New Russian cuisine began gaining ground around 10 years ago, when the country’s leading chefs began rummaging through the storerooms of the past for ideas for new, modern recipes. They remembered the pickles eaten in peasants’ huts; the porridge and stew that languished for hours atop gently-cooling, wood-burning stoves; the jelly-like texture of stewed oats, and the tang of Russian sbiten with honey. Then they began creating.
These chefs used the same ancient ingredients as generations past: the leavened wort and herbs, the berries which thrive in northern lands, and the roots which are stocked for long, hard winters. But unlike their historical counterparts, modern chefs were able to place these flavours in a new context. They embraced the opportunity to travel the world and learn new techniques they could apply back home.
Just like similar movements across Scandinavia and the Baltics, this blend of old and new has provoked a powerful response at home and abroad, with three Russian restaurants included in the prestigious list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2019.
At Richter Restaurant — based at the 5-star hotel of the same name on Moscow’s Pyatnitskaya Street — we have a slightly different story. We’re a vegetarian restaurant that tries to make the world a friendlier place to live in, all while keeping taste as our top priority. No matter the ideology which lies behind it, the food on our plates should always meet the very highest standards.
I’ve been inspired by modern Italian and French cuisine, where chefs such as Allan Passard and Rene Redzepi use local produce brought to the restaurant by the farmers themselves, or pre-prepared by other local companies. I wanted this same passion for good, regional food and for local cooperation to be the key in our own Russian cuisine.
Together with the restaurant’s brand-confectioner, Evgeny Shchur, I travelled to Dagestan, where we taught local children vegetarian gastronomy and visited the Pavel Shvets Winery in Crimea, where we gave dinners that combined vegetarian dishes and biodynamic wine. We learnt about traditional posekunchiki, or small meat pies, in Perm, and traditional tonyr ovens in Armenia. Each trip enriched my own understanding of food, and of a new, Russian food culture.
But I don’t think I should be the only one to explore. These are the recipes from my adventure into Russian cuisine that I want to share.
Apricot kasha with hemp seeds
(Serves 2 – 3)
This is a dish found throughout the south of Russia – I picked up the recipe in the city of Makhachkala, in Dagestan. From mid-summer to late autumn, locals are bombarded by such a surplus of apricots and peaches that they finally came up with the idea of making porridge from the fruit itself, without using any grains. It’s served with a paste of ground hemp seeds mixed with honey. The raw ingredients for the paste — called urbech — is made from hemp that grows wild in the nearby mountains. It doesn’t contain any cannabinoids, but a lot of protein and valuable fats.
— 500g peaches or apricots (fresh, tinned, or pureed)
— ½ tbsp semolina flour
— 100g hemp paste (but feel free to use almond or pistachio paste instead)
— 50g liquid honey
— To taste: Jerusalem artichoke syrup (optional)
Blend the fruit and add Jerusalem artichoke syrup or sugar if desired. Pour the fruit into a saucepan and place over a medium heat. Stirring constantly, bring the porridge to a boil, add the semolina, and cook over a low heat for another five minutes. Mix the hemp paste with the honey and water to produce a thick, sweet paste. Serve the porridge in a deep bowl with a couple of spoonfuls of the hemp mixture on top.
Parsnip cream soup with buckwheat popcorn and fried okra
Traditionally, Russian villages spent the entire winter period eating root vegetables — usually stored in people’s cellars — and grain, which was used to feed both locals and livestock. Buckwheat in particular is a traditional Russian dish, packed with a rich nutritional breakdown which makes it similar to other superfoods like quinoa or wild rice.
For the soup:
— 100g parsnips
— 60g leeks
— 20g shallots
— 100g potatoes
— 20g vegetable oil
— 50g quince
— 500ml water
— 50g raw cashews
For the popcorn and topping:
— 100g brown buckwheat
— 200g vegetable oil
— 200g okra (can be replaced with green asparagus)
— A handful of micro greens
— To taste: salt
Peel the parsnips, potatoes, leeks, and peel and core the quince peel. Wash the leeks thoroughly and cut the white part of the vegetable into rings. Cut the potatoes, quince, and parsnips into 2x2cm cubes. Fry the leeks and shallots in oil for 1 minute, before adding the cashews, potatoes, parsnips, and quince. Fry for approximately 3 minutes while stirring constantly, and season to taste. Add the boiling water and simmer for about 20 minutes until the ingredients are completely cooked. Pour the mixture into a blender to create the soup.
If you’re short on time, then simply boil the buckwheat and fry it lightly in vegetable oil. To make the popcorn properly, however, start by boiling the buckwheat until it is almost cooked and slightly crumbly. Next, spread the buckwheat on a flat baking sheet, and place in a steam oven at 80C for 3 hours in order to dry. (You can also leave the buckwheat at room temperature for a longer period of time if you want the buckwheat to dry naturally.)
When the buckwheat has dried, it’s ready for frying. Heat up a pan of oil until it reaches 200C, and place a small handful of buckwheat into the vegetable oil. It’ll only take 15–30 seconds to cook, at which point the buckwheat will rise to the surface. You can then remove it from the oil and place on a paper towel to soak up the oil. Repeat this process until all of the buckwheat has been fried.
Before serving the soup, cut your okra or asparagus lengthwise and fry them gently with vegetable oil. Warm up the soup and pour it into bowls before placing the okra on top. Sprinkle with buckwheat and the micro greens.
Dolma with goat cheese and raspberry-beet sauce
The idea of wrapping grape leaves around a stuffing of chopped meat and rice first came to the minds of people in Transcaucasia. In Richter, I reimagined this dish, replacing the hard grape leaves with soft beet leaves, and for the filling, mixing fresh goat cheese with walnut. The sauce of baked beetroot and fresh raspberries hark back to traditional Russian cooking.
— 12 beet leaves (chard)
— 120g soft goat’s cheese, such as chevrette
— 25g walnut
— 10g grape seed oil
— 15g dill
— Zest of ½ lemon
— To taste: salt and pepper
For the sauce:
— 200g baked or boiled beets
— 100g raspberries
— 10g grape seed oil
— To taste: salt
Chop the dill and the walnuts and lightly brown in a dry frying pan. Add the lemon zest and grape seed oil before seasoning and mixing thoroughly. Take off the heat and mix in the goat’s cheese.
Place the beets in a blender with the raspberries and oil until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve, and add salt as desired.
Blanch the beet leaves with hot (but not boiling) water, cutting off the hard stem. For each dolma, put a tablespoon of the filling in the centre of each leaf and roll up into a neat parcel. Gently smear the beet sauce on a plate, lay the dolma on top, and garnish with any spare beet leaves or other greens.