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Russian Appetizers?

I am having a small group for drinks and snacks before a night of bar-hopping at Russian-themed bars. What would be good food to serve beforehand? So I've had some experience with Russian food before (traveling, and a lot of my mother-in-laws cooking), and nothing really interested me so much...

And one last twist: it has to be vegetarian and mostly made in advance.

Aside from boiled potatoes and vodka, I'm at a bit of a loss...

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  1. pickled/marinaded little things like mushrooms and salty peeled radish for the soon-to-be pickled/marinaded friends.

    small leafy green and cheese stuffed pelmeni on toothpicks.

    small shots of an outlandish and spicy riff on spiked borscht consomme.

    no fish? none?

    5 Replies
    1. re: hill food

      +1 on shots of veggie borscht. I've been making a cuminy pureed version, rather than a consomme version lately, maybe topped with some sour cream or creme fraiche.

      mini mushroom piroshki.

      bite-sized blinis.

      bite-sized potato pancakes.

      1. re: prima

        would blini made in advance still be good?

        1. re: PotatoPuff

          Depending on the blini, they could still be pretty good. I've had made-in-advance blini at some cocktail parties, and they've been fine. Probably better if served as fresh as possible.

      2. There's a variety of Russian appetizers (закуски/zakuski) you could serve, that can be made in advance and many of which are vegetarian. This link has a pretty detailed list:


        Broadly speaking, you could include little open-faced sandwiches, vegetable salads (including винегреты/vinegrets -- cold vegetable composed salads, mainly with beets and potatoes -- and салат Оливье/salad "Olivieh", Russian potato salad minus the chicken that's often added), cold vegetable dishes (pickles, spreads, vegetable [mushroom, eggplant] caviars etc.) and hot vegetable dishes (жульен грибной/mushrooms zhul'yen, vols-au-vent filled with mushrooms or stewed vegetables, stuffed vegetables etc.) You could also include among your zakuski dishes from other former Soviet republics, especially Georgia, Armenia and Uzbekistan which also have some delicious vegetarian appetizers.

        1 Reply
        1. re: JP_nyc

          wow, I'm quite impressed by the use of Cyrillic

          and for some readers JP's use of the term "caviar" does not necessarily mean fish eggs, IIRC technically it can apply to any savory spread. (and a good eggplant caviar is just, well f#$%ing amazing)

        2. Piece of cake. Russian appetizers are called Zakuski, and although smoked fish and fish spreads are customary and the Salat Russe generally contains meat, it's by no means necessary. You do a variety of pickled veg. as indicated above: mushrooms, mini corn ears, carrots, string beans, cucumbers in sour cream and dill, and you vary the pickling: some sweet, some more sour,, some dilly, some garlicky. Pickled mini green tomatoes, or ripe cherry tomatoes, are lovely pickled. Poach leeks in wine and oil and dress with lemon; delicious. Now, the salat Russe, you can leave the meat out of: just toss together equal parts diced boiled potato, pickles, both dill and gherkin, carrot, peas, cucumber and hardcooked egg if you can have that at the table. Everything should be diced to the same size, and you bind it with mayo and serve in a clear glass bowl, preferably footed. :) You can make a roasted eggplant caviar and serve it with wonderful seeded sour rye bread, sour cream, and butter. Boiled potatoes are kinda boring: you might consider small halved new potatoes, parboiled and then roasted 'til golden, served with a horseradish brown butter dip. If you can have fish, cold poached shrimp would be great, and any of the varieties of the smoked fishes, pates, loxes et al would be very traditional. Of course Vodka, but Kvass, a lightly fermented cranberry drink, is v. traditional and you could just mull some cranberry juice with spices to stand in for it. And if you can have or want even one meat dish, ground balls of chicken bound with cream and herbed, could be either deepfried and served on picks as chicken Pozharsky, or formed into sliders and again deepfried, served on dense small buns with hot mustard. Enjoy your party.

          2 Replies
          1. re: mamachef

            mmm kvass, not sure where to find it in my neighborhood though. and rye bread!!! now that's a good place to start!

            1. re: mamachef

              Nice ideas Mamachef, now I want to throw a Russian cocktail party!

            2. Since fish is being mentioned....caviar and ice cold vodka.

              1. I am not a huge fan of most Russian foods.

                Farmers cheeses, seedy/hearty crackers and rye breads- and a hummus with a roasted beet blended in and a dollop of sour cream over the top. Spreads are able to be made in advance.

                I might also concoct a fun "shooter" with vodka and V8 - with a booming "toast" to the evening start!

                1. Great topic! I just want to know where you're located and where you will be be bar-hopping at Russian-themed bars? This sounds like so much fun! Any chance you're doing this in the L.A. area? I'd love to know where you're going. There used to be a Russian restaurant here in West Hollywood called Diaghilev where we had one of the most amazing meals we've ever had. Unfortunately it closed... we still talk about it. The caviar, the vodkas, the borscht... it was amazing!

                  1 Reply
                  1. Tough requirements here. Every Russian appetizer I have tried has sausage, preserved fish, caviar, or surimi in it. You could make potato and peas salad on black bread (omitting the beef). Mayonnaise has eggs in it, do you consider that vegetarian? Cause if not, I don't know what you are gonna do.

                    1. Layered herring salad (selyoda pod shuboy) has to be my favorite Russian starter. Even without the herring, I think alternating layers of creamy dilled potato salad, beets, apples and sieved eggs would be delicious. Georgian cheese bread (khachapuri) has also become very popular in the Russian neighborhoods of NYC, and not without good reason. The light dough and salty, creamy cheese is addictive, especially after with a vodka. I don't see why you couldn't make them the night prior and then re-heat them in the oven and finish them with an egg on top.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: JungMann

                        the georgian bread thing sounds awesome, do you have a recipe?

                          1. re: PotatoPuff

                            Here's a little background on khachapuri: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/arc...

                            The khachapuri I like are a little closer to this recipe: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/1034... I think the best filling is rich, a little soft, a little stringy and sharp. Gruyere, goat cheese and yogurt would make a great filling. I might go for mozzarella, feta and ricotta. Before finishing, brush the bread with garlic butter and top with an egg to cook in the oven.

                        1. so after consulting with a Russian friend, I'm making deviled eggs, boiled new potatoes with creme fraiche and dill, and she said to get babaganoush (totally didn't realize that it was also Russian??!!!). Still up for making some more stuff too, this is just a start...