My family’s traditional Russian recipes make an appearance every Orthodox Easter, when I can often be found in our Siem Reap kitchen baking kulich, making cabbage rolls, rolling out dough for pelmeni and vareniki, and preparing baboushka’s pink beetroot potato salad, while I recollect the family feasts of my childhood.
As I said in my introduction to the kulich recipe I shared yesterday, it’s with a heavy heart this year that I’m sharing these Orthodox Easter recipes and wishing you a Happy Easter or Schastlivoy Paskhi or Счастливой Пасхи!
As an Australian with Russian-Ukrainian heritage on my mum’s side, it’s been painful to watch Putin’s brutal bombardment of Ukraine, the senseless deaths of such spirited peoples, and a cultural rift between families and friends that could take generations to repair.
I was raised as an Australian who was ‘half-Russian’, as my grandparents were born in the in the Russian Empire, although my grandmother was born on the eve of the Russian Revolution that created the Soviet Union or USSR.
My baboushka was born in a village outside Odessa, now part of Ukraine, and my grandfather in a village near Rostov-on-Don in Russia, but he came of age in Kiev/Kyiv, then in the Russian Empire, now the Ukrainian capital.
After Putin invaded Ukraine, I asked my mother what she thought baboushka would identify as if she were still alive to see the tragedy unfolding. “I have no doubt. She was from Odessa.” Mum said. “Ukrainian. But papa was Russian.” So now I’m processing that.
As an Australian expat in Southeast Asia who hasn’t seen her family in years (damn you, pandemic), taking the time to cook my Russian family recipes over Easter and Christmas is a way for me to channel my ancestors and reconnect with my family and cultural heritage.
I’ve got a full collection of traditional Russian recipes with a few of Ukrainian origin here that includes everything from my beef Stroganoff recipe and Russian chicken noodle soup with chicken meatballs to chicken Kiev and my modern take on the mimosa salad. This shorter compilation focuses recipes for dishes that my baboushka cooked for Orthodox Easter.
My plan has long been that once we eventually complete our epic Cambodian Cookbook and Culinary History, I’ll write a cookbook cum culinary history cum memoir that not only tells the stories and shares the recipes of my family but explores the history of the post Russian and Ukrainian communities in Australia.
I’m so passionate about this book, as it will be as intimate as the Cambodian book is epic, and I believe now more than ever we need to treasure connections between cultures and communities and ordinary people and not let mad men break long cultural ties and personal relationships. I’ll tell you more about that project soon.
In the meantime, I’ve updated this compilation of the traditional Russian recipes that my baboushka made for Orthodox Easter. The only dish below that baba didn’t make for our family Easter meals was my beef Stroganoff recipe. But it’s a dish that I make, and it’s popular with our readers, so I’ve shared it here for your convenience.
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Now let me tell you about these traditional Russian Ukrainian recipes for Orthodox Easter and Christmas family meals.
Russian Recipes for Orthodox Easter from Borscht to Cabbage Rolls
Every year at Russian Easter I can be found cooking the rustic, hearty home-cooked Russian food that I miss, but don’t crave every day in the hot and humid destinations we have made our home in Southeast Asia and prior to that the Middle East.
Since Terence and I left Australia in 1998 to move abroad, we’ve mostly lived in countries with short winters and year-round warm weather, ranging from balmy to blistering, first in the UAE emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and later in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Aside from the UAE, where the icy air-conditioning contributed to our yearning for warming winter dishes (even when it was 40 degrees Celsius outside), we haven’t lived in many places with conditions favourable for making cold-weather meals.
Still, we don’t let a little weather stop us. It’s not always the temperature that drives cravings. More often that not, it’s a desire for variety. As much as we loved eating Middle Eastern food when we lived in the UAE, we’d inevitably ache for European and Asian cuisines from time to time.
Here in Asia, we find ourselves occasionally craving European food. For me, it’s often the Russian food of my youth, especially during Russian Easter and Russian Christmas when I find myself getting nostalgic and aching to make my family’s Russian recipes.
