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Mar 3, 2005 10:36 PM

ISO Classic Russian Jewish Sides

  • t

Our Gourmet Club is doing a Russian Jewish theme in a couple of weeks.

I'm thinking Russian Black Bread and homemade butter (I learned how to churn my own using good cream, a mason jar with a tight lid and a couple of marbles, shaking vigorously for 15 minutes - deelish!).

So, side dishes, appetizers, condiments. Maybe a chopped chicken liver.

Something handed down from Bubbe's Bubbe that might work well with the bread?

Thanks in advance.

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  1. Tom,

    How about some kasha varnishkes, made with lots of fried onion and chicken schmaltz?

    15 Replies
    1. re: Evil Ronnie
      a kitchen helper

      Kasha varnishkes is not Russian-Jewish. I do not know what it is - for all I know it may be Polish, or is purely a New World invention, like knish, but it is decidedly not russian-jewish.

      1. re: a kitchen helper

        "Kasha varnishkes is not Russian-Jewish."

        I'm not sayting that you're wrong, but all four of my grandparents were off-the-boat Russian Jews and kasha varnishkes was a regular menu item at their tables.

        1. re: Deenso

          Oops! That's "saying" - not "sayting." Another vote for SpellCheck...

          1. re: Deenso
            a kitchen helper

            Well, that is why I listed "knish" as an example of how every Russian Jewish person in North America probably had them and now they seem authentic, but they are a documented case of a creation by a clever baker in New York - take a Russian rcipe, twist it around, give it Yiddish-sounding name - voila, you have an "authentic" Russian-Jewish item that was never seen in Russia proper by Jews and non-Jews alike:).

            1. re: a kitchen helper

              Claudia Roden describes the knish as the New York incarnation of the piroshki.

              1. re: Buttercup
                a kitchen helper

                And that is exactly what it is.

              2. re: a kitchen helper

                FYI, the Pale of Settlement from which our "Russian" grandparents and great-grandparents emigrated was hardly "Russia proper".

                1. re: Hickory
                  a kitchen helper

                  I am aware of the border of the Pale of Settlement, and I have taken that into account in my answer.

                  Kasha Varnishkes is not Russian Jewsih. Neither is Knish.

                  1. re: a kitchen helper

                    You know, you're asserting this opinion so strongly, I wonder if you have any sort of documentation that supports your position. After all, the shtetl is long-since gone, and much of its own cuisine (which borrowed from several nations, and which I referred to as "Yiddish cusine" in another post) with it.

                    Just how do you know that it's an American invention? I'd appreciate any links, etc. After all, as I noted earlier, my grandparents cooked and served it; they never made "knishes" - that was street food that you bought from a vendor, and I can see a good argument for it's being a new-world invention. OTOH, there were no "kasha varnishka" vendors that I'm aware of - it was home-cooked, family food, cheap and nourishing. And, as someone else noted, they served it heavy on the kasha and onions - the noodles were an ornament.

                    The really interesting question is why bowties???

                    1. re: Striver
                      a kitchen helper

                      Knish is an american invention simply because food historians have never found a trace of it on the other side of the ocean. Shtetls may be gone, but the rpinted records survived to some extent.

                      I read the story a few times in different sources. Here is the link with the newspaper articles from the turn of the century where again knish is claimed as being invented" in NY.

                      There should be more - I just do not feel like googling for something I already know.


                      1. re: a kitchen helper
                        a kitchen helper

                        Sorry, I misunderstood your question. I said earlier - I do not know the origin of Kasha Varnishkes. It may be Polish. It just is not Russian Jewish.

                        The bowties always puzzled me as well.

                        But then, I always wondered why the Beef Stroganoff is served over noodles, not potatoes as it was meant to be?

                        What is that with the noodles sneaking in where they do not belong, on this side of the Atlantic?

          2. re: a kitchen helper

            "For the poor Jews in Russia and Poland, kasha (buckwheat) and bread-and-potato or cabbage soup were the basic foods of their everyday lives. So, on Purim when they wanted a special dish, they prepared kasha varnishkes made from sauteed onions, kasha and noodles in the shape of bowties or shells." Another source points out that the name may be related to "vareniki", a filled dumpling whose stuffings include kasha.

