How to taste Russian-Californian fusion cuisine on the drive to Fort Ross (+ veggie borsch recipe)

Manager of Russian House #1 Tatiana Urusova (left), volunteers Svetlana Makheeva and Alexandra Vasilyuk, co-founder of Russian House #1 Polina Krasikova.

Manager of Russian House #1 Tatiana Urusova (left), volunteers Svetlana Makheeva and Alexandra Vasilyuk, co-founder of Russian House #1 Polina Krasikova.

Press Service
There’s an unusual restaurant in California with the simple name of Russian House #1 that has no menu and prices, but there you’ll find many dishes with Slavic roots.

Russian House #1, which opened its doors in 2015, has a panoramic terrace on the Russian River in California. Two Russian women, Tatyana Ginzburg and Polina Krasikova, created a space for Russian dishes and their modern interpretations, as well as a place for frank discussions and spiritual practices. 

Polina Krasikova enjoyed traveling around the world (if you remember how it was before the pandemic), and she borrowed lots of culinary combinations from Europe, India and China. That's why dishes at Russian House #1 acquired flavors you can hardly find anywhere else. Moreover, she suggests cooking Russian recipes using local ingredients. The restaurant prepares foods using mushrooms and greens that local farmers bring to the chefs. This is how it happened that Californians can now enjoy Russian must-eats (borsch, pirojki, bliny, kasha and pelmeni), as well as some specialties with a Slavic flavor. 

"So buckwheat with algae and langoustines appeared, green cabbage soup or schi with kale, vinaigrette with papaya, pea soup with ginger and tumeric, as well as many other masterpieces," says Tatyana Urusova, the restaurant manager.   

"Polina added an Ayurvedic approach to the recipes - the right combination of ingredients and a set of five basic flavors. Thus, exquisite combinations of spices, herbs and vegetables were added to the kitchen, and are so popular with nutritionally conscious Californians," Tatyana says. 

What most shocks guests traveling from San Francisco to the historic Russian compound and museum, Fort Ross, for example, is that there are no menus, nor prices. Before the pandemic, food was served buffet style. Guests could pick what they like and donate afterwards. During the pandemic the food was served by the staff.  

"During this period, we had to write the names of the dishes, and unfamiliar words such as 'solyanka' (soup with cabbage and meats) confused the guests. So, we renamed some of the dishes. Pearl barley porridge became barley risotto, schi or cabbage soup - white borsch. The word 'borsch' is understood by everyone" says Tatyana.

An exhibition of puzzles and games at Russian House #1.

Some guests return here again and again, or even start volunteering; that's how the restaurant functions. Guests can cook their favorite dishes with the chefs, try them and exchange advice. Tatyana assembled all their favorite recipes in the book, Cookbook : Russian House #1 Culinary Secrets: Beautifully illustrated collection of California-inspired Russian recipes that is available now in English on amazon.

One of the most popular dishes from their menu is vegan borsch, Tatyana says. Here we publish the recipe in case you want to try a new version of this idiomatic soup. 

Vegan dream borsch from Russian House #1

Ingredients:

Serves for a big pot

  • 4 quarts of water (in metric, use 4 liters)
  • 3 potatoes chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2-3 fresh beets (beetroots)
  • 1 small cabbage (or 1⁄2 a large one)
  • 1 cup diced (preferably organic) tomatoes
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2 onions
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 tbsp of sunflower oil
  • 1 tbsp of salt (or to taste)
  • 1⁄2 tsp of black pepper (or to taste)
  • 1⁄2 tbsp dill seeds,
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1 lemon
  • 1⁄2 tsp of red hot pepper (or to taste),
  • 1⁄2 tsp of cloves,
  • 5 -10 cloves fresh garlic (to taste)
  • 1⁄2 - 3⁄4 cup apple cider vinegar (based on your taste)
  • 1 tbsp of butter, if you’re not vegan but want a more nutritious version 

Garnish with:

  • sour cream (1 tbsp for each plate)
  • herbs (fresh dill) 

Preparation:

  1. The most boring but basic: Prepare all vegetables. Get someone to help if possible to peel and cut the potatoes into cubes; peel the beets and carrots, and grate them coarsely. Dice onions and cut red bell pepper into cubes. Shred the cabbage into long and thin pieces. Mince the garlic.
  2. The fun part: boiling, frying, making magic. Find a big pot and add the water, potatoes, salt, black pepper, bay leaf, dill seeds, cardamom and let it boil to make the spice broth.
  3. Make the borsch super mix. Add sunflower oil (or butter) to a big frying pan, then add the beets, apple cider vinegar (you can replace the vinegar with a bit of lemon juice if you’d like), diced tomatoes, and cubed red bell peppers. The vinegar adds a sour taste and helps to keep the color bright, so don’t forget it! Keep sautéing until the beets get soft but are not 100% cooked. Put the grated carrots and diced onions in another pan with some oil and cook until golden brown.
  4. The integration! Combine the spice broth with the beets, carrots and onions. Add cloves, pickling spices, red hot pepper, and butter for extra richness if you like. Add juice from lemon, or you can leave the peels and take them out before serving. Let borsch settle with all the ingredients over low to medium heat to simmer, not boil, for about 4-5 minutes. Then add garlic and boil for about a minute. The borsch is ready!
  5. Serve with sour cream, fresh dill and rye bread.

READ MORE: What is ‘salo’ and why do Russians love it?

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