Every year at this time of year I find myself reminiscing about and longing for the long Sunday lunches and holiday feasts of home-cooked Russian food my baboushka would spend days preparing, which I’d lay out on the round oak table in the dining room of the red brick house my grandfather built in Blacktown.
At Russian Easter there’d be plates of zakuski (Russian hors d’oeuvres), including smoked fish and rollmops (pickled herrings), Hungarian salamis and cured meats, crunchy dill pickles made from papa’s own cucumbers grown in the garden, caviar-topped boiled eggs from papa’s chickens that scratched around the backyard, baskets of black bread, and bottles of vodka and beer with which to wash it all down.
In any other household that probably would have been enough to feed a family, but at baba’s the table heaved with vintage glass-cut bowls and ceramic serving dishes full of mouthwatering Russian dishes.
There was baba’s famous vinagret, a bright pink beetroot potato salad; a simple garden salad of crunchy cucumbers, sweet tomatoes and zingy onions (all from papa’s garden), swimming in vinegar and olive oil; golubtsi, plump cabbage rolls, filled with pork and beef mince, onion and carrot, baked in a rich tomato sauce; moist kotleti, Russian chicken cutlets that were like big flattened chicken meatballs; and (my favourite) big rustic casserole pots full of steaming-hot, butter-coated, Russian dumplings, pelmeni and vareniki (similar to Polish pierogi), which we smothered in tangy sour cream.
Expats and migrants who’ve made new homes abroad, long-term travellers on epic journeys around the world, and refugees who have resettled in faraway countries have this in common: after the family and friends they left behind, what they tend to miss most is their mother’s and grandmother’s cooking, and the food, flavours and specialties of home, and I’m no exception.
That’s the reason you see returning expats from the Levant at Arabian Peninsula airports, laden with boxes of honey-soaked baklava, which they cram into airplane overhead compartments – despite the fact there are perfectly good bakeries in the Gulf countries ran by their compatriots.
It’s the reason why elderly travellers from Asia, visiting family in Australia, often get targeted by Customs who know they have suitcases packed with their children’s favourites: spices and herbs (and the seeds to plant them), pickles and preserves, cakes and sweets from their homelands.
It’s one of the reasons we have a jar of Vegemite sitting in our Siem Reap kitchen cupboard for the reminder of Australia as much as its umami goodness. No matter where we come from, most of us have a strong attachment to the food from home, whether it’s our grandparents recipes from the motherland or the cuisine of our birth country. Yet we often don’t realise it until we travel, move abroad or migrate – when we are far away from home.
Familiar tastes, especially those we haven’t savoured in a while, attached to powerful memories, provoke the act of remembrance and feelings of connection and belonging, but they also inspire nostalgia and longing. So when I get the urge to make pelmeni and vareniki, it’s a bittersweet experience.
My family’s Russian recipes are a cure for the pangs of homesickness I often find myself feeling after more than two decades living abroad. Yet the act of making the dumplings and cabbage rolls and pink potato salad, of dishing the food up and laying it out as my baboushka liked, also stimulates that sense of longing and nostalgia.
As I roll out the dough on the wooden table in our Cambodian kitchen – reliving the times I helped my baba and mother and father make the hearty dumplings I associate with home and family – I’m as happy as I am sad. But by eating the food from home, I’m comforted by the flavours with which I’m familiar and I’m fond of, and I’m emotionally sustained for a time. It’s comfort food of the best kind.
Russian Recipes for Russian Easter Meals
Russian Kulich Recipe
If you haven’t yet baked your kulich or Russian Easter cake, which is essentially the equivalent to the hot cross buns for Slavic peoples of the Orthodox Church, then I suggest you do that right now and use my kulich recipe.
A Russian Easter bread laced with dried fruit and topped with lemon icing that drips down the loaf, kulich is baked in tin cans to create the cylindrical-shaped bread, and it tastes similar to Italian panettone or French brioche.
