sure I had a good way to strain out the sediment. At least, until I tried pouring through a coffee filter. That worked pretty well, and I now have sediment-free krambambula!
This is supposed to be enjoyed warm, which is how I drank it the first time. But it’s been getting hot here so I tried it cold, and it was still pretty good. Though I do have to admit, it was better warm.
Other Popular Belarusian Dishes
- Smazhenka – Belarusian pizza. The base is usually on the thicker side and the dough is more like a batter than a regular pizza dough. Although you can find many familiar toppings such as ham, sausage, and of course, cheese, you may also find sour cream beaten with egg, or a pizza sauce made of ketchup and mayonnaise.
- Vereshchaka – originally a variation of machanka, today vereshchaka is often considered a dish on its own. It’s a pork stew which also usually includes onion, beetroot and rye bread crumbs for thickening. Usually, it’s served with buckwheat pancakes.
- Tsibriki – potato balls fried in lard, often served as a snack with sour cream and beer.
This was a smaller week as far as the number of recipes goes, but it was a good one. My favorite dish was easily the potato babka, though all the food from Belarus I made was pretty good.
Next week, I will be cooking food from Belgium.