            This is a classic Ashkenazic Jewish dish; whether its origins were Russian or Polish or possibly even Rumanian Jews, it's accepted as a standard dish and was served to me by my grandparents (all Ashkenazis from Russia, Austro-Hungary and Bessarabia).

            I suppose the question is whether the original poster wants to serve the cuisine of contemporary Russian Jews or that of American Jews descended from pre-WWI Russian and Eastern European immigrant ancestors. If the latter, then kasha varnishkas are completely appropriate.

            1. re: Striver

              The origin may have even been Ukrainian. I say that only because we recently had a party where some of our guests emigrated from the Ukraine and there was some discussion of how the dish is to be properly prepared, how they had it 'back home'. Apparently it should be more about the Kasha, with occasional noodles here and there, than my wife makes it, which has a lot more pasta.

              (and no, the guests were not being rude- they simply responded to a direct question with an honest response. I thought it was an interesting discussion, actually)

              1. re: Striver
                a kitchen helper

                What may be accepted may not be what should be accepted.

                Kasha varnishkes is not Russian Jewish not only in the contemporary sence, it is not Russian Jewish in the historic sense either. The origin of the dish is not Russian-Jewish.

                It may be American. Just like knish.

                1. re: a kitchen helper

                  Fine. So it's American-Russian-Jewish. That was my last point as to what the original poster wanted to serve - Russian Russian Jewish or Immigrant (e.g., "American") Russian Jewish.

                  Certainly the dish is not Italian, Irish, French, or Asian - neither original or in some Italian-American incarnation. Why don't we just call it Yiddish cuisine and be done with it?

                  And then there's the question of the authenticity of jellied calves feet(pe'tcha)...

          3. What a great idea!
            Two thoughts:

            If you want the meal to be authentic it must be kosher style, meaning that you can't mix meat and dairy ingredients in the same meal. A real Russian Jew would spread schmaltz (rendered chicken fat, often cooked with onions) rather than butter on that bread if to be served with a meat dish. If that degree of authenticity is not important, disregard above.

            Claudia Roden's The Book of Jewish Food is an exhaustively-research compendium of Jewish food traditions from around the world. In addition to the previously-mentioned kasha mit varnishkes she includes pickled cucumbers in brine, radish salad, potato salad with olive oil and vinegar, potato latkes (most often served at Chanukah), potato salad with herring and apples, beets, and carrots cooked with honey, and potato or noodle kugel (pudding) among others.

            Hope this is helpful.

            1. a
              a kitchen helper

              It depends on whether you are doing a kosher meal or just a "theme"

              Here are some suggestions:
              (1) Potato latkes as a side
              (2) Herring "forshmack" as an appetizer
              (3) Herring butter to serve on your bread
              (4) Finely grated baked beets with raw garlic, crushed walnuts and cut up prunes dressed with vegetable oil
              (5) Carrots cooked with honey - "tsimmes"
              (6) Gefilte fish
              (7) Egglpant "caviar"
              (8) Chicken livers/calf liver - chopped or mousse
              (9) Chopped eggs with chopped onion fried in smaltz
              (10) Chopped herring with apples-onions-eggs to serve on your bread
              (11)Chopped baked beets with horseradish dressed with oil, vinegar and sugar
              (12) Stuffed chicken-goose-duck neck

              You might want to check a cookbook by Darra Goldstein " A taste of Russia" - it is a very good cookbook and some of the herring recipes, for example, are there (she does mention that they are jewish -indeed she is russian-jewish herself, so some of the recipes are preceded with a short personal memories note).

              1 Reply
              1. re: a kitchen helper

                Kasha and bows, cooked sweet and sour tongue with raisins, brisket, knishes, kishki and I'm coming over..

              2. Check out the recipes on the site linked below. It's an outstanding resource for classic Jewish (kosher and non-kosher) recipes from all over the world.


                1. shmaltz shmeared on the bread, with sliced onion (or garlic) if you like