Blessed by Orthodox priests at the Easter Saturday night service in Russia, Ukraine and other Slavic countries, it is traditionally eaten between Easter Sunday and Pentecost.
My easy kulich recipe will only take you a couple of hours to make in total, most of which is resting, rising and baking time – a stark contrast to your baboushka’s kulich, which probably took her much of the day.
Russian Borscht Recipe for the Hearty Home-Cooked Soup of my Childhood
My traditional Russian borscht recipe makes a comforting vegetable soup that I think of as beetroot soup for the soul ;) Borscht has a special place in the hearts, minds and stomachs of anyone of Russian and Ukrainian heritage who grew up dunking weighty slices of black rye bread into their grandmothers’ nourishing broths.
This Russian borscht recipe will make you the hearty home-cooked soup of my childhood that my baboushka used to make and it’s my most favourite Russian dish of all. I’ve made several big batches of the stuff so far this ‘winter’ – which is saying something for someone living in sultry Southeast Asia!
A beetroot-driven vegetable soup of Russian-Ukrainian origin, my borscht recipe is garnished with fresh fragrant dill and dollops of sour cream, making it a filling meal in itself.
Before a borscht war starts: this is the borscht of my childhood growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney, Australia, to Russian grandparents who were born in the lands we now know as Ukraine when it was part of the Russian Empire, who arrived in Australia after World War II as displaced persons.
This explains why my family’s borscht recipe might be different to your borscht recipe, why it’s a deep orange-red colour rather than the ruby or purple-tinted borscht you might be more familiar with from cookbooks and food sites. (Yes, I’ve had borscht mail before!)
Best Russian Piroshki Recipe for Perfect Savoury Minced Meat-Filled Hand Pies
This Russian piroshki recipe makes the perfect savoury minced meat-filled pastries, also known as Russian hand pies, that my baboushka used to make. Piroshki are typically eaten as a snack on their own or with a bowl of borscht.
My baboushka also served piping-hot piroshki, covered in a tea towel to keep them warm, as one of an array of Russian dishes during family feasts. While my family preferred deep-fried piroshki, these Russian hand pies can also be baked. However you cook them, they taste even better the next day and will last for days.
During my university years in the mid-Eighties, baba would often send me home after a stay with a bag full of these addictive savoury buns, which our American readers call Russian hand pies. They’d be wrapped in tea towels to keep them warm and I couldn’t resist digging into my bag to sneak one to nibble on the train home.
I was almost tempted to call this a Russian-Australian piroshki recipe, because baba’s minced meat filling contained the fine, clear, bean thread noodles that come from China that are used throughout East Asia and Southeast Asia.
Easy Russian Eggplant Caviar Recipe for Ikra, the Soviet Union’s Poor Man’s Caviar
This easy Russian eggplant caviar recipe for ikra – also known as the ‘poor man’s caviar’ during the Soviet period – makes a deliciously-rich version of this traditional Russian dip, spread or side dish that’s somewhere in between the ikra my baboushka made that was sumptuous and velvety and the ikra popularised during the Soviet era that more closely resembled a diced salad.
This recipe for ikra is super easy. Please don’t let the ikra recipes you may have seen before now that say this is a ‘complex’ dish to make deter you. When prepping your ingredients, there’s a lot of dicing involved. When frying the ingredients, there’s a bit of stirring so that nothing sticks and everything is cooking evenly. But there are no complex skills involved.
Sure, it’s time-consuming. It will take you around 90 minutes to make. In terms of texture, my Russian eggplant caviar recipe is based on a combination of the old Russian ikra recipes where the ingredients were diced, and in terms of flavour, it’s based on my baboushka’s Russian ikra recipe, which was more rustic and chunky, and full of so much flavour. Of all my baba’s dishes, it was perhaps the dish that I most adored.
Russian Beetroot Potato Salad Recipe for Family Meals and Holiday Feasts
This Russian beet potato salad recipe makes vinegret (ВИНЕГРЕТ in Russian), a creamy pink potato and beetroot salad that is fragrant with dill and delightfully tangy thanks to the gherkins and capers and it’s one of my favourite Russian recipes.
