Russian Kitchen: the world of potatoes

Mashed Potato. Source: Divya Shirodkar

Mashed Potato. Source: Divya Shirodkar

The humble vegetable is much-loved in the country and is an essential part of an authentic Russian meal.

Staple foods vary from place to place, but typically they are inexpensive or readily available foods that supply one or more of the three organic macronutrients needed for survival and health: carbohydrates, proteins and fats.  Typical examples of staples include tuber- or root-crops, grains, legumes, and other seeds. In India the staple food is rice, whereas in Africa it is maize (corn). In Russia it is wheat, actually the bread made out of it. It is very strange for Indians to fathom the fact that Russians don’t eat much rice. In my house, we eat rice once a month at the most. We do cook it more often when we have an upset stomach. It is believed that rice can help with stomach problems in the form of kanji.

It is amazing that among more than 50 000 edible plant species just 15 crop plants provide 90 percent of the world's food energy intake. Rice, maize and wheat comprise two thirds of human food consumption. These three alone are food staples for 4 billion people. Rice alone feeds almost half of the humanity. Roots and tubers are important staples for over 1 billion people.

There is another staple food which is very important for Russia: potato.

Russia is the world’s second largest consumer of potato after China. In 2005, we consumed 19 million tonnes of potato, followed by India with its consumption of 17 million tonnes. Each Russian ate about 131 kgs of potatoes in one year but given the larger population and rice-eating tradition, Indians consume only 14 kgs per person. (Source: FAOSTAT)

My husband jokingly calls me "potato queen". This is somewhere true. I can eat potatoes every day. I can eat boiled potato with butter or curd, I can eat fried potatoes with mushrooms and onion, and I can eat mashed potatoes every day and never get bored of it.

During the long winters in Russia, fresh vegetables are hard to come by. People appreciate the fresh harvest of the warmer months and grow potatoes themselves. They buy a plot outside the city and in early-May all members of the family take a trip, which is called “Na kartoshku” (basically, to grow potatoes).

During one season (4-5 months), 4 such trips will be made: to seed, to weed twice and to harvest. It is very hard work, but it provides for the family enough potato for the whole winter. It is worth an effort to get fresh potatoes from the field, boil it with dill and eat with butter.

My favorite dish is fried potato with mushroom: it is simple, tasty and loved by adults and kids. Another dish which is loved in India, is mashed potato which is extremely easy and fast to make and can be a great side dish to any gravy of your choice.

Fried Potato with mushrooms

Serves: 4-5

Ingredients:

Potatoes 1 kg

Mushrooms 400 g

Onion 2 pieces

Fresh Dill

Fresh spring onion

Vegetable oil

Salt and black pepper

Source: Divya Shirodkar

1. Chop the onion and fry to golden brown, add sliced mushrooms and continue frying until ready. Set it aside.

2. Slice potatoes like French fries or into thing circles if the size is small. Add more oil into frying pan where you cooked onion and mushrooms. Heat the oil until smoking hot and add potatoes.

3. Fry them on high flame stirring only when potatoes get brown and crispy. When you stir, try not to break the pieces.

4. When potato is almost cooked add onion, mushrooms, chopped dill and spring onion.

5. Season it to taste with salt, black pepper or chilli powder if you desire.

6. Mix potatoes and fry another 5 minutes.

 

Mashed Potato

Serves: 5-6 

Ingredients:

Potatoes 1 kg

Milk 250 ml

Butter

Salt

 

1. Peel potatoes and cut into equal size. Put into pressure cooker, add water, salt. Cook in pressure cooker (3 whistles – I am sure my Indian readers are more competent in pressure cooker use).

2. Drain the excess of water.

3. Mash potatoes slowly adding boiled milk.

4. Add salt to taste. Some people like to add a little bit of sugar as well. Add butter which will melt by itself. Serve with sauce or gravy.

 

There are variations for mashed potato. You can add any of the following ingredients to achieve different taste: garlic, fried onion, fresh herbs, oregano.

Priyatnogo Appetita!

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