Red Square, Moscow
May 9th is Victory Day or VE Day, it marked the end of World War II in Europe. The Russians celebrate this occasion in a big way. They have military parades on Red Square, civilian parades down city streets, they run old war movies all day on TV, and they gather with family and friends to eat and make many toasts.
The USSR suffered the most casualties of any country during World War II, estimated at 27 million. China comes in a distant second with 10 million.
Indeed they have reason to celebrate.
Any gathering in Russia starts with Zakuski. These are the warm ups, the small plates, the appetizers. They can include beet salads, potato salads, cabbage salads, pickled mushrooms, pickled herring, dried fish, caviar, or any other thing you can think of. Just so there is lots of it. For the toasts, vodka is the staple, followed by cognac for desert. Sometimes champagne precedes the vodka.
Here are a couple of my favorite Zakuski (they are easy to make):
Julienne (Mushrooms in Sour Cream)
1 lb mushrooms
3 Tbsp butter
1 ½ Tbsp flour
1 cup sour cream
½ tsp lemon juice
salt and pepperSlice the mushrooms. Sauté in butter for 10 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, stirring. Add sour cream and lemon juice. Keep the heat low and cook for 15 minutes more. If the sauce seems too thin, sprinkle in a little flour or if too thick add water. The sauce should be like thick cream. Season with salt and pepper.This can be served in individual cups or all together in a large dish. Cucumbers in Smetana (Sour cream)
2 large cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
3 Tbsps chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsps chopped fresh dill
1 ½ cups sour cream
2-3 Tbsps fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, pressed
½ tsp black pepper (or to taste)
¾ tsp salt (or to taste)Toss and chill