Based on my baboushka’s recipe, this pink potato salad was a staple at family meals. There would rarely be a Sunday lunch at baba and papa’s Blacktown home without this salad on the table and my mum made it every time we had a backyard barbecue.
Despite the fact I can make it in my sleep, this beetroot and potato salad turns out a little differently each time and the main difference is the colour. I explain why in my tips to making this Russian beet potato salad recipe below.
Russian Pelmeni Recipe for Russian Dumplings Like My Baboushka Made
This Russian pelmeni recipe makes the Russian dumplings stuffed with savoury pork and beef mince that are boiled and served with sour cream and fresh fragrant dill. This is hearty home-cooked Russian comfort food at its best.
Made in big batches these Russian-Ukrainian dumplings are typically shared as a family meal, especially for Russian Christmas, Easter, Sunday lunches and dinners. My Russian pelmeni recipe makes Russian dumplings just like my baboushka, my mum, and her baboushka made.
I grew up eating pelmeni, which I learnt to make as a child by watching my Russian grandmother and mother. After baba died, my mum and dad and little sister continued making these comforting Russian dumplings at home, and we’d gorge ourselves on them whenever we all got together for the holidays.
After Terence and I left Australia in 1998 to move to the Middle East, we created our own tradition of making a Russian feast every excuse we had, from Russian Christmas and Russian Easter to whenever the weather turned even a little bit cold for our stupidly short ‘winters’, when I’d don my apron and get the rolling pin out and channel my Russian baboushka.
Russian Potato Vareniki Recipe for Mash and Caramelised Onion Filled Dumplings
My Russian potato vareniki recipe makes the boiled Russian dumplings stuffed with rustic mashed potato and caramelised onion that my baboushka used to make for family meals, particularly for Russian Christmas, Russian Easter, and the seemingly never-ending Sunday lunches that turned into dinners.
It was my responsibility to set the dining table and carry the dishes from the kitchen to dining room and I have to confess that I set the casserole pot filled to the brim with potato vareniki as close to my place setting as possible. My baboushka would serve the vareniki swimming in butter in a casserole pot, sprinkled with fresh fragrant dill, and accompanied by dishes of sour cream (smetana).
If our whole family was gathering – my grandparents, my parents, uncles and their partners – baba would make big batches of potato vareniki, vareniki filled with ‘farmers cheese’ that was like a firm salty cottage cheese, and minced meat filled pelmeni, above, as we all had our favourites. My dad, uncles and husband Terence loved the meat-filled pelmeni, my mother and I adored the mashed potato filled vareniki, and baba and mum loved the cheese filled vareniki. Papa had a little of each.
Any leftovers would be sent home in casserole pots (my baboushka seemed to have an endless supply of the things) or refried the next day for breakfast, brunch or lunch (depending on how bad the hangovers were!) for those lucky enough to stay overnight.
Pan Fried Dumplings Recipe for Pelmeni and Vareniki Leftovers
This is what you do with leftover pelmeni and vareniki the next day…
Classic Russian Garden Salad Goes on the Table for Every Russian Meal
My classic Russian garden salad recipe makes a simple green salad that my baboushka served with every family meal when I was growing up in Sydney in the Seventies. As simple as the salad sounds, it was the perfect companion to the heartier dishes she served that I’ve shared here.
My baba’s garden salad was exceptional, because most of the ingredients were just picked from papa’s backyard vegetable garden. Baba and papa had a market garden in Seven Hills when they were younger, and papa grew vegetables in their backyard at Blacktown – and also had chooks, made pickles and distilled vodka.
Papa’s tomatoes were the sweetest I’ve ever tasted, his radishes the zestiest, and his cucumbers the crunchiest. Those three ingredients there – tomato, cucumber and radish – comprised Papa’s breakfast each day, along with a slice of Russian black bread, perhaps a boiled egg, maybe some pickled herring, and a sneaky shot of his homemade vodka.
Russian Cabbage Rolls Recipe for a Petite Version of Baboushka’s Golubtsy
I adore my baboushka’s Russian cabbage rolls recipe that makes golubtsy (голубцы) – cabbage rolls stuffed with a savoury minced pork, beef, carrot, and rice filling, and cloaked in a rich homemade tomato sauce. They were a feature of countless family meals, and not only for Russian Christmas and Easter, but for our family’s regular weekend lunches that rolled into dinner.
But baba’s cabbage rolls were a meal in themselves. They were so filling that as a child I would eat one and then I’d struggle to fit anything else in, my eyes darting around the table at the abundance of food and all the other Russian dishes that I disappointingly couldn’t fit in. Of course, I would squeeze a bit of everything in, because that’s what we did at family meals. I just wished they’d been smaller.
So I made a couple of tweaks with this recipe: I’ve reduced the size of baba’s cabbage rolls so that they are rather petite, meaning you can eat more than one, and I’ve cooked the savoury filling for the golubtsy before rolling it and that’s because, as much as I love baba’s recipe (which requires that the meat filling mixture be raw), this allows you to speed up the process (which home cooks continually complain is too long).
Russian Kotleti Recipe for Delicious Deep-Fried Russian Style Chicken Meat Patties
This Russian kotleti recipe makes one of my favourite Russian recipes for the delicious deep-fried Russian style chicken meat patties, or chicken cutlets or chicken meatballs if you prefer, that my baboushka served with mashed potatoes and a garden salad or as one dish of an array of plates if being eaten as part of a shared family feast as so many of our meals were.
Baba would buy cuts of meat from the butcher’s in Blacktown on her daily morning shop and Papa would mince the meat she’d bought in his old hand-grinder in the garage that was fixed to a rustic handmade wooden work bench that he’d made himself. Papa had also built my grandparents’ and parents houses. The shiny steel mincer sat amongst grease-covered tools, beneath a ceiling of cob-webs. From a young age, it intrigued me how papa kept the thing so clean amongst all that grime.
If there was a big gang of us arriving for a Russian Christmas or Easter feast or one of the countless long Sunday lunches – baba and papa, mum and dad, my two uncles and their girlfriends and later wives, maybe a priest or my grandparents’ friends or neighbours; years later, my husband Terence, and occasionally a friend I’d invite to join us – then the kotleti would be served in a casserole dish at the centre of the dining table.
Russian Beef Stroganoff Recipe for a Retro Classic from a St Petersburg Palace Kitchen
This Russian beef Stroganoff recipe makes a deliciously rich and creamy rendition of the braised beef dish that was cooked centuries ago in the grand kitchen of the glorious pink Stroganov Palace in St Petersburg. Rich in history and incredibly comforting, this is the hearty dish that you need to make right now and it’s one of my favourite Russian recipes.
My mum used to make the Russian beef Stroganoff that was so very fashionable in the 1970s and is now a retro-cool classic, an aristocratic Russian dish with peasant roots, refined in the Stroganov dynasty’s palace kitchen by a French chef, which would go on to become hugely popular everywhere from China and Hong Kong to Australia, the UK and USA.
My Russian beef Stroganoff recipe is based on a combination of my memories of the dish, the beef Stroganoff that we ate with my mum in Moscow at Café Pushkin (considered Moscow’s best beef Stroganoff), the earliest documented Russian beef Stroganoff recipes by Elena Molokhovets in A Gift to Young Housewives, dating to 1861, and Pelageya Aleksandrova-Ignatieva’s beef Stroganoff recipe in Practical Basics of Culinary Arts, dating to 1899, and the beef Stroganoff that travelled to China and Hong Kong with white Russian émigrés.
It’s fantastic with shoestring fries (the traditional side) or creamy mashed potatoes, gherkins, and a Russian garden salad.
Please do let us know in the comments below if you make any of our traditional Russian recipes for Russian Orthodox Easter or any other meals, as we’d love to know how they turn out for you.